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.

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