Monday, December 14, 2009

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!

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