Monday, November 2, 2009

The Weekly Strike-11/2-11/8

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, as we gear up for a major week in politics. Make sure you catch up on our last entry about this Tuesday's elections. Nothing much has changed since I wrote that on Saturday, except a few new polls out this morning offer very good news for Republicans. In New Jersey, a Quinnipiac poll has Republican challenger Chris Christie up 2 points after showing him down 5 points last week. A PPP poll shows Christie up 5. Meanwhile, a deeply worrisome PPP poll for Democrats out of NY23 shows Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman now crushing the Democrat Bill Owens by 20 points. PPP is a Democratic polling firm, but it has a slight Republican lean. I hope those numbers have to do with it being Halloween weekend, and the fact that there was so much churn in the race with Republican Dede Scozzafava dropping out and endorsing the Democrat. But still, I'd have to put my money on Hoffman to pull out that race tomorrow night. Now to the rest of the week in politics....

THE HOUSE: It's show time in the House of Representatives this week. After weeks of intense back room negotiations, we will finally see a comprehensive health insurance reform bill come to the floor. Here's how I expect the week to play out:

-Today, the Speaker will send the bill to the Rules committee, which will set the terms for debate on the bill. Democrats want to limit to difficult votes for their members, so they will most likely allow only one or two amendments, including a Republican alternative. The leadership is also expected to unveil a "manager's amendment" which should reflect minor changes to the bill in order to win the votes to put the bill over the top. Among the items expected to be included in the manager's amendment is some sort of resolution on the abortion issue. Rep. Bart Stupak is threatening to derail the entire health care bill because federal subsidies could theoretically be used in the bill to buy private insurance that covers abortion. Stupak claims that he has enough Democratic votes to defeat the rule governing debate for the bill unless he can offer an abortion amendment. Democrats know that this amendment will pass, so they want to avoid a vote on that amendment at all costs. I expect Stupak to get concessions from the leadership sometime today before the bill makes its way to the Rules Committee.

-Democrats have promised 72 hours to review the final version of the bill before it comes up for a vote. Therefore, debate on the bill will probably begin Thursday, with a final vote expected Thursday, Friday or possibly Saturday. Democrats are also insisting that the Republican substitute bill be posted 72 hours in advance, and that it be scored by the CBO. Republican Leader John Boehner says that the GOP has sent its bill to the CBO, and that it should have a cost estimate soon. Boehner admits that the GOP bill does not come close to covering the 46 million uninsured. I'm interested to see if the GOP's bill, which is full of half-measures, does anything to either cut health care costs or make insurance more affordable. The GOP has talked a good game about how they have "better alternatives" but let's just see what the CBO has to say about that.

Once Democrats are confident enough that the have the 218 votes to pass the bill, they will call for a final vote. My current prediction is 225-209 in favor of the bill, with the outstanding vote depending on who wins the New Y0rk special election.

We will be with you every step of the way this week as the House gets close to making history. Remember that in 1993-94, Clinton's health care bill didn't even get a floor vote in either chamber of Congress. So we're farther along than we've ever been. Also, beware of Republicans harping on Tuesday's election results as evidence that Obama's Presidency is in jeopardy. Of course, I don't really care that much (the worst that can happen is that we lose two governorships and don't add a House seat). Some centrist Democrats, though, may be trying to get a read on the political climate before they cast a vote on health reform, and we can't let the election results sway them away from the bill.

The House will actually take up some other business before the health bill comes up later in the week. Today and tomorrow, the House will vote on a series of suspension bills. On Wednesday, the House will vote on a bill to amend the credit card bill (enacted earlier this year) to make restrictions go into effect on January 1, 2010 instead of July 1, 2010. Credit card companies, aware that they are about to be under new restrictions, have taken the opportunity to jack up rates on consumers. I expect this to pass pretty easily. The House will also vote on a bill to protect chemical facilities from terrorism. The bill will set forth new security regulations for such facilities, and gives the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to declare certain chemicals "dangerous" for the purposes of setting a threshold quantity.

THE SENATE: Senator Reid (D-NV) used one of the oldest parliamentary tricks, filling the amendment tree, in order to expedite consideration of the unemployment extension bill. As a result, a vote to cut off debate on the bill will take place tonight at 5pm. If Reid can muster 60 votes (he almost certainly can), a vote on final passage will follow. After the Senate is done with the unemployment bill, it will go back to the House for ratification before it is sent to President Obama. The Senate has been dragging their feet on this bill for quite awhile, so they better get it done as quickly as possible. I'm not sure what the Senate will move to next. They still have to finish work on 4 appropriations bills. It's also possible that the Senate could begin consideration on a health care bill, although I would say that's more likely to occur either next week or the week after after a final CBO estimate comes in. When the bill is ready for consideration, Democrats are expected to have the 60 votes needed to proceed to a floor debate. Republicans are apparently ready to delay the process in any way that they can to make sure this bill gets defeated.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President will be keeping a close eye on the House this week as it considers its health care bill. He will hopefully be closely involved in corralling members into the "yes" column. Today, the President meets with his economic recovery advisory board, led by former Fed Chair Paul Volcker. He also meets with the Prime Minster of Sweden. Tomorrow, Obama meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently won reelection. Merkel will also be addressing a joint session of Congress. There are no schedules out for the remainder of the week, but I expect the President to do some traveling on the one year anniversary of his election. Can you believe it has already been a year?

That's it for now. Please stay tuned as this week's hottest political stories play out. And don't forget to leave those comments!!

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