Monday, November 30, 2009

The Weekly Strike-11/30-12/6

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving vacations, and you didn't have too many withdrawal symptom's during this blog's absence. We're gearing up for a December to remember in politics. The President and Congress will be faced with a barrage of issues before year's end, and we'll be here to cover every minute of it. Now to preview a very busy week in politics...

AFGHANISTAN: The big news story this week will be the President's decision on Afghanistan. Tomorrow evening, the President will announce his long-awaited strategy at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. As an aside, I deeply disagree (as does the despondent Big Picture) with having this event at a military academy. It strikes me as very Bush-like to look for a political photo-op to announce such a difficult decision.

Nevertheless, the President is expected to announce that he will send an additional 34,000 troops to Afghanistan, short of the recommendation of General Stanley McCrystal, but a huge increase nonetheless. He also will supposedly announce some sort of new comprehensive strategy to end the conflict, which should include diplomatic efforts and economic development. I'll be watching very closely to see how detailed the President is about the aspects of the plan beyond the troop increase. The only way an increase of this magnitude in unwinnable territory (see: Soviet Union, 1979) will not be catastrophic is if it is coupled with an equally strong political strategy.

I will also be interested in the reactions of members of Congress. I don't think there will be many members praising this decision. Republicans will attack Obama for not adding even more troops. Liberal Democrats will undoubtedly (and justifiably) express significant concern and skepticism. We'll see if they turn that skepticism into legislative action (perhaps a resolution disapproving of the troop increase, or maybe even a war tax.)

We'll have full coverage of the address in Wednesday's Daily Strike.

JOBS: The White House will also attempt to address the main issue on most voter's minds right now: joblessness. On Thursday, the White House will bring together 130 stakeholders, as well as members of Congress to brainstorm about how to address spiraling unemployment. I'm pretty skeptical that a summit will produce much of any value. The name of the game is pushing a jobs package through Congress as quickly as possible. This event strikes me as even more political posturing by the White House. The event is also undermined by a New York Times article this morning (h/t The Big Picture) which indicated that the White House is not too involved in pushing a jobs bill through Congress, but instead is more focused on deficit reduction. This is like nails on a chalkboard for me. First of all, you cannot lower the deficit unless the economy improves and tax revenues increase. You can't achieve that with 10% unemployment. Second of all, the administration can't bow to poll numbers that show people more concerned about the deficit than job creation. The deficit is a very nebulous concern that usually represents general unease with the economy. Most people don't really know what the deficit is if you dig deeper; they know things are bad out there and they want to see something done to address it. Third, addressing the deficit would undermine a key long-term goal of the administration: making the American people less weary of government. By focusing on reducing the deficit, you're tacitly admitting that government actions to prop up the economy have not worked and that we need to cut our losses. At least that's how it might appear to some voters.

I think Obama's success will correlate closely with jobless numbers, and he needs to do a much better job of making employment a top priority.

HEALTH CARE: Can you believe we've gotten this far in the entry and haven't talked about health care? Starting at 3pm today, the Senate will begin debate on health care legislation. The debate is expected to last most of December. On the floor, Senators will be debating amendments from members of both parties. Some of these amendments will be important policy questions, and others will be politically-motivated "gotcha" votes. We will do our best to keep track of all of them.

Debate on amendments though is ultimately useless until Democrats can muster the 60 votes to break a Republican filibuster. The bill in its current form, unfortunately, would not garner those 60 votes. Majority Leader Reid will have to strike a compromise on the public option. Centrist Democrats have decided that the politically safe thing to do is pick the one thing liberals prize the most, and oppose it. That's an unfortunate reality we have to deal with. It seems that a potential path would be Senator Snowe's (R-ME) idea to have the public option only come into effect if private companies don't meet certain criteria (the trigger approach). Liberal Democrats will not be happy about such a compromise, but they would be very wise to read this report from the Urban Institute, which suggests that a strong trigger (emphasis on STRONG!) is probably better than the watered down public options in the House and Senate bills right now.

We will, of course, keep track of the health care debate as it progresses.

THE HOUSE: While the Senate works on health care, the House twittles its thumbs, basically. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the House will vote on various bills under suspension of the rules. On Thursday, the House takes up a bill to permanently address the Estate Tax problem. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 gradually eliminated the tax on estates (or as Republicans call it, the "death tax.") These taxes only apply to estates worth over $1 million, so it only applies to the super rich. The problem is that the Bush tax cuts expire after next year, meaning that the estate tax would return to their 2001 levels. (oh the horror!) The tax also speaks to the uniquely American value that every American should have to earn their way in life. Republicans, the people right now carping about deficits, want to permanently eliminate the estate tax. Democrats have proposed a compromise plan that will maintain the estate tax for estates worth over $3.5 million, and would freeze estate tax rates at 45% marginally. The top rate was 55% in 2001 before the Bush tax cuts took effect, and anything less than that is unacceptable. At a time when we're supposedly focusing on reducing the deficit, how can we not ask the proprietors of multi-million dollar rates to pay their fair share?

That's it for now. Leave us some comments!

1 comment:

  1. At this point Afghanistan seems like a lose-lose all the way around. No matter what the President's decision, it looks like he will take pressure and heat from both sides of the aisle.

    And I agree with Mr. Strike, having the announcement at West Point is terrible. I think the address should come straight from the White House, no weak phot-ops please.

    Also, on the point of the deficit and unemployment, Mr. Strike is right again. You can't lower the deficit without increasing employment. As far as the economy is concerned, decreasing unemployment should be the highest priority. And, if unemployment really does go down, Obama's numbers should climb.

    And on Health Care, I almost don't want to comment, but I am still very confident that we will have Health Care Reform before the State of the Union Address in January. So lets just keep our eyes on the prize.

    ~The Insider