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!!!

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