Saturday, December 26, 2009

2009: Major Lessons Learned

It's New Years Day, and you know what that means: it's time for year-end reflections. (Well, we should have done this a few days earlier, but I was enjoying my vacation too much). It has indeed been quite a year in politics, from euphoric highs (the inauguration) to agonizing lows (health care compromises). A lot of good was done in 2009, and as a result, millions of Americans will be better off than they were a year ago. However, the administration and Congress ultimately fell short of some of its most important goals, and I think it's crucial to understand why. Thus, I present, the most important lessons learned in 2009.

1. Our political system has serious institutional problems. There is a lot to be said about what Barack Obama has done right and what he has done wrong this year. But it’s hard to evaluate anything he’s done without appreciating that much of the bad stuff that happened in 2009 can be traced back to problems in our political institutions. In fact, the failures of the Obama Presidency in my view can be attributed largely to two things: the filibuster and the media/general public’s view of conventional wisdom. These things are problems rooted in two key institutions of our democracy: our legislature, and the so-called fourth estate.

The problems with our political institutions start and end with the United States Senate. By now you all know my feelings about the world’s most deliberative and unproductive body. Even if it were governed by majority rule, it would be uniquely undemocratic, because Senators from Wyoming and California have the same amount of votes, despite the latter’s 40-fold population advantage over the former. But beginning in the past few years, all legislation, pretty much, gets subjected to the 60-vote threshold. It’s not just legislation either. EVERYTHING is subject to a 60 vote threshold. If you want to call for a conference for the House and the Senate on the bill, you need 60 votes. If you want to vote on an amendment…60 votes! Simply proceed to debating a bill…60 votes! The problem is that everything in the Senate is done by unanimous consent. That means, if one Senator objects, the only way to override their objection is with 60 votes. Republicans have delayed nominations with broad bipartisan support by abusing their unanimous consent privilege. An unemployment extension couldn’t come up for a vote for four weeks because the Republicans forced procedural delays. When the bill finally came up, it passed with unanimous support.

Now it would be one thing if it was JUST the 60 vote requirement that was plaguing us in the Senate. The Democrats have 60 votes, critics say, so why can’t we just do anything we want? Once you line up 60 votes, you have to invoke cloture. Once you invoke cloture, you wait 30 hours. Then you vote on cloture. Then you wait another 30 hours. Then you vote on the bill. If the bill is in the form of a manager’s amendment or a substitute amendment, you might have to go through this process 3 or 4 times. That means that the Senate often spends up to two weeks on even non-controversial legislation.

The filibuster itself is not new, but the rampant abuse of it is. Earlier this decade, Democrats almost always allowed Republicans to hold an up-or-down vote on legislation. On the nomination of Samuel Alito the Supreme Court, Democrats who opposed the nomination nevertheless supporting holding a vote. Same for George Bush’s bankruptcy bill. Democrats were unhappy, and some of them were eager to obstruct in any way possible. But enough of them realized for a democracy to function, the majority must be allowed to work its will (with reasonable constraints). I know for sure that Democrats didn’t pull the delay shenanigans on uncontroversial bills we’ve seen all year. At the very least, a SUPER majority was able to exercise its will!

The filibuster is bad for so many reasons, so I’ll just list a few of the problems it has brought on during 2009. First, the filibuster gives power to a small block of moderate Senators. If one party has anywhere from 55-60 votes, the power will rest with the few majority members who want passage of a particular piece of legislation the least. Because the leadership knows that these members are perfectly happy killing a bill, they’ll do anything to win their support. These members are well aware that they can hold bills hostage until they get what they want. (see: health care). Therefore, bills are basically written by 5 or 6 Senators who barely even want the bill to pass, even if a strong majority of the Senate supports the bill enthusiastically. This is just fundamentally unfair, and undemocratic.

Second, the filibuster enables the minority party to pursue an agenda of complete obstruction. The Republican has calculated that it will do best in 2010 and 2012 if the Democratic agenda fails. The Republican Party now has the institutional tools available to make obstruction a reality. In an ideal democracy, Democrats would have the power to enact their agenda, and the voting public would judge whether that legislation has made things better or worse. Our elections become false choices. The American people are unable to judge the policies of the elected majority. They are judging an agenda watered down by hundreds of compromises, compromises that will make bills inevitably worse or less effective. Because these policies will end up not being effective, the minority party will benefit, and may even become the majority party. Thus, our system is rewarding obstruction and stagnation. Not exactly a path to progress.

Both parties have made use of the filibuster, but it inevitably hurts Democrats and progressives. Our ultimate political goals are progress, new policies that bring us more security and opportunity, innovation etc. The right’s ultimate goals are to preserve the traditions of a glorified past, to maintain society’s general order. The right’s goals can be achieved through stagnation. Ours cannot.

The other deeply troubled political institution is the media. The right-wing media, led by Fox News, dole out outrageous claims almost daily, and have poisoned our political discourse. Personalities like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly sew the seeds of fear and hatred into millions of red-faced, mostly old Americans. There’s not much we can do about these loons in a system that treasures free speech.

Of more concern to me is the utter ineptness of the mainstream media. It’s not just that they cover politics like it’s a game, focusing on spectacles like Sarah Palin and Mark Sanford instead of anything important. It’s not just that the media glorifies centrism for centrism’s sake, and gives a hero’s treatment to centrist Democrats who make policies worse just for the hell of it. It’s not just that they care more about some vague notion of bipartisanship than they do about good policy.

The biggest media abuse is that they don’t ever challenge the conventional wisdom. For instance, they’ll cite voters’ worry about the deficit and lazily imply that the deficit is caused exclusively caused by Obama’s domestic programs. They’ll regurgitate absurd statements from the likes of Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney and not challenge them.

When the conventional wisdom is wrong, and no one challenges it, that’s a major problem. When absurd views are presented as one opinion among many, that’s also a major problem. That’s the media in 2009.

2. Governing is a lot harder than being in the opposition.

This one may seem rather obvious, but it's something I didn't quite appreciate until the Democrats had complete control of Washington. You can find almost any reason to oppose a piece of comprehensive legislation. For the minority, this is great news. It allows you political cover to oppose legislation without recourse. You can come up with great, politically palatable reasons to vote against something, and even if its a completely different reason than your colleagues, it allows you to unite with members of your party, and it fires up your base.

For the majority, it means that it's really difficult to cobble together a coalition. Various factions within the coalition are pitted against one another, because they have different reasons (sometimes dubious ones) to oppose legislation. This infighting demoralizes and turns off your political base.

It's especially hard to govern when you're being ambitious. Any good bill contains sacrifices that are easy to demagogue. The Republicans, who have threatened to cut Medicare since its inception, had a field day attacking the Democrats' effort to trim its excesses.

Yet another reason why our system is very good for stagnation...

3. People still have incorrect assumptions about things, and that's got to change.

I really thought that the election of Barack Obama was not just a political sea change, but a paradigm change in our country's collective policy preferences. With last year's economic crisis, I thought supply-side economics had been thoroughly defeated in the public arena. I thought we were entering a new era in which there would be a deep distrust of corporations, and a new willingness to let the government protect our economic security.

Partially due to the media malpractice discussed above, and partially because of President Obama'a unwillingness to challenge the American people, these paradigm changes have not taken place. In fact, some of the assumptions that have plagued our policy discussions for a generation still take hold. Polling suggests that the American people are still deeply skeptical of government, even more so than private enterprise. The American people still assume that even during a recession, the government should "tighten its belt" and "live within its means." Not even the President has tried to explain that the government should do the exact opposite during a recession, to spur demand that the private sector cannot generate. One poll actually showed that a plurality of Americans thinks that if the stimulus packaged were discontinued, MORE jobs would be created. It all comes from a deeply held view that government spending is superfluous and not helpful to the average American.

In a representative democracy, it shouldn't matter that the general public has misguided policy views. But these views have been exploited by Republicans, who sense political opportunity in talking about the deficit and government spending. Centrist Democrats have sensed the political dangers in the deficit, and have tried to prove how "fiscally disciplined" they are. President Obama has not tried for months to explain exactly how government spending would help people. He hasn't explained that money to states and local governments are needed to protect critical public service jobs. He hasn't explained how short term investments in infrastructure, and a strengthening of safety net programs will give Americans more money in their pocket to invest into the economy.

President Obama and Congressional Democrats have made a huge mistake by not trying to change these perceptions. As a result, somehow policies that make absolutely no sense (cutting spending during a recession) are considered "common sense."

Similarly, the American public has no understanding what has caused the federal deficit. There is a perception, promoted by a relentless Republican attack, that the deficit is caused by President Obama's stimulus. This is verifyably false. The deficit is caused primarily by three factors: the economic downturn, massive Bush-era tax cuts, and giant sums of money funneled to the War in Iraq. No Democrats have tried to explain this. Instead, they feed into the "conventional wisdom" by tacitly admitting that the deficit is caused by President Obama's spending programs.

In fact, the last decade can be summed up by the ways in which we've accumulated large deficits. A huge deficit would have been worth it if we had invested in children and the middle-class. Instead, we spent money on pointless wars, and tax cuts for the wealthy. I think this speech sums up the decade up perfectly.

So these are the key lessons learned in 2009. Hopefully the President has learned these lessons and hopefully he'll seek to correct these problems in 2010, so that we can continue to deliver for the American people.

To all the loyal readers, thanks for your support and happy 2010!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/24/09-Milestone Achieved

Good morning and welcome to the Daily Strike. This will be a quick entry, as I'm about to head to the airport. But how could I not commemorate this historic day?

HEALTH CARE: A little after 7am this morning, the United States Senate, by a vote of 60-39 (Republican Jim Bunning did not vote), passed health care reform. Vice President Biden assumed his constitutional role as President of the Senate and announced the final roll call vote. The 60-vote Democratic caucus, strained for months by intense intra-party negotiations, held together vote after vote over the last several days, and in doing so, passed the greatest expansion of the social safety-net since the Great Society.

To many of us, this doesn't seem like a victory. After all we've given up to please the Liebermans and Nelsons, it may seem like we're stuck with an empty case called "health reform." I think Ezra puts our feelings into perspective very nicely in this piece.

Senate and House leaders will return to work early next week to begin the arduous process of merging the two bills. The House returns to work on January 11th, while the Senate does not come back into session until the 20th. As a result, it will be several weeks before we get a definitive look at the final bill. But at this point, there's no turning back. I think it was very key that Senate liberals like Bernie Sanders (VT) and Russ Feingold (WI) supported the Senate bill. It sends a message to House liberals that this is something any good progressive should support, despite its shortcomings.

Some issues, like abortion, subsidies, the shape of the health insurance exchange, and the employer mandate, will be difficult to settle. But negotiators, led by the President of the United States, are determined to get it done. And they will. The President should have a bill at his desk by the State of the Union, if not shortly after.

DEBT CEILING: The Senate also voted 60-39 to raise the nation's debt ceiling by another $200 billion. This temporary raise will allow us to move into February without defaulting on our loans. This bill is sort of like cleaning the dishes after Thanksgiving dinner. Nobody wants to do it, but everyone recognizes that it needs to be done. Part of the responsibility of governing is taking tough votes that won't be popular at home. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) assured the Democratic caucus that they would get no Republican support. After Democrat Evan Bayh (IN) voted against the bill, Democrats were a vote short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill. Retiring Republican George Voinovich (OH) took the hit and supported this necessary piece of legislation. Both Houses of Congress must return to the issue in February when the ceiling will have to be raised once again.

That's it for now. And that's it for much of the next week here in Strike-land. As I said yesterday, you can expect a couple of longer entries by New Year's Day, but in the meantime, relax, take a break from politics, and enjoy your holidays.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/23/09-Final Hurdles

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We're now about 12 hours away from health care reform passing the Senate. Then Senators can go home for Christmas, and we can all take a break from non-stop politics.

HEALTH CARE: We are officially one vote short of health care reform in the United States Senate. Tomorrow at 7am, the Senate will vote on final passage of the bill, subject to a simple 50 vote majority. To mark the occasion, Vice President Joe Biden will fulfill his constitutional duty and preside over the chamber. It's certainly been a long time coming, and the road has been paved with frustration. But Democrats who have been waiting generations to get this done will reach a crucial milestone early tomorrow morning.

This afternoon, the Senate voted 60-39, strictly along party lines, to a) agree to the amended Reid substitute and b) cut off debate on the underlying bill. Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) was not present. Democrats had these 60 votes lined up for several days now, but with the whole caucus subjects to the uncertainty of whims and sudden illnesses, it felt good to officially reach that threshold. Republicans agreed to yield back some of the 30 hours of post-cloture debate time (usually 30 hours) so that members could get out of town and beat a storm snarling travel across the midwest.

Prior to the vote on cloture, the Senate took 5 votes on Republican "points of order," all of which were cynical attempts to insinuate bad things about the bill. The first point of order, from Senator Ensign (NV) sought to claim that the bill was unconstitutional because of the individual mandate provision. We talked about the flaws of his argument yesterday. His point of order was voted down on a straight 39-60 party-line vote.

Next, Republican Senator Bob Corker raised a point of order that the bill broke budget rules regarding unfunded mandates. Corker tried to claim that the bill would mandate that states cover more individuals under Medicaid without providing money for this expansion. Senator Baucus (D-MT) disputed this claim, saying that the federal government will pay for nearly 100% of the Medicaid expansion. The Democrats beat back this point of order by a vote of 55-44, with Democrats Bayh (NH), Nelson (NE), Shaheen (NH), Warner (VA) and Webb (VA) voting with the GOP. Interestingly, 4 out of these 5 were previously governors.

Next, the Democrats beat back an effort by Senator Cornyn (R-TX) to claim that the bill violated Senate rules because members did not disclose individual spending items. This is a legitimate concern, especially considering that Senator Nelson (NE) was given a special Medicaid kickback to win his vote. Ultimately, the concern is not worth jeapordizing the bill. The Cornyn motion was killed 57-42, with Democrats Bayh (IN), Bennet (CO) and McCaskill (MO) voting with the Republicans.

Then, on a strict 39-60 party-line vote, the Democrats beat back an effort by Senator Hutchison (TX) to declare the bill out of order because it violates the 10th amendment (giving unenumerated power to the states). I won't go into the constitutional reasons why Hutchison is wrong right now, but let's just say that the GOP has tried the 10th amendment attack line before, and no legal scholar takes it seriously.

Finally, the Senate beat back an effort by Senator Jim DeMint to require Senators to publicly justify their individual spending requests in bills. This is no time to try new ethics measures. We're trying to get a health care bill passed. Sorry, good government folks. The DeMint effort was killed 53-46, with Democrats Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI), McCaskill (MO), Merkley (OR), Nelson (NE), Warner (VA) and Webb (VA) defecting.

Today, President Obama said in an interview that he plans to get closely involved in House-Senate conference negotiations, so that he can sign the best bill possible. I would highly recommend that he read this piece by the good folks at The Wonk Room. They suggest several important provisions in the House bill that were omitted from the Senate package. Including these provisions in the final bill may not overcome the disappointment of losing the fight over the public option, but it would arguably have a more tangible effect on policy.

CARNEY SCARE: After Rep. Parker Griffith (AL) switched from the Democratic to the Republican party yesterday, Republicans thought maybe they could pick off a few other conservative Democrats and deal a devastating blow to the House Democratic Caucus. On their target list, according to Politico, was Pennsylvania Democrat Chris Carney. Carney apparently received calls from Senator John McCain and Republican Rep. Bill Shuster (PA). The story took hold because a Carney spokesperson did not deny these entreaties. Yours truly worked to elect Chris Carney back in 2006. I spent 4 days in the middle of rural Pennsylvania, setting up stages, hanging bunting, and mixing patriotic music for this guy. He seemed like such a breath of fresh air, a populist rural Democrat who spent much of his adult life in the Navy. He was extremely personable and was a pleasure to work for. If he switched parties, it would be an act of betrayal that would almost make me want to lose interest in politics. Luckily, Carney just released a statement saying he will indeed remain a Democrat. He almost singlehandedly ruined my entire holiday season.

That's it for today. We'll give you an update midday tomorrow on the Senate's final health care vote. The Senate will also vote on whether to temporarily raise the debt ceiling. Tomorrow's entry will be our last for a week or so. Prior to the New Year, I'll be writing long pieces summarizing lessons learned in 2009, and previewing the 2010 midterm elections.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/22/09-Two Down, One to Go

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike, as we get closer and closer to the Senate's final vote on health reform. And a Democrat defects to the other side! Let's get to the day in politics.

HEALTH CARE: This morning, the Senate Democrats cleared another procedural hurdle in their quest to pass health care by Christmas Eve. This morning, the Senate took 3 votes to advance health reform. First, the Senate voted to table the Reid amendment. Why would Democrats kill their own amendment? Turns out it's a procedural move to disallow any more amendments. Second, the Senate approved Senator Reid's "manager's amendment." Finally, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on Reid's "substitute amendment." All votes were 60-39, and all, of course, were strictly along party lines. Republican Senator James Inhofe (OK) did not vote.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Senate will take two votes. First, they will vote to adopt the Reid substitute. Next, they will vote to dispense with a Republican point-of-order. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Republicans are still convinced that the bill's individual mandate is unconstitutional. Imposing a penalty for failing to buy health insurance is clearly under the powers of the interstate commerce clause. The Republicans nonetheless have raised a point-of-order that the bill is unconstitutional. Finally, the Senate will vote to close off debate on the underlying bill.

Republicans had previously threatened to use all time available under Senate rules before allowing a final vote. Today, however, they agreed to hold a final vote Thursday at 8am. Thus, we're less than 48 hours away from both houses of Congress passing comprehensive health reform. Democrats have already twice proven that they have 60 votes to advance, so these other votes are just formalities.

After Thursday's health care vote, the Senate will vote on a bill to temporarily raise the nation's debt limit.

There is already talk about what will take place during House-Senate conference negotiations. House Democrats seem to be conceding that they have lost the public option fight. They are now wisely turning to other ways to make the bill more progressive. For one, liberals will try to make the bill's major provisions come into effect sooner than 2014. Hopefully, they'll also push for increased Medicaid eligibility and higher subsidies. In my view, the most useful think progressives can do at this point would be to fight for reasonable changes in the conference committee. It will be a lot more useful than calling for the bill to be killed.

Finally on this topic, President Obama said today in an interview that he did as much as he could to sell health reform. He also pushed back against liberals by saying that the public option wasn't a big part of his campaign, and that the fight over it has been overblown. I disagree with the President on this one. My earliest understanding of his health care plan was that the government would be offering a plan to compete with private insurers. But seeing the reaction to the President's interview today on the Internet gave me a realization. We need to get over our anger and frustration that this bill isn't all that it could be. We are about to achieve something truly historic, something that will save thousands of lives, and something that will improve the quality of life for millions of Americans. It's time to see the forest for the trees.

GRIFFITH: Today, freshman Democrat Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama switched to the Republican party. He apparently became disillusioned with his party's leadership and agenda, and decided that enough was enough. In practical terms, this switch means absolutely nothing. Democrats now control 257 seats instead of 258 (the same amount of seats they controlled in early November.) Further, Griffith voted against pretty much every item on the Democratic agenda, including the stimulus, the budget, Cap-and-Trade and health care. He even said earlier this year that he would not vote again for Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House.The move, though, is a symbolic victory for the Republican Party. It gives credence to their argument that the Democrats' agenda is too far-left, just like Arlen Specter's party switch earlier this year allowed Democrats to portray the Republicans as extreme.

Party-switches always baffle me. Parker Griffith accepted millions of dollars from the Democratic party last year, and now he is trashing their leadership? The Republican party, conversely, spent millions of dollars on brutal attacks against Griffith, questioning his patriotism, and accusing him of short-changing cancer patients in his career as a doctor. Now, they are welcoming him with open arms. Just a little weird to me...

Anyways, there's a silver lining to Griffith's defection. Given a tough political climate, Griffith probably couldn't have won as a Democrat in a deeply conservative district. Now, the party doesn't have to spend money defending a guy who votes against the party on almost every major item. In fact, as I discovered today while perusing the Washington Post's vote database, Griffith has voted against his party 26 the last month!!

That's it for tonight, we'll keep you posted on the health care home stretch!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/21/09-Republican Delusions

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. There's not much to talk about since thsi morning's entry, so we'll keep this short. The next set of Senate votes will take place tomorrow at 7am, and we'll have full coverage in tomorrow's entries. Oh, and thanks to your government, airlines can now only keep you on the tarmac for three hours!

HEALTH CARE: I had very small expectations for Republican rhetoric on health care. The party of "you lie" and "death panels" isn't exactly a shining example in political oratory. But some of their latest pot-shots have been giving me a good laugh. Today, RNC chairman Michael Steele said that by passing this legislation, Democrats were "flipping the bird" to the American people. In what sense? Democrats are about to pass a bill that gives 30 million people health insurance and reduces the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next 20 years. They are about to pass a bill that makes insurance affordable for those in the individual market for the first time ever. Is he talking about the process? This issue has been debated the entire year. It has gone through weeks and weeks of committee hearings, and months and months of debate. It has now been on the Senate floor for 4 weeks. We made some ugly compromises to win over some undecided Senators, as has happened on every bill since the dawn of our Republic.

How are we flipping the bird? Beyond the fact that Steele is using language I abandoned about 10 years ago, it's more proof that the Republican party and their allies have absolutely no idea what's in the bill or what the bill does. Steele himself admitted earlier this year that he "doesn't know policy." Do you think that if you talked to the average health-care critic on the street, that they could give a reasonable 2 sentence description of the bill? I doubt it.

Then I heard Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, say that Republicans have been shut out of the process and have had no input on the bill. Seriously? We spent three futile months trying to come up with a bipartisan compromise in the Senate Finance Committee. We basically guaranteed that Olympia Snowe could have anything she wanted in the bill. President Obama bit his tongue and publicly praised Senators Enzi and Grassley for working in a bipartisan fashion, even when it became clear that these Senators had no interest in crafting a compromise. The bill itself is basically a Republican idea: expand health care access by giving people opportunity to buy private health insurance.

I guess I shouldn't be frustrated because health care reform is about to pass, but I just thought I should set the record straight. Anyways, that's it for tonight. We'll have much more tomorrow.

The Weekly Strike-12/21-12/27

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Thanks to mother nature, I get the day off work today. That didn't lead me, however, to stay up for last night's historic Senate vote. Let's get to the week in politics.

HEALTH CARE: The first major 60-vote hurdle in the Senate has been cleared. Shortly after 1am last night, the Senate voted 60-40 on a strict party-line vote to end debate on Majority Leader Reid's Manager's Amendment. If Republicans continue to use every available procedural roadblock, that puts us 5 roll-call votes away from final passage. Tomorrow morning, the Senate will vote on passage of the Manager's Amendment, and to cut off debate on Reid's Substitute Amendment (see last week's entry for an explanation). On Wednesday, the Senate will vote for final passage of the substitute amendment, and to cut off debate on the underlying bill. Thursday evening, Christmas Eve, the Senate will vote on final passage of the bill.

After that, the House and Senate will begin working on a compromise proposal. Because there is zero margin for error in the Senate, the final package will most likely be nearly identical to the Senate bill. After a conference report is agreed upon, it will return to both chambers for a final vote. And yes, the conference report can indeed be filibustered, meaning that all 60 Democrats will need to be on board once again.

Today is another opportunity for celebration. Let's give credit to Majority Leader Reid. With unanimous opposition, he had to put a product together that would win support from a caucus with members as diverse as self-described socialist Bernie Sanders, and conservatives like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. He did so by making some tough compromises. He did not give up anything that keeps this bill from covering 31 million more Americans, and transferring massive amounts of wealth to lower and middle-income Americans. Many commentators have noted this, but if you had told us after the 2004 election that Democrats would pass a bill to provide near universal coverage by spending $900 billion to pay for the poor and lower-middle class to get quality health care, we would have been very pleased.

I was also amazed at the logistical difficulty of cobbling together 60 votes during a major East Coast snow storm. New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg were scheduled to arrive via Amtrak, but their trains were cancelled. Instead, they took a government plane to National airport, and got jettisoned to the Capitol in SUVs. 92-year-old Senator Robert Byrd has had to show up for two 1am votes in the past week. The longtime Senator can't even walk, so he has to be wheeled in by aides.

But somehow, despite all the obstacles, we've managed to get to this point. Let's cross our fingers that this does not get screwed up.

CONGRESS: The health care bill is the last item on the agenda for either the House or the Senate this year. The Senate will be out for the first three weeks in January, whereas the House should gavel back in on January 11th for legislative business. In the meantime, House and Senate leaders will be hard at work negotiating a health care compromise package.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President will still be working during this holiday week. Today, he meets with Nancy Fichtner, the federal employee who won the "SAVE" award for coming up with the best idea for making government more efficient. Her idea was to let veterans continue using medication at home that they've been receiving at the hospital, rather than discarding extra dosages and forcing patients to re-stock their prescriptions at home. The President will then make remarks on government efficiency. I expect to see this a lot in the next year to help allay voters' apparent discomfort with the federal budget deficit.

The President's schedule hasn't been released for later in the week. I will keep you all posted.

That's it for now, leave us some comments!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/19/09-Compromise Reached

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. I just wanted to give a quick update before my cabin fever really starts to kick in.

HEALTH CARE: We have reached a compromise! This morning, Senator Ben Nelson announced that after a series of modifications, he will now be able to support the Senate health care bill. Since no liberals seem to be too angry about this compromise, pretty much assuring that we have 60 votes to pass this bill. The Big Picture sums up my feelings on this day extremely well:

I am THRILLED that health care reform will pass!!!!!!! Even with the annoying compromises to the centrists, this means that health care will be more affordable, thirty million more people will be insured, and experts predict hundreds of thousands of lives will be saved. It is the greatest advance toward a decent society... where people have a real safety net in decades. What a great day! As important as Obama's victory.

We can't let our annoyances at the the compromises obscure the fact that this bill will insure 31 million Americans and save lives. I have no tolerance for liberals out there who are so angry that the bill might help insurance companies that they want to see it killed. The legislative process is often ugly, and we're getting close to the finish line.

So what did we have to give up to secure Nelson's vote? People can buy insurance with abortion coverage, but the money has to be segregated from money provided through subsidies. States, however, can opt out of this provision and instead institute an outright ban of abortion coverage in the individual market. In addition, we'll be throwing some money to Nebraska for Medicaid. I wouldn't have put these provisions in my ideal bill, but it could have been a lot worse. The Nelsons and Liebermans of the world weren't able to undue the basic structure of the bill. And as Tom Harkin (D-IA) said, this is just the beginning. We will now have a good framework to build on in the coming years.

There are still some obstacles in the road to a final bill. The House-Senate conference could be contentious on a number of issues, including abortion. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), author of the anti-abortion amendment in the House bill, is against the Senate language, and may marshall enough of his pro-life colleagues to jeapordize the Nelson compromise. Because the Senate has no margin for error, the final bill will look more like the Senate measure than the House measure. Sure, the House bill passed very narrowly, but once it is moderated slightly, it should pick up a few votes from some Blue Dog Democrats.

But for now, I'd put the odds pretty high that President Obama will sign a comprehensive bill by the State of the Union address in late January, and make no mistake, it will mark a HUGE accomplishment for this young administration.

DEFENSE BILL: In brief other news, the Senate agreed to the Defense funding bill by a vote of 88-10, sending it to the President for his signature. 9 Republicans and Democrat Russ Feingold (WI) voted no. Our government is now fully funded through September 30th of next year. The bill also contained extensions of various safety net programs and tax cuts, as well as a 2 month extension of The Patriot Act.

That's it for tonight, see you tomorrow!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/18/09-Snowed In (No we're not talking about Olympia)

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Lady Strike and I are preparing ourselves for up to 2 feet of snow tomorrow, and I'll have you know that we are all stocked up on milk and bread. I still have time to give a rundown of the day in politics. Two big news stories today: health care and the Copenhagen conference. Let's get to it.

HEALTH CARE: It's getting increasingly painful, but there might, just might, be some light at the end of the tunnel. It appears as if despite the compromises given to appease Joe Lieberman, no liberal members will vote to filibuster the bill. That makes the lone Democratic holdout Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and he controls the whole process right now. Nelson wants changes in language in the bill relating to abortion. But now he is also demanding a crackpot provision to allow states to "opt-out" of the bill's Medicaid, which as this article explains, makes no sense whatsoever for Nelson's state. Democratic leaders seem confident that they can get Nelson on board before tomorrow morning, when they will have to start the procedural wheels in motion on a compromise proposal.

The reason I'm still fearful is that Ben Nelson is a pea-brain. He knows absolutely nothing about policy. He has no idea what he actually wants in the bill, he just wants to be as much of a thorn in the side of Democrats as is humanly possible. Someone this stupid holding this much power is extremely disturbing. It might be time for Rahm Emanuel to make some harsh threats against Nelson.

While the debate on health care rages on, the Senate had to pass a must-pass Defense funding bill. Democrats scheduled a cloture for last night at 1am after a series of Republican delay tactics. Republicans thought that if they could filibuster the defense bill, they could further delay a vote on health reform. Funding for the Pentagon expires at midnight tonight if the Senate doesn't act. Therefore, Republicans were willing to kill funding for the troops to cause problems for Democrats on health care. Luckily, the Republicans' scheme didn't work. Democrats were scrambling last night to find 60 votes to cut off debate. The only member of their 60 vote caucus who wasn't in line was Russ Feingold (WI), who has consistently refused to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Feingold was convinced that Republicans were filibustering the bill to kill health care reform, so Feingold relented. After Feingold announced his yes vote, three other Republicans (Snowe and Collins of Maine, and Hutchison of Texas) came aboard. A vote on final passage will occur tomorrow morning at 7:30, just as DC will get blanketed with snow. Democrats may have to find 60 votes to beat back a Republican point of order, but it looks likely that they'll be able to do so.

We'll keep you posted on the key health care developments this weekend.

COPENHAGEN: The President jetted off to Copenhagen yesterday to help facilitate a compromise agreement with the nations of the world to reduce greenhouse gases. Late today, the President announced that he had reached a deal. Obama said that the deal, agreed upon by 193 developing and industrial countries, does not commit any nation to robust reductions in greenhouse gases, but rather contains measures helping developing nations cope with climate problems, and requires China to disclose its actions addressing the climate crisis. In other words, this deal does very little. It's being called a sham by environmental groups, but it really only codifies existing agreements.

At the very least, we're doing SOMETHING. More than can be said about the previous administration. I guess that's something to cheer about.

We'll see you tomorrow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/17/09-Hostage Taking

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It's gonna be a wild ride for health care reform in the Senate for the next week. Let's get to it.

HEALTH CARE: There wasn't much actual news on health care today. Democrats have laid out a timeline of votes that would result in passage of the bill on New Year's Eve. The timeline includes votes in the middle of the night, starting this evening with a cloture vote on the Defense Appropriations bill. Senator Reid (D-NV) will file cloture on his manager's amendment, the substitute amendment, and the bill itself on Saturday, which would set off a series of votes starting Monday morning. Each of these votes to advance the bill will require 60 votes, of course, and even with the seemingly endless concessions we've give to moderates, we're not quite there yet. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) is still threatening to vote against advancing the bill because he doesn't think the bill does enough to ban public funding for abortion. Senator Sanders (I-VT) is threatening to vote against the bill (but not necessarily cloture!) because the bill is not liberal enough. Other Democratic Senators seem to be mostly in line behind the bill, despite the fact that almost none of them like the bill at this point. If Nelson doesn't get in line, the Democrats will have to turn to Olympia Snowe (R-ME), whose main demand at this point is that the process be extended into January.

The reason this bill has been so difficult is that with no margin of error, every Democratic Senator knows that they have the power to bring this bill down. Several of them are not afraid to use this power. Many progressives have openly wondered why the White House and Democratic leaders kowtow to the demands and threats of conservatives like Nelson, but not of liberals like Sanders. The answer, in my view, is that liberal Senators really really want to pass a health care bill (many of them have spent careers working on this issue), while centrists, worried about their political futures, wouldn't mind seeing the bill go down in flames. The Big Picture sums it up nicely:

The essential leverage problem remains, in that liberals really want this to pass, and not to fail, while centrists would be happy to have killed the bill, so we always have to give in so they'll play along. Whenever I've been in "negotiations" like this in real life it is incredibly frustrating to be the person with no leverage, no "hand" as Kramer and George from Seinfeld would say. Classic case is trying to get my roommate to clean up with me, but he would just say "I don't care if it's clean or not" so it would always fall on me because I (somewhat) cared. But lots and lots of other situations. Also I often get into these situations because I almost always am very obvious about how I feel and what I want, so the cunning can take advantage of that while masking their own goals.

I think we've all been in those situations, and we know how frustrating they can be. We'll keep you posted on the hostage taking as the Senate continues its health care marathon through the weekend.

There were no votes on amendments today, though we did have one unbelievable moment on the Senate floor. Most of us in the last week have wanted to tell Joe Lieberman to shut up. Al Franken actually did! While presiding over the Senate, Franken broke "sacred" Senate custom and objected to Lieberman speaking for an extra minute. John McCain came to the floor to defend his best friend, saying that he fears "what has happened to comity in this institution." Which party again was it that wants to delay bills by forcing the clerks to read them out loud for twelve hours?

JOBS: Before I go for the night, here's what The Big Picture's response was to my entry last night expressing frustration that House Democrats voted against the jobs measure. We'll see you tomorrow night when we'll discuss health care and the President's trip to the climate summit in Coopenhagen.

The main thing is that people simply don't understand that government spending on aid to states, jobs programs, actually produces jobs. We thought that would be obvious but clearly it's not. Obama's greatest strategic mistake was not using his honeymoon period with the unchallenged bully pulpit to explain the basis of his economic thinking, to explain that we were suffering a massive loss in total spending in the economy, and that's what was driving businesses to fail and people to lose their jobs, and that it's a spiral, that can only be corrected by smart government spending with good multipliers, and explain what that is. As a key part of this he could have explained what the deficit is caused by, and how his plan to spend was the best way to not have a deficit, and explain why. He would say that government spending isn't bad or good, it depends on what it's for, and how it's paid for. He could say that you wouldn't say spending isn't automatically bad for the country just like you wouldn't say eating isn't automatically bad for you, but it depends: if you eat junk food and don't exercise, that's bad; just like it's bad how under Bush we spent money in ways that didn't help the economy, and we didn't pay for it so now we have huge deficits. But if you eat healthy and exercise, then that's good; that's what we're doing, we're spending in the best way to keep businesses from failing, to keep people employed, and we're also going to tackle the deficit in ways A, B, and C which will actually help people. And just explain that over and over, pre-empting the criticism which he should have anticipated would come.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/16/09-Closing Up Shop

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The House ducked out of town today so that Speaker Pelosi could jet off to Copenhagen. Let's get to the day in politics.

HEALTH CARE: We knew it was inevitable. We knew it was coming. But it doesn't make it any less annoying. Today the Republicans brought out their parliamentary dilatory tactics to bring the health care debate to a halt. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) had proposed an amendment that would replace the entire bill with a single-payer system. The amendment was obviously for show, but Sanders only intended for it to be a short chance for him to make a case for single-payer medicine. Republican Senator Tom Coburn, the master of obstruction, forced the clerk to read the entire 700 page amendment, as is his right as a single Senator. The clerk made it through about two hours and had only read 150 or so pages, so Sanders decided to withdraw his amendment (which cuts off the reading, in the theory of the parliamentarian at least). As a result, Sanders was prevented from offering his amendment. More importantly, the Republicans have indicated that they will do anything to delay this bill as long as possible. Unfortunately, they have a lot of opportunities to do so.

To accommodate the changes Majority Leader Reid has made to appease moderates, the Democrats have crafted a "manager's amendment" that will incorporate the revisions. This manager's amendment will probably be pretty long, and any Republican can request that it be read in full on the Senate floor. The Democrats will need 60 votes to close debate on this manager's amendment. And remember in 8th grade when you learned about how only the House can originate bills raising revenue? As a result of this constitutional provision, the Senate has to make the health care bill a substitute amendment to an unrelated House-passed measure. The substitute amendment will need 60 votes, and will be subject to the long and arduous cloture process. It took can be read in full at the request of any Senator, and it is 2,000 pages. Once the substitute amendment is approved, the underlying bill will be subject to the 60 vote threshold and the 60 hour cloture process. In other words, Republicans have the power to drag this thing out a pretty long time, even if the Democrats cobble together 60 votes.

The strategy is clear: the longer and uglier this debate gets, the less popular health care becomes. The Republicans know that, and they are using it to their advantage. The Democrats need to play hardball and force the Republicans to follow through on these obstruction threats, even if it means that the Senate is in session on Christmas day.

The Senate took one vote today, to kill a Hutchison (TX) amendment that would delay the taxes in the bill from kicking in until the full benefits have been given out. This amendment would keep the bill from being deficit neutral, so Democrats lined up in opposition. The amendment was killed 56-41, with all Republicans voting no (supporting the amendment). Democrats Bayh (IN) and Nelson (NE) voted with the GOP, as they have frequently during the health care debate.

Tomorrow, the Senate takes a break from health care to consider the Defense Appropriations bill, which we'll talk about below.

THE HOUSE: So what DIDN'T the House do today? The 2009 session of the House of Representatives has officially ended, and the House was able to take care of some important year-end business in time for members to jet out of town. The House really a productive year, and it's important that we recognize that the source of stagnation has been the United States Senate and its cadre of centrist Democrats During the Christmas break, I will write an entry about what we could have accomplished if we had a unicameral legislature. But for now, I will go through what the House did today.

The House passed three key bills today. The first was the Defense Appropriations bill. Democrats used this must-pass funding bill as a vehicle for other must-pass pieces of legislation that would die a slow Senate death in regular order. Among the provisions of the bill are extensions of various tax credits and safety net programs, as well as a temporary extension of certain provisions of the 2001 Patriot Act. Democrats wanted to tack on even more to this bill, like an increase in the debt ceiling and a jobs measure, but it was clear that such measures couldn't get 60 votes in the Senate, even if they were attached to a troop-funding bill.

The bill passed by a vote of 395-34, with 23 Democrats and 11 Republicans voting no. The Democrats' opposition was due to the fact that some of these funds will be used for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure is currently on the Senate floor, where it is expected to pass in the next couple of days, depending on whether the GOP employs more delay tactics.

Next on the agenda was the toughest vote for wary Democrats. The United States has reached its so-called debt ceiling, meaning that if Congress did not authorize us to go into more debt, we would default on our loans. This debt limit has to be raised pretty frequently, and it is a great political opportunity for the party out of power to rag on the majority about "running up the debt." Republicans, of course, were thrilled to have that opportunity. Democrats wanted to increase the debt limit by $1.8 trillion, which would have sufficed through next year. But when it was clear that such an increase wouldn't pass the Senate, the leadership settled on a raise of $ 200 billion that will last until February (at which points members will be forced to take yet another difficult vote on raising the debt ceiling again!). The bill passed by a margin of 218-214, with all Republicans and 39 Democrats voting no. Some Democratic members have clearly read polls that show Americans increasingly worried about the deficit and the national debt, so I can understand them not wanting to raise the debt ceiling. I personally think, as I've said before, that when people say they're worried about the deficit, they're more expressing a general discontent with the economy and the jobs picture.

If the next vote was any indication of whether centrist and vulnerable Democrats understand the economic angst of the American public, then these members are utterly clueless. The Democratic leadership brought a bill to the floor today that would have transferred about $159 billion in leftover TARP money for a robust jobs bill. The bill contained provisions that extended safety-net programs like unemployment insurance and COBRA health insurance. It gave money to state and local governments to help offset staggering state budget deficits that are causing teachers, firefighters and policemen to be laid off. It also invested over $70 billion in infrastructure projects that will create good jobs in construction and manufacturing. In other words, this was a bill to transfer money from Wall Street to Main Street. The bill passed by a narrow margin of 217-212.

This bill would have a measurable effect on millions of Americans (though it should have been bigger). Thus, I'm extremely disturbed that 38 Democrats joined every single Republican in opposing this bill. Do these Democrats take literally polls that say that people would rather reduce the deficit than create jobs? I'm one to believe that people don't really know what the deficit is, what causes it, and what the consequences are. The deficit is such a nebulous concept. People hear the word "deficit" and it sort of conjures up the feeling that the economy is bad, and that we're spending more money than we're taking in, which is a bad thing. I guarantee you that if we increased the deficit and it brought down unemployment by 5 percentage points, people would stop caring about the deficit. I wish these 38 Democrats knew better than to take polls literally, and voted for reasons other than short-term political expediency. The list of guilty Democrats is as follows (commence booing): Adler (NJ), Arcuri (NY), Bean (IL), Boren (OK), Boyd (FL), Bright (AL), Childers (MS), Connolly (VA), Donnelly (IN), Driehaus (OH), Edwards (TX), Ellsworth (IN), Foster (IL), Griffith (AL), Herseth Sandlin (SD), Hill (IN), Himes (CT), Hodes (NH), Kind (WI), Kirkpatrick (AZ), Kosmas (FL), Kratovil (MD), Markey (CO), Matheson (UT), Melancon (LA), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Murphy (PA), Nye (VA), Peters (MI), Peterson (MN), Pomeroy (ND), Quigley (IL), Schrader (OR), Smith (WA), Space (OH), Taylor (MS) and Teague (NM).

And just because we want to leave on a postive note, here are vulnerable/swing-state Democrats who took a tough yes vote: Boccieri (OH), Carney (PA), Giffords (AZ), Grayson (FL), Owens (NY), Perriello (VA) and Shuler (NC).

That's it for tonight. No more updates on the House until the New Year! We'll keep you posted on the Senate health care battle and we'll fill you in on Obama's happenings tomorrow night.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/15/09-Moving On as the Dust Settles

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We hope you are all recovering from post-Lieberman depression syndrome. Let's get to the day in politics.

HEALTH CARE: There is a divide among liberal Democrats right now in reaction to Majority Leader Reid's capitulation to the demands of Joe Lieberman. Most liberal lawmakers, and about half of the liberal blogosphere, has argued that yes, Lieberman is a jerk, but overall the bill is a major step in the right direction and should be passed. The other camp, led by Markos Moulitsas and former DNC Chairman Howard Dean is saying that the Senate bill is so bad that we should kill it and start over. Their argument is that forcing people to buy insurance when there is no public option represents a huge giveaway to the insurance companies, and little benefit to consumers. I'm sympathetic to Kos and Dean, but I think they're wrong. Lieberman's demands have made the bill significantly worse, but it will still cover 30 million Americans, it will enact important insurance market reforms, and it has hundreds of other provisions that will make our health care system better and more efficient. We can't let our anger at Lieberman and his cohorts prevent us from passing a pretty good bill. If this fails, health care reform opponents will be emboldened, the Democratic party will suffer heavy losses next year, and reform will be pushed off for another generation. If this passes, we won't get everything we want, but it will be something to build on.

Of course, we're not there yet! Though Lieberman indicated today that he's close to being able to support this bill, Reid still is short of 60 votes. Ben Nelson (D-NE) still has concerns over abortion that haven't been adequate addressed. If they choose to ignore his concerns, they could try and restart negotiations with Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Snowe, however, seems disinclined to support reform, because she thinks the process is being rushed. Also, though most liberal Senators have said that they can live with the compromise bill, there are a couple who haven't spoken up yet, like Senators Sanders (VT) and Feingold (WI). This weekend, we'll be writing a comprehensive entry on how we got to this point, and what we can do in the future to build on the current health reform effort.

THE SENATE: The Senate took 4 votes today on health care amendments, even as Democrats took time to visit the President at the White House. The first two votes dealt with middle class tax increases. Republican Senator Crapo (ID) proposed an amendment to assure that no taxes are raised under the bill for those making under $250,000. The excise tax on high cost insurance plans, as well as various other fees that help raise revenue for the bill, may impact some middle-class families. The Senate, in my view, should have taken the House approach by taxing the very wealthy. Still, it would not be prudent to gut a key revenue source, especially one (the excise tax) that may bend the proverbial health care. Democrats, as they have done throughout this whole debate, proposed a side-by-side amendment that makes a general statement (sense of the Senate) against middle-class tax increases.

The Democratic amendment, proposed by Senator Baucus (D-MT), passed by a vote of 97-1, with only Senator Nelson (NE) voting no. I have no idea why Nelson voted no on this. The Crapo amendment failed by a vote of 45-54. All Republicans voted yes, as did Democrats Bayh (IN), Cantwell (WA), Klobuchar (MN), Lincoln (AR) and Nelson (NE).

Next up were votes on two amendments dealing with drug importation. Senator Dorgan (D-ND) proposed an amendment to allow prescription drugs to be imported from Canada. Because of Canada's SINGLE-PAYER (!) health care system, the government can negotiate cheaper drug prices. This amendment was opposed by many Democrats who helped craft an agreement this year with the drug companies this year, which was that the companies would support reform if Congress didn't in any way threaten their massive profits. Interestingly, the amendment also drew opposition from Republicans. The amendment failed by a vote of 51-48, short of the 60 votes required for passage. Both caucuses were pretty much split down the middle on this issue.

An alternative proposal, from Senator Lautenberg (D-NJ) would have allowed limited importation of drugs from Canada with a bevy of restrictions. The Lautenberg amendment came close, but failed by a vote of 56-43 (remember, a 13 vote majority is failure in the United States Senate!). Once again, each caucus was split down the middle on this amendment. There will be more votes on amendments tomorrow.

Assuming Democrats can close ranks around the modified bill, they will start the arduous process to bring this debate to a close (a process that could take 6 days.

THE HOUSE: The House passed various bills under suspension of the rules today, including a measure that imposes sanctions on petroleum products from Iran. This bipartisan bill passed by a vote of 412-12, with 9 Democrats and 3 Republicans in opposition. 4 members voted present.

Another bill passed that will forbid TV stations from making commercials louder in volume than the actual broadcast. Awesome.

The House will have a very busy day dealing with various year-end items tomorrow, including a Defense Appropriations bill (loaded up with tax extenders and other unrelated goodies), plus a bill to raise the debt ceiling. It's possible that the House will adjourn for the year tomorrow (depending on what the Senate plans to do with these must-pass measures).

That's it for today. Yes, it was a short entry, but it was a holiday party evening in Strike-land. We'll be back with a more detailed entry tomorrow night.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/14/09-Oy Vey

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It's officially Lieberman-bashing day in the liberal blogosphere, and seeing other people rail on him certainly has made me feel slightly better. Let's get to the day in politics.

HEALTH CARE: The Democratic caucus has just finished meeting at the Capitol, and it looks like progressives will emerge deeply disappointed. According to early reports from the meeting room, Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has jettisoned both the public option and the Medicare buy-in to assure the votes of all 60 Democratic Senators. After making these ultimate concessions, the one remaining obstacle should be coming up with an abortion compromise that placates Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE). They've given up way too much for this NOT to get 60 votes, so they better have assurances from every Senator that they will vote to at least end a filibuster on this bill.

I still will conclude tonight that if I were in Congress, I would support the Senate bill. There is too much good in there to let this whole effort die. But before I officially come to that conclusion, let me bash Joe Lieberman a bit more.

Many sources today uncovered a quote from Lieberman THREE MONTHS AGO saying that he would support a Medicare buy-in for those between 55-64. He now claims that his opposition now is because such a program would be duplicative. There are already enough subsidies in the bill, he says. This is obviously total bull. Lieberman had one objective during this health care debate: to make life miserable for the liberals who he thinks kicked him out of the party. As many bloggers have brought up today, this is not a game. The result of Lieberman's antics will be disastrous for the country. Plus, what does it say about our country and our democracy that one self-absorbed Senator can super cede the will of a substantial majority. I've tried very hard to be fair to people on this blog, but Lieberman is an egomanical jerk.

The Democrats must have decided that they would have to sacrifice more to get the support of Republican Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) than Lieberman. The White House basically told Reid today to give Lieberman what he wanted to get the bill done. This makes all of us extremely angry, but at this point, there's not much alternative. As Ezra Klein explains here, if we use the reconciliation process, we'd be losing more than we will by heeding Lieberman's demands. Let's just cut our losses and get this thing done.

House progressives, and possibly some Senate liberals, will scoff at this deal and threaten to withhold support. At the end of the day, liberal Democrats aren't going to hold this bill hostage. They won't sink to that level.

The political consequences of this cave-in could be dire for Democrats. This will certainly dispirit the base during next year's election. I think the Democrats need to make an effective case to their supporters that the roadblocks to progress have been Republicans and conservative Democrats. That's going to be a very difficult case to make.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President today hosted a bunch of Wall Street bankers seeking to "urge" them to increase lending to small businesses and middle-class families. By all accounts, the meeting went well. The President spoke afterwards about how bankers have a responsibility to give back to the taxpayers that bailed them out. He also urged them to support financial regulation reform, which passed the House last week. See my earlier entry about due skepticism towards these types of meetings.

THE HOUSE: Nothing much going on in the House today, just a few suspension bills, none of any significance.

That's it for now. We'll have more on the health care situation tomorrow. Leave comments!

The Weekly Strike-12/14-12/20

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview a packed week in politics. There could be some make or break action on some important items, so let's get to it.

HEALTH CARE: In some ways, we're back to square one on health care reform. Last week's much ballyhooed compromise that would have jettisoned the public option in favor of, among other things, a Medicare buy-in, looks to be insufficient, thanks to today's public enemy #1, Joe Lieberman. Lieberman, who refused to be a part of the negotiations last week, said yesterday that he will oppose any bill that has either a public option or a Medicare buy-in. Lieberman has given no justification for his opposition, other than some vague and unsubstantiated worry that these proposals could increase the debt in the long-run.

Other Democratic Senators still have minor concerns for sure. Senator Nelson (NE) still has concerns about the public option and abortion. Senators Landrieu (LA) and Lincoln (AR) may need a few tweaks to the bill to earn their support. But Lieberman is different, because he is not negotiating in good faith. His nonsensical rationalities for some of his objections signal a desire to get back at liberals who defeated him in his 2006 primary. Case in point: he wasn't against the public option or the Medicare buy-in proposals until liberals supported them. Because he is not negotiating in good faith, I think it's time that he be permanently cut out of negotiations. The 60th vote, therefore, will have to be Olympia Snowe (R-ME). We should sit down in a room with her, Landrieu, Lincoln, Nelson and then some of the real leftists in the Senate, like Sanders (VT), Brown (OH) and Burris (IL), and come up with an agreement that everyone can support. The compromise won't be pretty, but it will be the best we could possibly have done given the ridiculous 60 vote requirement in the United States Senate.

Democratic leaders will have to come up with a compromise by Thursday at the latest if they want to set the procedural wheels in motion for a vote before Christmas. One of Olympia Snowe's objections is that the process is moving along too quickly (I find that hard to believe). It may mean though, that to win her vote, we'll have to draw out the debate a little longer.

To sum up, I would say giving Olympia Snowe everything she wants, unfortunately, is the best option for getting health care done. The second option I can think of is to publicly shame Joe Lieberman into supporting the bill. We would have to rally thousands of people outside all of his offices, and we'd have to bring uninsured people who are suffering because Joe Lieberman wants to settle a political score.

THE SENATE: Over the weekend, the Senate took a break from health care to pass the conference report on the Consolidated Omnibus Appropriations bill. This bill combines 6 of the 12 appropriations bills into a single package, which is now headed for the President's desk.
On Saturday, the Senate voted 60-34 to cut off debate on the measure. Republicans Cochran (MS), Collins (ME) and Shelby (AL) voted yes, while Democrats Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI) and McCaskill (MO) voted no.

Yesterday, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 57-35. No Senators changed their votes from cloture to the bill itself, the different margin was a function of who was in attendance each of the days.

This is a good appropriations package that has double digit increases in funding for most departments. I'm glad that it is ready for the President's signature.

The Senate moves back to the health care bill starting this afternoon.

THE HOUSE: The House, fresh off passing a major financial reform bill last Friday, returns to work this afternoon. Today and tomorrow, the House will consider a bunch of suspension bills, including one that will impose sanctions on Iran. According to analysis I've read of this bill, it is unlikely to have any real effect. Therefore, it's just an opportunity for House members to express requisite anger at Iran.

On Wednesday, the House moves to consider the conference report on the Defense Appropriations bill. Democratic leaders have deliberately held back this bill so that they can use it as a vehicle for all sorts of must-pass legislation. The bill is expected to include an increase in the debt ceiling, an increase that must happen before the end of the year. Moderate Democrats in the House have forced the leadership to couple this increase with new rules requiring that any spending increase be coupled with a spending decrease or tax increase. The Senate is expected to object to that provision, and propose instead a bipartisan commission that will suggest ways of bringing down the national debt.

The bill is also poised to include the first part of President Obama's planned effort to spur job growth. House leaders are looking to include $70 billion in the bill for spending on safety net programs and infrastructure. Hopefully, Congress will supplement this meager amount of stimulus spending with a more robust jobs bill early next year.

The Senate will take up the Defense Appropriations Conference Report, complete with goodies, by the end of the year.

THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama is meeting this morning with a group of bankers to "encourage" them to start lending more money to individuals and small businesses. The President has coupled this meeting with some populist talk at recent days aimed at starting a public relations campaign against the "fat cat" bankers. This seems to me like empty rhetoric at this point. If private banks cared about public opinion or political pressure, they would not be private banks. The President also has meetings today with the President of Lebanon, and Pennsylvania Democratic Senator Bob Casey.

Tomorrow, the President makes an appearance at a DC Home Depot to discuss ways to weatherize homes. How "blue collar" of him! Later this week he travels to Copenhagen to participate in the climate change summit. We'll have more on that later in the week.

That's it for now, see you tonight and leave comments!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/11/09-Regulated

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Today was yet another reminder how much better the country would be if we had a unicameral legislature. Let's get to it.

FINANCIAL REFORM: Yes, we made some bad compromises, and there are significant loopholes, but the House today passed the most significant financial regulation legislation since the New Deal. I described the bill in detail yesterday, but to recap, the bill for the first time regulates financial derivatives, creates a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and has a provision that would allow the government to dissolve "too big to fail" companies in an orderly fashion. The House voted on a lot of amendments, including a Republican substitute. But I'm going to focus in on four incredibly important ones.

The first key vote was an amendment by Rep. Marshall (D-GA). This amendment would have added a provision allowing bankruptcy judges to renegotiate mortgages (known as cram-down). The provision had previously passed the House, but had been stalled in the Senate. Apparently, House members didn't want to take a tough vote on a provision that is DOA in the Senate. The amendment failed by a vote of 188-241. 4 Republicans voted yes, while a nauseating 71 Democrats voted no. (too many to list them!).

The next important vote was an amendment offered by Rep. Minnick (D-ID) that would have abolished one of the key provisions in the bill, the Consumer Protection Agency. This amendment was basically written by the financial industry lobbyists who feared an independent panel that would regulate dangerous financial instruments. Their allies in the House came close to stripping this provision, but luckily House Democrats rallied to defeat the Minnick amendment. The final vote was 208-223. Exactly zero Republicans voted against the amendment, while 33 Democrats voted for it. Here is the list of Democratic villains: Barrow (GA), Berry (AR), Bishop (GA), Boren (OK), Boucher (VA), Boyd (FL), Bright (AL), Chandler (KY), Childers (MS), Costa (CA), Cuellar (TX), Davis (TN), Griffith (AL), Herseth Sandlin (SD), Hill (IN), Kirkpatrick (AZ), Kratovil (MD), Markey (CO), Marshall (GA), Massa (NY), Matheson (UT), McIntyre (NC), Melancon (LA), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Ortiz (TX), Rodriguez (TX), Ross (AR), Shuler (NC), Skelton (MO), Space (OH), Taylor (MS) and Teague (NM). Basically all of these are Blue Dog Democrats, who despite their fiscal prudence, apparently don't care too much about protecting the American taxpayer.

The third key vote was on the Republican motion to recommit, which would have ended the TARP bailout program by the end of the year. This is an amendment that would probably be popular to about 70% of the country, which is why the Republicans proposed it. Unfortunately, it would be a disastrous thing to do, especially as the economy is beginning to recover. We still need those funds to shore up the remaining bad banks, and more importantly, to direct to promoting jobs on main street. Every single Republican voted for this motion to recommit, as did 19 Democrats. The Democratic TARP-fearers: Bishop (GA), Boren (OK), Bright (AL), Chandler (KY), Childers (MS), Giffords (AZ), Griffith (AL), Halvorson (IL), Kirkpatrick (AZ), Kosmas (FL), Kratovil (MD), Massa (NY), McIntyre (NC), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Nye (VA), Rodriguez (TX), Taylor (MS) and Teague (NM). These are a lot of the same members who voted to abolish the CFPA. It doesn't seem to make sense that they would do the financial industry bidding on CFPA, but vote against the very program that is keeping these institutions from collapsing. The one consistency: voting against the Democratic leadership!

The vote on final passage of the bill was 223-202, with a familiar list of 27 Democrats voting no: Berry (AR), Boren (OK), Boucher (VA), Bright (AL), Chandler (KY), Cuellar (TX), Edwards (TX), Griffith (AL), Halvorson (IL), Hill (IN), Kaptur (OH), Kirkpatrick (AZ), Kucinich (OH), Massa (NY), McIntyre (NC), Ortiz (TX), Perriell0 (VA), Schrader (OR), Skelton (MO), Space (OH), Stupak (MI), Taylor (MS), Teague (NM) and Visclosky (IN). Kucinich and Kaptur voted no because they thought the regulations didn't go far enough. Interestingly, Minnick, the sponsor of the anti-CFPA amendment, voted for the bill.

Even though the bill has some gaps, it marks a significant victory for progressives, and a major victory for President Obama. The President predicated much of his economic policy on reigning in the excesses of Wall Street, and this bill goes a long way towards achieving those ends. The Big Picture sums it up nicely:

Well, that is great that they're going to keep the consumer protection agency! Great substantively, and also good that we could win that battle. Good work by the White House getting that done. Got to celebrate our victories when they come. And this is actually a pretty big one, considering where things are now and have been - the last measure regulating Wall Street, not DEregulating it, was probably passed before the Lost Period. Good stuff.

Now we sit and wait for the United States Senate. It's starting to sound like a broken record.

THE SENATE: Speaking of the Senate, the upper chamber was in session today, although there was virtually no news on the health care front. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) is still waiting on a cost estimate of his "compromise" from the Congressional Budget Office. Senators were trying to force a vote on an amendment that allows for the importation of prescription drugs from Canada. This is a good amendment that has bipartisan support. Unfortunately, the White House made a bunch of promises to the pharmaceutical industry to try and keep them on the sidelines during the health reform debate, and opposing this amendment was one of them. Senator Carper (D-DE) is holding up the amendment. I hope they will break through and vote on it in the coming days.

The Senate is currently considering the Omnibus Appropriations bill, which combines 6 of the 12 annual spending bills. The House passed the conference report yesterday. Since the conference report contains provisions that were never passed by the Senate, Senators had to vote on a motion to waive some budget rules. Waiving rules requires 60 votes. The motion carried by a vote of 60-36. Republicans Cochran (MS) and Collins (ME) voted yes, while Democrats Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI) and McCaskill (MO) voted no. Senators will vote tomorrow to end debate on this conference report, and will most likely vote to send the bill to the President on Sunday, at which point most government agencies will be fully funded through September 30, 2010.

The President was en route back from Oslo, so he didn't make much news today. We'll keep you posted this weekend on what happens with the health care debate, and anything else newsworthy. Have a good night, and happy financial regulation!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/10/09-Thursday Legislatathon

It Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Why does it always seem like Thursday are extremely busy in the world of politics? Probably because Congress puts off its work until the end of the week. Let's get to it.

HEALTH CARE: The so-called compromise orchestrated by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) doesn't seem to have accomplished its goal of assuring 60 votes for health care reform. Today, the two biggest swing votes, Senators Lieberman (ID-CT) and Snowe (R-ME) both expressed serious misgivings with the compromise, which leads me to ask, what was the purpose of all of those concessions? It also leads me to bad are we going to have to make this bill to win the support of swing Senators?

Senator Lieberman said that he is having growing problems with the provision that allows people 55-64 to buy into Medicare. Snowe says she's against that idea completely. Lieberman also says that he is even against a trigger for the public option, even though the recent compromise will make activating the trigger extremely unlikely. The compromise has also yet to secure the support of other moderate Democrats, like Senators Nelson (NE), Landrieu (LA) and Lincoln (AR). Reid may have found a framework to resolve the health care impasse, but he certainly hasn't found any sort of consensus. After giving up so much thus far without getting Senate approval, I started expressing my deep disappointment to the Big Picture, basically saying that it almost makes me want to disassociate from politics. The Big Picture gave a reassuring (and convincing) response that I think is important for all of us lefties to read:

I won't become fully removed, but more like I was until like December of '07, that is to say, paying attention to what goes in Washington but skeptical of how much can be done right now, and thinking more about changing the whole structure, the whole system, to enable it to actually work. But I'll feel better about things still, because we proved we could elect Obama, elect huge Democratic majorities, the country could respond to a whole different kind of politics. I think overall in the biggest of pictures we're moving in the right direction; the long-term effect of demographic changes, more minorities, more liberal youth, more people college-educated; plus the effect of Obama winning, inspiring people to get involved in politics and public service and activism over their lives; and the effect of the Great Recession and financial crisis and Wall Street/Main Street divide on people's baseline attitudes toward banks, Wall Street, private power, and concentrated power in general.
And with health care, and financial regulation, the new foundation, climate change, and even Afghanistan, we're talking about the absolute heart of the power structures of the country, and making some fundamental changes to it, and in that context it's not surprising we're finding big resistance from the pivotal "centrists". This isn't stuff around the margins, nor is it the "everybody wins" of the stimulus package; these kind of efforts entail real costs to the most powerful forces there are. Serious health care reform, serious financial regulation, moving the entire economy to a New Foundation, seriously dealing with climate change, serious withdrawal from Afghanistan (the "good" "necessary" war) - that's what we want, but those are also very ambitious liberal goals given the Lost Period. For the past few decades could you even have IMAGINED any of those things being even on the radar screen? A few years ago the radar screen was an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, massive tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%, anti-consumer bankruptcy and credit card legislation, deregulation of corporations, huge giveaways to the biggest corporations like oil and gas, drug companies, military contractors, privatizing Social Security. The entire spectrum of discussion has changed, the thrust of politics is in a MUCH more positive direction, the battlefield is on our turf. Big, big change. It shows how much things can change positively in a few years, how much can be accomplished. In the Big Picture things are still OK.

The Senate is in a holding pattern until they got a revised estimate from the CBO. They did not vote on any amendments today, and instead turned to the omnibus appropriations conference report, which we'll discuss later.

THE HOUSE: The House today continued consideration of the financial regulation bill. The bill is a comprehensive proposal to prevent our financial system from collapsing again. Among the major provisions in the bill are:

1. The creation of a new consumer protection agency, an independent federal entity created solely to protect Americans from abusive financial products and services.

2. A method to dissolve companies that are "too big to fail" in which companies pay into an insurance fund that can be used to wind down Lehman Brothers-like failures.

3. For the first time, regulates financial derivatives, instruments that bundle toxic...well...who the hell knows what those things are? That's part of the problem!

There are many other good provisions in the bill, like mortgage reform, reform of credit rating agencies, and new rules for executive compensation.

Yesterday, centrist Democrats (as they frequently do) held up consideration of the bill to demand votes on key amendments. Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL) wanted to consider an amendment that would prohibit states from coming up with more stringent banking regulations than the federal government. This was a change sought after by the industry, who didn't want to deal with different regulatory schemes in different states. Conservative Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID) wanted to eliminate one of the key provisions of the bill, the creation of the Consumer Protection Agency. Because this group of moderate Democrats threatened to defeat the rule to consider the bill, the Democratic leadership was forced to acquiesce.

The debate is going on as we speak. The House will consider a lot of amendments from both parties tonight and tomorrow, with a final vote expected tomorrow afternoon. I anticipate that the bill will pass with about 230-240 votes. The financial services industries have already succeeded in doing away with some of the best portions of this bill (like strict regulations on hedge funds). The bill is still strong enough that centrist, pro-industry Democrats may choose to oppose it.

The most interesting part of the debate might by the Republican motion to recommit, which will be a proposal to end the TARP program. This is a statement amendment that won't pass, but will force some wary Democrats to take a tough vote.

The House today also passed the conference report accompanying the Omnibus Appropriations Act, a bill that contains 6 of the 12 annual appropriations bills: the Transportation-HUD; Commerce, Justice, Science; Financial Services; Labor-Health-Education; Military Construction, Veterans Affairs; and State, Foreign Operations Appropriations Bills. If I was a good government type, I would be pretty offended by this conference report. Three of these bills weren't ever considered in the Senate. There are about 400 earmarks contained in the package, enough to make John McCain's head spin. But there are more important things to me than good governance. This bill contains large increases in spending for transportation and infrastructure programs, for public education, for veterans health care, and for community health centers. I think that stuff matters a lot more than earmarks, even though earmarks make for good political attacks. The House passed this conference report by a vote of 221-201, with 1 member voting present. All Republicans voted no, as did 28 Democrats.

5 of the other appropriations bills have already been signed into law. The only outstanding bill is the Defense Appropriations bill, which Democrats will use to ram through a bunch of unrelated year-end items, like raising the debt ceiling. That way, if you vote against raising the debt ceiling, you vote against funding our troops! Brilliant. The Big Picture would love to see more of this:

That makes me happy that they tucked good stuff into the appropriations bill. They should be doing a lot of that. Especially aid to states. If the stimulus had had like $500 billion more in aid to states the unemployment rate might be at like 6%. Such an effective multiplier, all that money went to keep people in jobs, not make damaging pro-cyclical cutbacks that undermined the stimulus and are dragging down Obama's numbers. Such a huge mistake to not fight for that, not explain why it's so crucial, let the evil Pat Buchanan "cut the fat" argument prevail.

THE SENATE: The Senate took a break from health care to vote on a motion to proceed to the aforementioned Omnibus Appropriations bill. The Republicans surprisingly did not filibuster this motion to proceed, which passed by a vote of 56-43. All Republicans voted no, as did Democrats Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI), and Menendez (NJ). Senators will vote on the cloture motion to end debate on the conference report tomorrow night probably, and then will vote on the conference report itself on Monday.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The President was in Norway today to accept his Nobel Peace Prize. He gave a speech that sounded surprisingly neo-con-ish. The President acknowledged the oddity of someone accepting a peace award after having sent 30,000 more troops to war last week. He talked about how war is necessary because evil does exist in the world and it must be defeated. The speech actually got praise from conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. I am not a pacifist, because I believe some things are worth fighting for. But I do think the President should have used this speech not to explain America's military expeditions, but rather as a broader call for peace.

That's it for tonight, we'll be back tomorrow with a full update on health care and financial reform. Leave comments!!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Daily Strike-12/9/09-Once Again, Waiting for the CBO

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We might have broken an impasse on health care. Or maybe we haven't. Let's get right to it.

HEALTH CARE: A group of moderate and liberal Democrats sent a compromise proposal to the Congressional Budget Office, possibly signifying a breakthrough on the public option. Details on the compromise aren't completely clear. Apparently, Senator Reid (D-NV) didn't even tell his caucus exactly what's in the revised language. But we do know bits and pieces. The public option will be scuttled and replaced with an exchange like the FEHB package, with private insurance options operated by the Office of Personnel Management. In exchange, liberals have apparently gotten a provision that allows people 55-64 to buy into Medicare. In addition, a public option would come into effect if the OPM managed plans didn't meet some sort of standards. Liberals also won a provision that requires 90% of insurance company premiums to be spent on medical services.

In terms of policy, the devil is always in the details. I highly suggest reading these key questions that Johnathan Cohn poses over at The New Republic. I like the idea of a Medicare buy-in. It would fulfill one of the key goals of the public option, which would be to provide competition to the private insurance industry (at least in one market). If buying into Medicare proves popular, people younger and younger could soon be able to buy into the program. This strikes me as the most plausible path to a single-payer system in the United States (not that I think that's likely). The compromise isn't at all what we've wanted, but still worth supporting. The Big Picture has a somewhat different view:

But my basic concern persists: how are you going to trick these Senators (or really their staffs/lobbyists) who have made it clear that no matter the mechanism, they oppose any effort that will actually make health insurance better and no longer a racket.

Very indicative remark here from Cohn, really tells you all you need to know about Joltin' Joe Lieberman and his merry band of idiots:

I'm not saying vote against it, I'm just tempering how good it could possibly be if these folks are supporting it, because it's abundantly clear that they will only support something that doesn't threaten the insurance racket and therefore doesn't improve choice, competition, coverage.

My biggest concern at this point is that we haven't gotten 60 votes for this proposal yet. Key centrists, like Senators Lieberman (CT), Nelson (NE), Landrieu (LA), Lincoln (AR) and Snowe (ME) haven't committed one way or another. We shouldn't be making these deals public unless we've secured 60 votes. At the very least, none of the swing votes have said they'll vote against it for sure. I think a lot of it depends on what the Congressional Budget Office says. If the CBO gives moderates cover by saying that the compromise reduces the overall cost of the bill, then we may have an actual deal. I expect that we'll know what the CBO says by the end of the week. The changes would be incorporated into a manager's amendment. We would then have to go into 30 hours of cloture on the manager's amendment, 30 hours of post-cloture debate on the amendment, 30 hours of cloture for the bill itself, 30 hours post-cloture for the bill. This really could go on until Christmas.

There were no votes on amendments today. Senators are expected to vote on a drug importation amendment tomorrow.

THE HOUSE: The House voted to extend a slew of various tax breaks and cuts through 2010. A full list of the extended tax breaks is listed here. The extended tax cuts include those from topics ranging from charitable contributions to " mine rescue team training expenses," whatever that means. The bill passed by a vote of 241-181. 2 Republicans voted yes, and 10 Democrats voted no. The Senate will probably take up this bill early next year, meaning that some of these tax provisions may indeed expire, at least temporarily.

The House will have a busy next couple of days. Tonight, members will begin debate on a sweeping financial regulation bill. (We'll describe this key bill in major detail tomorrow night). On Friday, the House will take up an Omnibus bill combining 6 of the 7 remaining annual appropriations bills. The final spending bill, the one on defense, is being saved for next week so that Democrats can attach some unrelated goodies to a must-pass bill. One of the oldest legislative tricks in the book!

JOBS: President Obama met with a bipartisan delegation from Congress today to discuss his job's plan. The President solicited ideas from members of both parties on how he can increase jobs growth. The most interesting part about this meeting was that the President challenged Republican members head on. He asked them to provide any evidence that the Republicans' plan to freeze government spending would help job growth. I wish he'd directly challenge these "common sense" conservative proposals more frequently and more forcefully.

That's it for now. See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Big Picture's Quick Response to Obama's Economic Speech

Editor's Note: I forgot to copy and paste this into the previous entry. It is not a conspiracy to silence The Big Picture. Or is it? -The Strike

Since the Strike conveniently didn't actually put in my take on Obama's address, I thought I should add it:
I agree with your conflicted feelings on this speech. Still, it's better than anything he's said in months, mostly because he hasn't said much of anything. I think that politically it gets the country's mood pretty well, at least from a Conventional Wisdom standpoint of what the country's mood is. Good to hear at least some talk about the New Foundation. But still, there's not a clear narrative for what he's doing, hard to see how some small-business tax credits and stuff like that will move the entire economy toward a place where people have good secure jobs. And substantively, nothing in there about bigger measures to encourage jobs, only passing mention of using TARP money for Main Street, little about extending unemployment benefits, little about massive investments that will produce jobs, improve infrastructure, really DELIVER for people, address their anxieties about the direction of their lives and the country. What about massive credit-card debts? What about foreclosures? What about wages that are too low? What about a huge unemployment and underemployment rate? What about so many people having their career paths perhaps permanently disrupted? Nothing about pressuring the banks on credit cards or foreclosures or to make loans. Nothing serious about Wall Street (you read the article in the Times today about how the rating agencies, which are incredibly corrupt and were key contributors to the financial crisis, are making tons of money again and are going to escape any regulation?). Very small-bore. Very Clinton in '95-'96. If that's the best he can do, not nearly good enough.
But I did like this attack on Selective Deficit Disorder: Despite what some have claimed, the cost of the Recovery Act is only a very small part of our current budget imbalance. In reality, the deficit had been building dramatically over the previous eight years. Folks passed tax cuts and expensive entitlement programs without paying for any of it - even as health care costs kept rising, year after year. As a result, the deficit had reached $1.3 trillion when we walked into the White House. And I'd note: these budget busting tax cuts and spending programs were approved by many of the same people who are now waxing political about fiscal responsibility while opposing our efforts to reduce deficits by getting health care costs under control. It's a sight to see.