Monday, December 21, 2009

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!

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