Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Daily Strike-11/5/09-Teabag Invasion

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Most of the country is following this very disturbing story in Fort Hood, TX, where a military gunman shot and killed at least 13 service members. President Obama spoke about the incident this afternoon. On to the rest of the day in politics...

HEALTH CARE: Enacting health care reform is not easy. That truly may be the understatement of the century. Every time we're close to enacting reform, crazy people and their special interest allies come out and spread fear and lies. With the House set to vote on health reform on Saturday, we've never been closer. And today's rally at the Capital proves that the opposition has never been crazier. Over 3,000 "tea party" activists came to the Capital today for a rally hosted by Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, endorsed by the House GOP and organized by Americans for Prosperity. Republican members spoke one by one, deriding the Democrats' health care bill as an assault on freedom, a catalyst for death, and any other hyperbolic rhetoric you can possibly imagine. The pastor giving the benediction resurrected the "death panel" lie during his opening prayer. Several signs showed pictures of a Nazi Concentration Camp, implying that the greatest atrocity in human history was the result of "socialized medicine." This isn't some Glenn Beck loon convention. This is a Republican-sponsored event. Not to make too fine a point about this, but a lot of what I saw out there offends me pretty deeply.

What also offends me is that these people have no idea what they're talking about. They don't know one single thing about the actual legislation. They don't know about insurance exchanges, or subsidies, or preexisting conditions. They are simply angry, conservative populists. The Republican party is more than happy to accommodate them, because it helps them win news cycles. My greatest hope is that the Republican party's embrace of tea party activists comes back to bit them in 2010.

The headlines today should have been that the AARP and AMA have endorsed the House legislation. President Obama made a special appearance at a press conference today to tout the endorsement. This should help repel GOP charges that the bill is not good for seniors. I'm very afraid that Democrats on the fence will have been more affected by the tea party crowd than they were by the AARP and AMA endorsements. I wouldn't put it past them.I just hope they can have a level head about this, even if it may not fit their short term political interests.

There are still several wrinkles to iron out before Saturday's vote. There is apparently still not a deal on whether conservative Democrats can offer an amendment to forbid federal subsidies from being used to fund abortions. That provision is already in the bill, but some pro-life advocates aren't satisfied. They want language that expressively forbids subsidies from going to private insurance plans that cover abortions. A compromise being floated by moderate Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN) might bridge the gap between conservative and liberal Democrats. Meanwhile, a bloc of Hispanic lawmakers is threatening to withhold support of the bill because it prevents illegal immigrants from buying health insurance through the national exchange. I agree with this bloc, and I hope that provision is changed in conference, but it is not a reason to withhold support for the bill. Democrats HAVE to make some sacrifices in the next two days for the common good. President Obama will be at the Capital tomorrow to rally the troops.

THE HOUSE: The House gave final approval to a bill that extends unemployment insurance and a housing tax credit. The Senate approved the measure yesterday, so it will now go to Obama's desk for his signature. The bill extends unemployment benefits for 14 weeks in most states and up to 20 weeks in states that have been especially hard by the recession. The final vote on the bill was 403-12, with the only no votes coming from Republicans. The House spent the rest of the day on suspension bills, and they began consideration of a bill to secure chemical plants. They will finish that bill tomorrow before starting the debate on health care.

An interesting side note: One of the suspension bills considered today was a bill honoring women in the armed services. It passed unanimously, but 56 Republicans abstained because they were at the tea party rally. Might be a good fodder for a cheap thirty second ad at some point.

THE SENATE: The Senate spent the day considering the previously stalled Commerce, Science and Justice Appropriations bill. The Senate voted to limit debate on the bill by a vote of 60-39. The only missing Senator was John McCain. The rest of the vote was straight along party lines. Let's replicated this vote for health care! For once, the Senate moved expeditiously on a number of amendments. Let's go through them quickly.

1. The first amendment offered by Senator Coburn (OK) would strip funding from the National Science Foundation that's used for political science. The amendment failed 36-62.

2. Next was an amendment to investigate waste, fraud and abuse at the Department of Commerce. Because the amendment violated budget rules, it required 60 votes to pass. It didn't come close. The final vote was 42 yeses and 57 nos.

3. Third was a controversial amendment offered by Senator Graham (R-SC) that would prohibit prosecution of terrorists on U.S. soil. The amendment was killed 54-45. I don't understand why it's such a big deal to have terrorists tried in U.S. courts, but it apparently makes for good politics. All votes to table the amendment were from Democrats. Democrats Cantwell (WA), Lieberman (CT) (of course), Lincoln (AR), Pryor (AR) and Webb (VA) voted with the Republicans.

4. Finally, the Senate voted against an Ensign amendment that would transfer money from "corporate welfare" to the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. I would be all for this amendment, except that the corporate welfare in this case refers to TARP money, which we should use for additional job creation. The amendment failed 37-62. It needed 60 votes to pass anyway.

The vote on final passage was 71-28 with all no votes coming from Republicans except Bayh (IN) and McCaskill (MO).

The Senate will work next week on Military Construction and Veterans funding before it starts its health care debate. I expect Republicans to use every dilatory tactic in the book to push health care reform deep into December.

That's it for a long day today. We'll see you tomorrow as the count down to the health care vote is now 2 days!

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