Monday, November 16, 2009

The Weekly Strike-11/16-11/22

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Thank you for bearing with our absence over the weekend, I hope you survived. I hope President Obama is able to read this blog despite those restrictions in China.

HEALTH CARE: All eyes this week will be on two institutions that should not be depended on: the Congressional Budget Office and the United States Senate. The CBO should be releasing their estimate of health care legislation either today or tomorrow. They were going to release their cost analysis last week, but apparently Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) realized that the bill did not come under the arbitrary $900 billion price tag, so he sent some revisions to the CBO in order to get a bill he can bring to the Senate floor. After the cost estimate is released, Reid will have to focus on his next hurdle, which is rounding up 60 votes just to get the bill to the Senate floor. Senate aides say that despite equivocations from moderates, no Democratic Senator will vote to block the bill from coming to the floor. If that proves to be the case, debate on the bill itself can begin. Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are ready to apply every delay tactic in the book, including the possibility of forcing the clerk to read the entire 2,000 page bill. Right now, our goal is simply to START debate by the time Thanksgiving rolls around next week.

Meanwhile, the anti-reform crowd has found some new ammunition. The CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) came out with a study estimating that the House-passed health care bill will actually increase the growth of health spending over the next ten years. White House Health Reform czar Nancy-Ann DeParle refuted the analysis, but Republicans harped on it big time. Also, it was reported today that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is looking to hire economists for $50,000 to do a pre-ordained negative study on the effects of the House legislation. Yet another reminder of the power of the forces of the status quo. We'll keep you up to date on health care related development as the week rolls on.

THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama today continues his Asian tour in Beijing today, where he will hold bilateral meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The President made some news this morning by criticizing China for putting up a firewall around social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. I think because Obama commands so much respect around the world, he is one of the few world leaders with the prestige to call out other countries on their own turf. The President returns from his trip tomorrow, and then will turn his attention to Afghanistan. It is very possible that the President announces his Af-Pak strategy by the end of this week or the beginning of next week. Last week, President Obama reportedly told his national security team that none of the 4 options presented to him were sufficient, and that his new strategy needed some sort of indication that our commitment there is not open-ended.

President Obama will also be forced to explain his administration's decision to try some top Guantanamo terrorist detainees in the United States. Republicans have blasted the move, saying a trial in New York could jeopardize our national security. They worry that some of these terrorists might be released into "our communities" if they are acquitted on some sort of technicality. I see that scenario as highly unlikely. I think trying terrorists in New York, the site of the worst terrorist attack in our country's history, shows the resiliency of our democracy and our legal system. How great would it be to see Khalid Sheik Muhammed, the supposed 9/11 mastermind, brought to justice in front of the families of 9/11 victims. I think Republicans (and Joe Lieberman) are just using this decision to do some good old fashioned fear mongering.

THE SENATE: Even while the health care legislation hangs in the balance, the Senate has some other work to do. Today, the Senate will continue consideration of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, one of three appropriations bills that the Senate has yet to pass. This evening, the Senate will vote on a couple of amendments offered by serial obstructionist Tom Coburn (R-OK). A vote on final passage will probably come Wednesday or Thursday. Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on the nomination of David Hamilton to be a Circuit Judge on the 7th District court. Conservatives have tried to paint Hamilton as some sort of liberal activist, but so far this criticism has yet to take hold. I expect Hamilton to be confirmed relatively easily.

THE HOUSE: The House is back in session after having spent the week hearing from constituents on the recently-passed health care bill. The House will vote on several bills under suspension of the rules today and tomorrow. On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will vote on a bill to "
amend the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to designate segments of the Molalla River in Oregon, as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System." I don't know why they can't do that under suspension of the rules, but I guess it didn't have the necessary 2/3rds support of the House. Next up will be a bill authorizing grants for fire safety programs. Finally, the House will take up the so-called "Doc Fix" bill, which will protect doctors against scheduled pay cuts from Medicare. The bill is particularly controversial because it is not paid for. Republicans have complained that Democrats did not include this fix in their health care legislation. If they had, the legislation would not have been deficit neutral. I don't expect many Republicans will want to alienate doctors at this point, so I foresee this legislation passing pretty easily.

That's it for now, see you this evening and PLEASE leave some comments.

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