Saturday, October 30, 2010

Final Election Predictions: Putting Me On Record

It's not pretty, but I love predictions even when I predict my own party's demise. Here are my predictions for Tuesday night. The seats listed are those I think will be won by the opposite party (mainly, Republicans.). Races are listed in no particular order.

Currently: 59 Democrats, 41 Republicans


New Senate: 51 Democrats, 49 Republicans


Currently: 255 Democrats, 178 Republicans

D to R:



R to D:


New House: 233 Republicans, 202 Democrats

GOVERNORS: Currently 26 Democrats, 24 Republicans

D to R:


R to D:


R to I:


New: 29 Republicans, 20 Democrats, 1 Independent

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Checking In: Election Preview One Week Out

Good evening! It's been almost two months since I've contributed an entry. Yes, I've been extremely occupied with law school and a Giants' trip to the World Series. But politics has also been extremely depressing recently.

The election is coming up a week from Tuesday, and it is going to be a long night for Democrats. According to almost every prognosticator, the House of Representatives will be won by the Republicans, who will take charge in January under Speaker John Boehner. The Senate is slightly more likely than not to stay in Democrats hands, but it will be by the narrowest of margins. If the Democratic Party in the Senate labored to pass legislation with 59 votes, imagine how they'll do it with 51!

Even more disturbing, Republicans will pick up somewhere between 6-8 net governorships, which will give them a control over the majority of state-houses. This might be the result that hurts working families the most. State budgets are under enormous constraints due to the economic downturn, and with a new slate of conservative Republicans, you can bet that cuts to essential services, schools and pensions will be first on the agenda.

In terms of raw numbers, we project Republicans to pick up between 45 and 60 House seats. A net gain of 39 would be enough for the GOP to gain control. It's not entirely clear exactly which races will flip, but we've made some educated guesses on the sidebar of your screen. The obvious seats will be those held by retiring Democrats in conservative districts. I think at least 20-25 of the Democrats elected during the 2006 and 2008 wave elections will lose. I also could foresee some losses to long-term House veterans like House Budget Committee Chair John Spratt (SC) and Armed Services Chair Ike Skelton (MO).

In the Senate, my range for GOP pickups has changed slightly. I now think Democrats will lose 8 seats. Races in Nevada, Illinois and Colorado remain extremely close, but all tilt ever so slightly to the Republican side. West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin is popular, but the state is so deeply anti-Democratic right now, that I think he's at least an even shot to lose. In Pennsylvania, Democrat Joe Sestak has shown some serious signs of life, but I still think he'll lose to Republican Pat Toomey. Races in North Dakota, Arkansas and Indiana are now automatic Democratic losses. The Democrats, I predict, will hold seats in Connecitcut and Delware relatively easy. I also expect them to hang on barely in California and Washington, which will be just enough to keep them in the majority. Even though the Senate is now a 60-vote institution, a majority still has some serious consequences. Democrats will still control the floor agenda, and if they are united, they could put a firm stop to initiatives coming out of the Republican House. Also, things like the START treaty and Supreme Court nominations only go through the Senate, so even a narrow Democratic majority would allow us to get some positive things done.

The policy implications of the election are obviously catastrophic. It's easy for people like me to sit here and try not to think about it. Believe me, I'm happy to distract myself with the World Series. But there will be real consequences for working Americans:

1. Extended unemployment benefits will likely not be renewed.
2. There will be no more stimulus funding, pretty much, at the end of this year. That means, no more middle class tax cut, no more new infrastructure projects, no extended food stamp and Medicaid benefits. Republicans won't even think about extending these programs. They'll claim that we can't afford them, but they'll also attempt to pass even more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.
3. Energy reform is dead.
4. Immigration reform is dead.

The list could continue for a long time. There possibly could be some small positives out of next week's likely outcome. Perhaps the herd of conservative Democrats that hampered our governing agenda will be thinned out, and our party can once again be represented solely by those who are actually Democrats. Perhaps President Obama will have a nice new foil in Speaker Boehner, who if past is prologue, will probably be a pretty huge disaster. Obama can pin some of the blame on the bad economy on the Republicans, and he can use them as a contrast to his vision.

This all may be true, but it won't take away the pain and anguish many Americans will feel as a result of the impending Republican wave. The story of this election is almost completely written, but there still is one week left for you to do something. I hope you remember the stakes, you get out to vote, you get your friends out to vote, and you continue to stand up for the progressive values we've fought so hard for. Also remember that we've won some important legislative victories these past two years, and all of us need to do our best to make sure they are implemented succesfully.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Strike Returns: What is Wrong with the Democratic Party?

Good afternoon! After a month long absence, I am back to write an entry for this blog. In the meantime, thanks to The Big Picture for his thoughtful entry on the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" which I agree with wholeheartedly.

I was intending to write today about the state of the elections this fall, but I feel like to do that, I have to provide a little context. As things stand right now, I think the Republican Party is on track to regain control of the House of Representatives, and has a reasonable chance of taking over the Senate. I base these projections on the myriad of polls I've seen from individual races, including internal polls from both parties, as well as the GOP's steady leads in the generic congressional ballot. As you can see on the sidebar, I have too many "tossup" races listed to officially project control of the House, but as things stand now, the momentum is completely on the Republican side. As for the Senate, I think the Democrats could control anything between 49-54 seats.

Political scientists will tell you that the economy largely dictates the fate of the incumbent party. I think that, of course, is true this year. But there's more to the story. It's not just that the economy is bad, and getting worse. It's that the Democratic Party is handling the economic downturn in the worst possible way.

Democrats in Congress have passed some small measures to help get the economy back on track. But they have not shown any push or urgency in getting more jobs bills through. It's not just about improving the current jobs picture (which will be difficult to do before the November elections). It's also about showing people that the government is still competent to play a role in growing the economy and restoring prosperity to the middle class. Yes, I get that Republicans have been obstructionists. But it almost seems like the Democrats aren't even trying. Have you seen any Democrat, including the President, talk at all in the past three weeks about the urgency of acting to get the economy back on track? Have you seen any Democrat, including the President, articulate at any point in the last year exactly what we need to do to get the economy on track, and why we need to do it? It's been, frankly, disgusting to me that President Obama has been golfing and vacationing in Martha's Vineyard, while not offering a peep about the constant barrage of disturbing economic data. He has also made the CRUCIAL mistake of dilly dallying on his Federal Reserve nominees. The inaction of the Federal Reserve during the recent spate of bad economic news is just as troublesome as Congress' inability to act.

It's equally disturbing that despite the economic catastrophe unfolding, Democrats didn't consider cutting short the 6 week Congressional recess to, at the very least, show that they actually care about average Americans.

It's not just their silence that's problematic. The Democratic party has completely conceded the economic policy debate to the Republicans. I have seen more Democrats in the last month call for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich than I've seen advocate any liberal policy prescription, like a larger state-aid bill, public works projects, and cuts to the payroll tax. I've even seen many Democrats, like 10 of them, run advertisements trashing their own party while touting themselves as an "independent voice." If poll numbers show that the public prefers failed Republican policy solutions, Democrats have chosen not to articulate their position, but rather to bow to poll-crazy political consultants. Democrats across the country seem to think that they can only win by trashing their own party and succumbing to failed Republican economic policies.

This election is going to be brutal, there's little doubt about that at this point. But this is about so much more for the Democratic Party, and President Obama. When are Democrats going to realize that we can only win by fighting and advocating for the interest of the middle class? When the middle class sees that we're not out there fighting for them passionately and intelligently, they're not going to vote for us. When the middle class sees us trashing our own philosophy and ideals, they're going to think there's something serious wrong with us, and will probably never vote for our side again.

It may be too late for Democrats to change the fundamental direction of the upcoming election, but they can at least they should get their heads above water and get back to defending the core Democratic principle: doing what needs to be done to give hope, security and prosperity to working Americans.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Big Picture: We Should All Be Strongly Supporting the Mosque Near Ground Zero

The Park51 Mosque, approved by the appropriate regulatory commission in New York City several weeks ago, has attracted nationwide controversy due to its allegedly provocative nature. Many liberal defenders of the mosque have, in typical halting, self-doubting, weak-willed fashion, tried to argue that the mosque is not really "at" Ground Zero, but rather several blocks away, one among hundreds of buildings in the region, so this shouldn't be such a big deal. I think this is a very misguided argument because it is so defensive, with "it isn't a big deal" carrying the connotation that the mosque is something to be grudgingly tolerated, and the implication that if the mosque were actually more prominent at Ground Zero, that would be a bad thing. This argument will not be persuasive because it is very clear that the opposition is not actually being driven by those who would be fine with mosques everywhere in America except within sight of Ground Zero. Far from it. As the New York Times and many others have reported, this is part of a national movement to prevent mosques from being built everywhere in America. It is driven by prejudiced people who feel that Islam is a "cult" that does not deserve First Amendment protection, because they view Muslims as a dangerous, un-American Other that we need to fear, similar to how these people view Latinos, blacks, and Americans with descent from Asia, with the commonality being darker skin, different religion, different language. These people are white supremacists, or at the least are exploiting the belief in white supremacy for political gain, and they will not be satisfied until at the very least all these "Others" have been put back in their place, un-equal with self-proclaimed "Real Americans". Denying Muslims the right to build mosques, detaining people because they look like immigrants - this is about showing that white people are still superior, still in charge. Many are disturbed not only that these Others are asserting their equality and even supremacy (represented by President Obama), but are more generally disturbed that at the number of non-whites, non-English speakers, non-Christians and want to forcefully "encourage" those Others to leave. I think that the depth and breadth of these white supremacist anxieties has been enhanced by the anxiety of the Great Recession for working and lower-middle class whites. It has also been strengthened by the reinvigorated right-wing populist sense that Democratic government means liberals and "uppity" minorities, from the big cities and the universities and the banks too, empowering themselves and helping out all these Others, at the expense of "Real Americans". So that's where I think the anti-mosque criticism is coming from. Those who oppose the mosque but don't consider themselves anti-Muslim, anti-diversity, white supremacists should take a hard look at whose cause they are serving. Not only are they serving the white supremacists, but they are also enabling the weakening and undermining of America in a number of important ways, rather than embracing the Ground Zero Mosque as a positive good for America.

Building the mosque will be of great benefit to our national security, while preventing its building will make us less safe and threaten our troops. By building this mosque at the site where these extremists killed 3,000 innocent people, we would be sending an enormously powerful signal that Al Qaeda was wrong about America. Al Qaeda attracts recruits and sympathizers on the notion that America hates Islams and wants to oppress and kill Muslims, that we are a latter-day Crusades state. The invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, compounded by hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and the torture at Abu Ghraib and Bagram, greatly strengthened Al Qaeda's message. Nothing will undo the horrendous human cost, nor the destructive blow to our image. Still, building a mosque would present a very different side of America and be a paradigm-shattering shock to Muslims around the world who have looked at Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and military bases in Saudi Arabia, our support for oppressive dictators elsewhere in the Muslim world, and concluded that America is anti-Muslim. Building the mosque will at the least put some in doubt in the minds of many who would sympathize with the extremist anti-Americanism of Al Qaeda, and just the seeds of doubt help stop suicide bombers, who need to feel absolutely certain they are right to carry out their work.
Building the mosque will strengthen the hand of moderate Muslims, who get a chance to show that those who believe in democracy and human rights are not brainwashed saps, and that multiculturalism and an embrace of freedom are compatible with Islam. One of the greatest flaws in the whole neoconservative policy is that it unified Muslims in opposition to America and in opposition to anything we said we stood for, like democracy and human rights. It will greatly strengthen our national security if we put a dent in this unity, and stoke a debate between moderate and radical Muslims. In contrast, when opponents constantly say that the liberal Muslims building this mosque are "radical Islamic extremists" they are not only engaging in the deeply prejudiced racism of saying that all Muslims are the same as the most evil people in their ranks (do Christians really want that kind of racism applied to them, considering the despicable people who called themselves Christians?). They are also playing right into Al Qaeda's hands - Bin Laden's greatest dream is that Al Qaeda becomes the standard-bearer for all Muslims, that his perverted extremist version of Islam becomes orthodoxy. The last thing we want to do is to insist that all Muslims are radical extremists and our sworn enemies. More moderate Muslims will then see that America does hate all Muslims, just as Al Qaeda is saying, and move toward the Al Qaeda camp. So opposing the building of this mosque will strengthen those who hate Americans and that will have real and devastating consequences for American soldiers and aid workers in Muslim countries, and possibly American civilians at home. Those who oppose the mosque are putting their own political ambitions and their own white supremacist anxieties ahead of keeping Americans safe. Of course this is not surprising coming from a Republican Party that has intentionally undermined economic recovery to suit its own political ambitions and ideological dogma.

Building this mosque at Ground Zero is, as Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama have said, of vital importance to reaffirming the First Amendment and the principles of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of congregation upon which this nation was founded. Yes America was founded in large part by the greedy and land-hungry, the slaveowners and the takers of indigenous land for power and profit. But the part of the American tradition that created all that is good about this country, all that is free and democratic, comes from the people who came here because they were oppressed everywhere else for who they were and what they believed. We should not only defend the rights of Muslims and everyone else to freedom of religion and expression and congregation. We should be celebrating the building of the mosque at Ground Zero because it means that America is still the nation that draws its vitality from those who come here from everywhere, "yearning to breathe free" as it says on the Statue of Liberty. Furthermore, multiculturalism and the unencumbered, unrestricted expression of beliefs and values is the lifeblood of our culture and enriches us all. Refusing to build this mosque would strike a blow against the very elements that have given us what freedom, democracy, and vitality we have.

Finally, I feel particularly strongly about the importance of building this mosque because I am Jewish. I think that Jews, and really all people who have ever been or could ever be part of a religious minority, would be incredibly shortsighted if they opposed this mosque. As a Jew think it might not be the best idea to let the prejudices of a majority trample on the basic rights of a religious minority. Preventing the mosque at Ground Zero would greatly strengthen those who want to ban mosques everywhere in America. First of all, this would be deeply oppressive for Muslim-Americans. But what about Jewish-Americans, or Hindu-Americans, or Catholic-Americans, or Protestants of different denominations? Do we really want to go down the road of undermining First Amendment rights of different religious affiliations from the majority? As the famous quote from the Nazi era says, "First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist ... then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew ... then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Catholic ... finally when they came for the Protestants, there was no one left to speak up for me."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/29/10-Special Announcement

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Beginning tomorrow, I will be embarking first on a cross-country road trip, then on to three years at law school. As a result, I will no longer be able to write for this blog daily. I will come back periodically to write bigger picture entries (not to be confused with The Big Picture, who hopefully will also continue to contribute sporadically) and I will continually update my race rankings for this year's elections. So make sure you keep the blog as a bookmark, because you'll never know when we'll pop up again.

I originally started this blog as a way to catalog what I anticipated would be major accomplishments for the Obama administration. The first official entry to the blog was on January 29, 2009, just over a week after Obama's euphoric inauguration. I wasn't just hopeful about President Obama's legislative agenda. I thought we had entered into a new political paradigm. The economic theories of the Reagan/Bush years had been thoroughly discredited by a massive financial crisis. The politics of division and distraction had seemingly been overcome with an extraordinary candidate, one of the most inspiring American stories. The country was feeling extremely hopeful, which was remarkable given the economic conditions. People traveled miles and stood out in the bitter cold to witness a special moment in history, and the spirit of the day moved me deeply. People of all races and backgrounds gathered by the millions because we felt an immense amount of pride in our country and faith in our new President. I mean, what other event with 1.8 million people would lead to zero arrests??

After that euphoria, it's very hard to understand how we got to where we are today. Today, the unemployment rate is hovering just below 10%, but we can't even get a tiny jobs bill through Congress. The President of the United States, today, had to beg the Senate to approve a small business lending bill, and the bill was still filibustered by the full Republican conference. A bill that essentially is the main plank of the Republican platform, was blocked by the Republicans for basically no reason at all. Today, energy form is pretty much dead. Immigration reform is dead. Many of the old battles we thought we'd transcended, like race and social issues, are everyday items in an often embarrassing national conversation. We're three months before an election that will most likely produce heavy Democratic losses, which will kill any reasonable chance of creating the lasting change we were promised and so desperately needed.

So how did we get from there to here? That's what I've tried to explain daily in this blog, and it hasn't been pretty. Don't get me wrong, this has been the most productive Congress and the most progressive President in generations, and we have a lot to be thankful for. The list of accomplishments is quite impressive (you can view it on the right sidebar of your screen). But several obstacles got in the way of broader, sweeping change. Here are a list of reasons we are where we are:

1. The current Republican party is the craziest, most nihilistic, psycho political party imaginable. They are purposely obstructing progress for their own political gain. Their policy preferences are to massively redistribute money from the middle class to the wealthy. To today's Republicans, our nation's problems are the fault of the most vulnerable, while the only virtuous ones are those who make a lot of money for themselves while doing nothing to improve society. Why aren't the unemployed working hard enough to get jobs? Why are illegal immigrants ruining this country? Why is there so much black-on-white racism? It's hard to negotiate in good-faith with these people.

2. It's one thing to have a nihilistic minority party, but it's another thing to have that party contain major institutional power. Republicans, with a tiny minority in both the House and the Senate, have the institutional ability to basically put a stop to government. The root of the problem, of course, is the filibuster. The 60 vote threshold is fundamentally undemocratic, that we've mentioned a million times. I promise I'll think the same thing when the Republicans are in the majority again. Perhaps more bothersome, are the endless delays caused by the filibusters. Even if they don't have the votes to stop legislation, Republicans still have the ability to delay legislation and appointments, and thus run out the clock on the Democratic agenda. The small business bill is a great example. Republicans will not grant "unanimous consent" to any Democratic request to hold votes, so Democrats are constantly forced to invoke cloture, a process that can take up to 3 days. It also doesn't help that Majority Leader Reid refuses to keep the Senate in session when Republicans engage in these delay tactics.

3. Two groups have absolutley undue influence in our political system. The first is the corporate world and their army of lobbyists. A good swath of the Democratic party will vote against good bills or amendments just because the Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, hedge fund managers etc., told them to. It happens all the time. And the Democrats are supposed to be the good party! Some people try to minimize the influece money has on politics. They tell us money doesn't really change how citizens or legislators vote. I'll just point you to a poll out of Florida today that shows two billionaires, one of whom is a criminal, are leading the Republicans nomination for Governor and Democratic nomination for Senate respectively.

The other group with undue influence are small states. It doesn't seem right to me that one Senator from Nebraska can kill an entire unemployment benefits bill because his tiny state is lucky enough to have an unemployment rate. Even before we talk about the filibuster, the Senate is an undemocratic institution!

4. The last major problem is that the Democrats, and specifically President Obama, are not trying hard enough to sell a progressive agenda, despite the massive political capital they were given in the 2008 election. Obama and the Democrats had the opportunity to change the terms of debate on every major issue. Obama could have consistently, in every speech, argue that Bush's economic policies put us in this enormous ditch, and that we have to invest money now to get the economy moving again. He could have explained that the short-term deficit wasn't as important as job creation and that the long-term deficit was the product of reckless Republican tax cuts, endless wars, and unsustainable health care costs. Instead, the President and Congressional Democrats missed messages. They fed into Republican talking points about the deficit, to the point that they forced themsleves to scuttle important items on the agenda. They didn't fight hard consistently for more stimulus, which was desperately needed to counter the massive loss of demand in the economy. In fact, some Democrats in Congress decided that it would be easier to just act like Republicans! The Blue Dogs harped constantly about the deficit and intrusive government, but then would vote for major war spending bills without a whimper.

The public never got a coherent narrative of what the Democratic party was about, what it stands for, and what it will do to help their lives. As a result, they began to distrust Democratic policies and politicians.

I write about these difficulties not because I've lost hope. Barack Obama's election will always be proof that anything is possible in American politics. I write more to underscore how far we have to go before we make the change we need. It's not just politicians who have to change. All of us do. We have to stand up for our values, and we have to organize and inform our peers to put pressure on our representatives. That probably means I should get off the computer and start actually doing something with my life, right?

I want to thank everybody who helped with the blog, wrote comments, and read our entries. Please keep following my Twitter feed if you want my stream of consciousness thoughts on politics, and make sure you follow what Congress is doing as much as you can! Congress Matters is a great resource, as well as the websites for the House and the Senate.

Thanks again, and we'll see you again in the future!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/28/10-Going Small

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The President spent the day today in New Jersey and New York City, first talking jobs, then going to some elite fundraisers. Not exactly a good political juxtaposition.

THE SENATE: It's becoming very apparent that Congress won't be doing much of anything for the rest of this election year. Republicans seem pretty content to not only filibuster Democratic agenda items, but to grind the Senate to a halt until the Democratic majority is reduced or eliminated. Take the bill on the floor right now, the small business lending bill. The bill has been on the floor for almost a month. Republicans have refused to allow votes on amendments or the bill itself, despite the fact that the bill is basically a Republican idea. The party that talks daily about tax breaks to businesses doesn't want to allow a vote on a bill that gives money directly to small businesses. We've said it a million times, but Republicans knee-jerk opposition is becoming a disturbing matter of habit.

Tomorrow, finally, the Senate will vote whether to cut off debate on the small business bill, and hopefully will send it to the House quickly so that it can go straight to President Obama's desk.

Then there's the issue of energy. Majority Leader Reid has taken the idea of a comprehensive energy bill off the table for this session of Congress. He has instead proposed a much narrower bill, that will raise the liability cap for BP in relation to the oil spill, and will also contain some small investments in alternative energy. Reid was hoping to bring the bill to the floor early next week. But Republicans are howling in opposition even to this small measure, ostensibly because they are against new regulations on "hydro-flacking" which is a way to extract onshore natural gas. Is there any question whether they'll let this bill go through? I don't think so.

Given these restrictions, I think it's time that the President use some of his executive powers to make changes. For one, he could have the EPA place restrictions on carbon emissions. At the very least, the EPA could issue that threat to spur some sort of action on climate change. On the jobs front, Obama could put some backhanded political pressure on the federal reserve to take more measures to pump money into the economy short-term, or as Matthew Yglesias suggests, do some strategic talking.

THE HOUSE: While the Senate spent a day dilly-dallying, the House actually did some minorly important work. This morning, the House unanimously passed a bill that would bring parity to sentencing for crack and cocaine users. There has long been a policy that punishes crack users far more than cocaine users, which has a disparate impact on minorities. The Senate has already passed the bill, so it will go straight to President Obama for his signature.

The House also passed the first of 12 annual appropriations bills today, the bill funding Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. This is usually the least controversial of the spending bills, and today was no exception. The bill passed by a vote of 411-6. All of the no votes came from Republicans. The House will take up another spending bill tomorrow, though they will almost certainly not complete all 12 bills prior to the end of the fiscal year, which will require Congress to pass some continuing resolutions to keep the government funded.

That's it for today, we'll see you tomorrow, at which point we'll have a special announcement.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/27/10-Undisclosed

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike, on what's been a somewhat depressing day in politics.

THE SENATE: The Senate today failed to advance the campaign finance bill known as the DISCLOSE Act. The bill, which passed the House, would place new disclosure requirements on corporations and unions donated to political campaigns. Republicans decried the bill as as trampling on free speech, even though many of these same Republicans voted for a far more expansive campaign finance bill in 2002. The vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill (that's about 4 votes away from final passage, if you're keeping track) was 57-41, and it broke down strictly on party lines. Every Democrat voted for the bill, except for Majority Leader Reid, who voted no for procedural reasons. Every Republican voted no. Senators Lieberman (?-CT) and Ensign (R-NV) were absent.

Today's vote means that the bill is killed for the remainder of this Congress, and for the foreseeable future. As bad as our political system is now, it will only get worse, as corporations have unencumbered access to political candidates. Today's vote also proves that Republicans care far more about their own political interest than they do about the integrity of our democratic system, though you probably knew that already.

The Senate is limping towards the finish line of this month's session. Tomorrow, Senators will continue consideration of the Small Business Jobs bill, which would provide for loans to small businesses during the economic downturn. If only Democrats could find ways to add some other stimulus money to this bill, like money for state and local governments.

After the Senate finishes the work on that bill, they'll vote on the Kagan Supreme Court nomination next week and skip out of town, having done very little to address the myriad of problems facing the country.

THE HOUSE: The House voted today to give final approval to $60 billion to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For all the deficit hysteria we've seen over much smaller spending bills, this bill passed by a huge margin of 308-114. 102 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted against the war funding. Democrats had originally tried to attach domestic measure to the war funding bill, like aid to states, summer and youth jobs programs, and other jobs measures. Democrats were unable to get enough support for these items in the Senate.

It still amazes me that a tiny jobs bill gets bottled up in the Senate almost weekly, while a much larger funding bill for endless wars passes without a whimper.

The House will move on to consideration of appropriations bills over the next couple of days. The House will skip town at the end of the week, but hopefully they'll ratify whatever the Senate does on Small Business lending legislation.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The main event at the White House today was a meeting with bipartisan Congressional leadership about the rest of the legislative agenda this year. The meeting didn't produce much news, but we were able to glean some tension between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. Pelosi is furious at Reid for abandoning a comprehensive climate bill in favor of a scaled-back piece of energy legislation. Pelosi forced her vulnerable members to support a cap-and-trade bill with the promise that Reid would follow suit in the Senate, which will not happen. I obviously sympathize with Pelosi on this one, but I'm not sure what else Reid could have done. There clearly weren't 60 votes for the climate bill, and the White House has shown almost no leadership in advocating for the legislation.

That's it for today. See you tomorrow!

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Weekly Strike-7/26-8/1

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we'll preview the week in politics. It must be an exciting week in politics if the President will spend Wednesday on the set of The View!

THE WHITE HOUSE: The news dominating the airwaves this morning is over a series of Wikileaked articles from 2002-2009 that portray the Afghan war in a far more negative light than has been publicly known. The articles are often low level reports from the field, lamenting the Taliban's resurgence, the lack of resources for U.S. troops and commanders, and the seemingly ill-defined mission.

The White House is expressing anger about the leak itself, not the content of the leaked material. I think this is a major mistake. I'm somewhat sensitive to protecting state secrets, but I think the American people need complete disclosure when making judgments as to whether we should continue our fight in Afghanistan. We didn't need 92,000 pages of leaked materials to tell us that the situation there is precarious, but I think these papers might reinforce the country's broader angst about what is now America's longest war. The war in Afghanistan is a ticking time bomb for this administration. They can let the issue fester for awhile, hoping the surge works and the issue goes away, but if it doesn't, it will not only be bad for our country, but also very damaging politically. That's why I hope the 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawals isn't an empty promise.

The schedule for the President this week seems to be pretty quiet so far. His only scheduled public appearance today is a ceremony at the White House commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

THE SENATE: The world's most deliberative and unproductive body will take aim at two pieces of legislation this week. Tomorrow, Majority Leader Reid will try to cobble together the 60 votes needed to begin debate on the DISCLOSE Act. The bill, which has already passed the House, will place new rules on corporations financing political campaigns. Reid had hoped to finish the bill soon enough that the provisions would be in place for this fall's election, but that doesn't seem too likely at this point. Republicans, of course, are pretty unified in opposition to this measure. One of the moderates in the Senate, Scott Brown (MA), has already come out in opposition to the bill. Hopes for the Democrats will rest, as usual, with Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. If Democrats can hold their ranks together and get one of those two Senators on board, the bill will advance.

The Senate will also presumably finish work on the Small Business lending bill. The Senate cut off debate on the bill last Thursday, which should set the stage for a final vote this week. I would expect the House to approve the legislation quickly thereafter and send it along to President Obama. With time running out before the midterm elections, this is one of the few bills Democrats may be able to pass that can help alleviate the jobs situation.

THE HOUSE: It looks like the House will finish its work period this Friday, and it won't be among it's most productive. However, this week's House schedule looks reasonably packed. Starting today, the House will consider various measures under suspension of the rules. Among those measures are bills that are part of the new so-called "Made in America" agenda, which is a House Democratic initiative to promote domestic industry and jobs. The House will take up bills to come up with a strategy for national manufacturing, and another bill that invests money in clean energy technology and exports.

The House will then proceed to consideration of two of the twelve annual appropriations bills, these ones funding Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, as well as Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. These bills will pass the House, but probably won't see the light of day in the Senate. I expect that all the appropriations bills will be packaged into an omnibus measure come December. The fiscal year ends September 30th, and I expect Congress to continue current funding levels through the fall elections.

Finally, the House will give final approval to the war funding bill. Liberals tried to attach domestic spending to the bill, but the Senate rejected these add-ons, which included funding for state and local governments, as well as summer jobs (might be a little late for that anyway). House leaders will thus be forced to vote simply on the war funding. I expect the bill to pass with the support of moderate Democrats and Republicans, but very few liberal Democrats.

That's it for now, see you tonight!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/22/10-Energy Failed

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Not surprisingly, the last major bill in Obama's first term agenda looks to be dead. Let's get to the day in politics.

THE SENATE: The Shirley Sherrod story seemed to die down a bit today, so our focused turned back to the world of policy. Unfortunately, the news is not good. Majority Leader Harry Reid, along with climate bill author John Kerry, announced today that they do not have the votes to take up a comprehensive energy bill that places a price on carbon. This is something most of us have known for awhile. There is just not much popular support to address climate change right now. People are too focused on the bad economy to care about something that we can't feel immediately. That doesn't mean the problem is going away though, and the more we put off addressing it, the worse it's gonna get. I should also note the the fact that John McCain put a cap-and-trade bill as a major item on his Presidential campaign platform. Now, zero Republicans would support even a minor climate change bill. It's amazing what the raw calculations of politics will do to people.

Majority Leader Reid will instead bring up a small bill that addresses the oil spill, invests money in alternative energy, and "will ween us off of foreign oil." I have my doubts about even this tiny bill passing before the August recess. Of course, Senators would NEVER suspend their 5 week recess to work on this issue.

The Senate took two non-controversial votes today, one to recognize the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and another to endorse sanctions against the Burmese government. The first bill passed unanimously, while only Senator Enzi (R-WY) voted against the second. The Senate might take a few votes related to the small business lending bill this evening as well.

THE HOUSE: The House gave final approval to the unemployment insurance extension package by a vote of 272-152. 31 Republicans voted for the bill, while inexplicably 10 Democrats voted against it.

Speaking of these Democrats, allow me to rant for a second. Some of these so-called fiscally conservative Democrats are now calling for the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to be extended. So much for their care about the ballooning deficit. It's all a giant sham. One Democrat, Rep. Connolly (VA), talked today about how the economy was too fragile to stop these tax cuts. That's in disagreement with this statement about unemployment benefits:

“We’re no longer in a recession; we’re in a recovery,” the Virginia Democrat said. “So now we do need to have a higher standard when we call for new spending. And that higher standard has to include, ‘What’s the offset?’”
Who said that? One Gerry Connolly, two weeks ago! Concern for the deficit apparently goes out the window if the benefits go to people who don't need them at all. The blatant hypocrisy just sickens me, and even worse, the media will still refer to these conservative Democrats as "deficit hawks."

Anyways, back to unemployment insurance. The President received the bill and signed it into law this evening. The 2.5 million Americans receiving unemployment benefits will get retroactive payments in the next couple of weeks.

The House also passed a bill today that reforms the national flood insurance program to cover multiperil situations.

That's it for tonight, we'll be back Monday!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/21/10-Overshadowed

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Today was supposed to be a day of great pomp and circumstance for the President, but it didn't quite turn out that way. Let's get to the day in politics.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The White House was consumed today with the unfortunate story of Shirley Sherrod, which we addressed yesterday. After right-wing media nut Andrew Breitbart posted an out-of-context video of her at an NAACP conference, she was promptly let go by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The mainstream media, nor the administration, even considered vetting Breitbart's claim. Thankfully, the administration admitted its mistake today. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs apologized on behalf of the administration, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack offered Sherrod her job back. Understandably, after this display, Sherrod needs time to figure out whether she wants to return to her old job. I hope, for the country's sake, that she does. Sherrod is actually a hero. Her speech actually indicated a realization 24 years ago that the plight of the poor in this country was confined to one race, and this has guided her work as a public servant. CNN reports that Sherrod's father was killed by a member of the KKK, and was not prosecuted. Sherrod used that experience as an impetus to stay in the Deep South and work for social change, and that's exactly what she's done. It was truly a shameful display by Breitbart, the mainstream media, and the administration, and I hope it never happens again.

This news overshadowed what was supposed to be a rather historic day. President Obama signed the sweeping financial reform legislation into law today at a ceremony in Washington DC (ironically at the Ronald Reagan building). Obama was surrounded by the authors of the bill, Barney Frank (MA) and Chris Dodd (CT) as well as the Congressional leadership. The bill's signing is just the beginning, especially since the bill success depends on successful implementation. Hopefully, Obama will begin this implementation process by appointing Elizabeth Warren, who led the TARP investigation committee, as head of the new Consumer Protection Agency housed within the Federal Reserve.

This bill, in many ways, is an appropriate representation of this administration. A major policy accomplishment marred by disappointing compromises, and overshadowed by the still struggling economy.

THE SENATE: The Senate finally finished work on the unemployment insurance extension bill today. Republicans refused to hold an immediate vote, and instead insisted on voting on some political "gotcha" amendments. Let's run through them, because they give a good sense of where each Senator's priorities are.

1. The first amendment, offered by Senator Brown (MA), would have paid for the extension with unspent stimulus funds. Brown may not be smart enough to think about this, but we're pretty limited in the stimulus fund we have now. There is no good reason to take money away from job investment. The amendment failed 42-56. Democrats Lincoln (AR) and Nelson (NE) joined every Republican in support.

2. Next was an amendment from Senator Coburn (R-OK), that would have required all spending that violates PAYGO budgeting rules to be posted on a special website. I don't really have a problem with this, but like the 49 Democratic Senators who voted no on this amendment, I just don't trust Tom Coburn. Democratic Senators Feingold (WI), Hagan (NC), Klobuchar (MN), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Nelson (FL), Pryor (AR), Tester (MT) and Webb (VA) voted with the GOP.

3. A similar amendment that would require the federal government to post information on the federal debt, also from Senator Coburn, got 54 votes, but was 6 votes shy of the 67 needed to suspend the rules and consider the amendment.

4. The most important amendment, in my view, was offered by Senator DeMint (R-SC). His amendment would have permanently ended the estate tax, which only affects heirs to millionaires (2% of all estates), thus adding billions to the deficit. Amazingly, these self-proclaimed "deficit hawks" absolutely don't care about the deficit at all. They just don't want to spend money helping average Americans. They're perfectly ok protecting the country's richest families and passing the debt onto our children and grandchildren. Faux fiscal conservative Democrats Lincoln (AR) and Nelson (NE) voted for this abominable amendment along with 37 Republicans. Republicans Collins (ME), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich (OH) voted with 56 Democrats against the amendment. I hope the media takes notice whenever any of these Senators proclaim to be deficit hawks.

5. DeMint also sought to include an amendment that would bar the U.S. from challenging the Arizona immigration law in federal court. Thankfully, the amendment was defeated 43-55. Democratic immigration hawks Baucus (MT), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), and Tester (MT) voted yes with most of the GOP. Republicans Johanns (NE...didn't see this one coming!) and Voinovich voted with the Democrats.

The bill finally passed this evening 59-39. Once again, Republicans Collins and Snowe (ME) joined the Democrats in voting yes, while Ben Nelson voted no with the Republicans. Senators Bayh (IN) and Vitter (LA) did not vote. The bill goes back to the House tomorrow, where it will be rubber stamped and sent to President Obama for his signature later this week. When the bill is signed, it should take about two weeks for retroactive benefit checks to be sent to the unemployed.

THE HOUSE: The House passed a series of bills today under suspension of the rules as it waited the Senate to finish its work. One of the bills was to prevent interstate transport of animal crush videos, and yes, three Republicans voted against it.

That's it for tonight, we'll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/20/10-Relief, At Last

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It was another busy July day in politics, so let's get to it.

THE SENATE: Thanks to the newest Senator, Carte Goodwin of West Virginia (D), the Senate was finally able to break a logjam on the unemployment extension bill. As a result, suffering American families will finally get some much-needed relief. Goodwin joined 57 other Democrats, as well as Republicans Snowe and Collins of Maine to cut off debate on the bill. Democrat Ben Nelson (NE) and every other Republican refused to spend $34 billion to give much needed assistance to those who have borne the brunt of the very recession caused by Republican economic policies.

The vote on the bill itself will come tomorrow, though it is certain to pass, since cloture has already been invoked. The bill will then head to the House where it will be rubber stamped Thursday and sent to the President for his signature.

The bill would have passed anyway, but the President's pushback against Republican obstruction on this bill was wise and helpful. Those who think it's ok to balloon the deficit by giving tax breaks to the rich while refusing to vote for a minor bill that would help struggling Americans need to be called out.

The Senate will move next to the long-stalled small business loan bill. Democrats should force Republicans to explain why they are holding this bill up.

Away from the floor, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Elena Kagan to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by a vote of 13-6. Every Democrat on the committee supported her nomination, including some who were less than impressed with her confirmation hearings. The only Republican on the committee to support the nomination was Lindsey Graham (SC), who also supported Sonia Sotomayor last year. Graham's support all but assures Kagan's nomination when she comes to the Senate floor in a couple of weeks. My guess is that she'll get about 69 votes, the same amount Sotomayor received last summer.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President today met and held a joint press availability with new British Prime Minister David Cameron. This was Cameron's first trip to the White House as Prime Minister. The two leaders played nice, emphasizing their agreement on economic policy, climate change, Afghanistan, and Israel. The biggest point of contention, apparently, was Cameron's discomfort with Obama's excessive criticism of BP. BP, of course, is a major British corporation. I have very little sympathy for Cameron's view in this case. Cameron and Obama also disagreed as to whether there should be an investigation into BP's possible involvement in the release of the Lockerbie bomber last year.

I've always thought that even though Cameron is a conservative, he and Obama are actually pretty similar ideologically. I expect that they'll continue to have a good working relationship.

The biggest story from the White House today though involved a former USDA employee. The employee, an African American Woman, made a speech at the NAACP in which she talked about being resistant to helping white farmers 24 years ago when her career began in Georgia. Conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart showed the video completely out of context to make it seem like the employee, Shirley Sherrod, still held those views currently.

Sherrod was forced to resign, under pressure from USDA head Tom Vilsack, with support from the White House. This is a complete shame. The White House should not be taking cues from Andrew Breitbart, a known liar. Sherrod should be reinstated immediately.

That's it for this evening, see you tomorrow!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/19/10-Real People

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Make sure you're all caught up in the week in politics by reading our Weekly Strike. Tonight's entry will be a quick one.

UNEMPLOYMENT: For a long time here at the Strike, we've lamented the fact that President Obama hasn't been able to make his message relatable to average voters. His speeches have often come across as professorial and abstract. We've also lamented his lack of focus and resolve on the issue of unemployment, which is the largest issue facing his Presidency. Today, he took a bold step at alleviating our concerns. In a morning address from the White House Rose Garden, the President lambasted the Republicans for blocking an extension of unemployment benefits. Instead of rattling off a series of numbers, he brought in real Americans who have been hurt by the Republicans' obstruction. Behind every political battle are people whose livelihoods, and often survival, are dependent on government action. Oftentimes we forget that, and seem to act like it's all just a game. Republicans certainly have done that these past few weeks. In an attempt to slow down the Democratic agenda and prove their faux deficit hawk bonfides, they have caused men and women to suffer immensely. Finally, President Obama conveyed that message forcefully to the American people. I thought it was very well done, and I hope it continues.

I also hope this effort doesn't come too late. The President has failed to create a compelling narrative for his economic policies, and people seem prone to blame the party in power for everything that's continuing to go wrong with the economy. For that reason, the fundamentals of the fall campaign seem pretty set. But at the very least, Obama is starting to make Republican obstruction feel real to the American people.

WEST VIRGINIA: It looks like we'll have another Senate election this year afterall. The West Virginia legislature approved a bill late tonight that will provide for a November election for the remaining two years of Senator Robert Byrd's term. The interim Senator, Carte Goodwin, will not run for reelection. The obvious Democratic candidate is Governor Joe Manchin, and since he was such a big part in calling for an election, I expect him to enter the race. The best Republican out there is Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, though she is somewhat less well known than the popular Manchin. Early polls have shown Manchin winning a hypothetical match up pretty handily, though West Virginia is an increasingly conservative state, so I wouldn't consider the seat safe for the Democrats by any means. I'll rate it as Lean Democratic.

That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!

The Weekly Strike-7/19-7/25

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. It promises to be a pretty busy week in politics, so let's get right to it.

THE SENATE: Even after the passage of landmark Wall Street Reform last week, most eyes will again be focused on the United States Senate. Tomorrow, the newest Senator, Carte Goodwin of West Virginia, will be sworn into office by Vice President Biden. Soon afterward, the Senate will vote on the long-stalled bill to extend unemployment benefits to those most hurt by the recession. Democrats should finally have the 60 votes necessary to advance the bill. If the Senate passes the House-passed bill unchanged, the President will sign it into law this week, and the benefits will go into effect retroactively.

The Senate will also try to finish a bill providing loans to small businesses, though Republicans have been successful so far in obstructing the bill's consideration.

Over in the committee realm, the Senate Judiciary panel will vote on the nomination of Elena Kagan to be a Supreme Court Justice. Since we've heard pretty much nothing on her nomination since her confirmation hearings a few weeks ago, I expect her to be confirmed quite easily. All 12 Democrats on the committee almost certainly will support her nomination (even former critic Arlen Specter has announced his support). Of the 7 Republicans on the committee, only Lindsay Graham (SC) might cross party lines on Kagan's behalf. A vote in the full Senate is expected during the first week in August.

Majority Leader Reid wants to bring two other important bills up before that time, though I'm certainly skeptical. One bill would be a scaled-down energy bill that focused on investments in clean energy paired with carbon pricing for the utilities sector. Republicans may vote to allow consideration of the bill just so they can highlight their opposition to it, but I don't see any Republicans crossing over to support the legislation during an election year. So far, Democrat Ben Nelson (NE) has already voiced his opposition. The newest West Virginia Senator didn't sound very enthusiastic about the bill either.

Democrats also hoped to move on the House-passed campaign finance bill (the DISCLOSE Act), but with moderate Republicans Brown (MA) and Snowe (ME) in opposition, the bill's chances are looking pretty dim. Thus, with financial reform complete, and the Senate still dealing with constant obstruction and stagnation, we may have seen the last of the major pieces of legislation in the 111th Congress.

THE HOUSE: The House has a much more quiet week, as they continue to await action from their Senate counterparts. After doing suspension bills today and tomorrow, the House will take up a bill that requires the national flood insurance program to enable the purchase of "multiperil" coverage. The House will also take up the unemployment bill if the Senate makes any changes to it.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President will start the week with a well-timed push for the unemployment insurance extension. Apparently, he will (for the first time in recent memory) tell the stories of real Americans who have been hurt by the Republicans obstruction. He should have been doing this much earlier, so that he could create a narrative about the Republicans only looking out for their wealthy friends, while he is protecting the working man hurt by the recession. Anything he does now might be too late to make a difference in the mind of voters ahead of the election. The President will also meet today with former Senator and astronaut John Glenn (D-OH) to discuss space policy.

Later in the week, the President will sign the financial reform bill into law at a large White House signing ceremony. He also plans to visit Illinois to campaign for the Democrat running for Obama's old Senate seat.

That's it for now, see you this evening.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/15/10-Check It Off The List

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. This was probably the best day for President Obama in three months. He finally won approval of one of his major legislative priorities, and it appears that oil has finally stopped spilling into the gulf. So I'll try to not be as morbid as I was the past few days.

FINANCIAL REGULATIONS: The Senate today gave final approval to the most sweeping financial reforms since the Great Depression. The culmination of a year-long effort to help prevent another financial crisis is a major victory for President Obama, and cements the 111th Congress as one of the most productive in history, even despite the unprecedented GOP obstruction. In fact, unlike the health care bill, this piece of legislation strengthened over time, with the inclusion of strict derivatives regulation, and more authority for regulators to shut down the biggest banks. The reason that many liberals like myself aren't jumping for joy is that this doesn't signify a fundamental shift in the Obama presidency. Yes, he has accomplished a lot, but he has yet to settle on a compelling governing narrative that proves his devotion to the progressive cause. And most importantly, it's hard to celebrate anything when the jobs situation is as bad as it is.

The bill cleared three separate hurdles today. The vote to cut off debate was 60-38. As expected, Republican Brown (MA), Collins (ME) and Snowe (ME) voted yes, while Democrat Russ Feingold remained steadfast in his opposition from the left. Senator Crapo (ID) did not vote. On the two next votes, to waive Budget Act restrictions, and on final passage, the vote was 60-39, with Crapo (ID) present and voting no. The bill heads to President Obama's desk for his signature, which is expected to take place next week with much pomp and circumstance.

The Senate will swear in the new Democratic Senator from West Virginia when it reconvenes on Tuesday (we still don't know who that will be). Afterwards, they will vote to cut off debate on the unemployment extension bill, which is long overdue. Hopefully work on that bill can be completed by Wednesday, so that the Senate also has time to take up a Small Business Loan measure.

THE HOUSE: The House today passed a bill to reform the flood insurance program. It's about as simple as it sounds, really, though I don't know exactly what the reforms are. The bill passed by an overwhelming margin of 329-90. All opposition, save for Rep. Stupak (MI-remember him?) came from Republicans.

That's it for a short entry tonight. We'll be back on Monday morning.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/14/10-Democrats in Disarray

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The title of today's blog entry has been the title to a million articles over the last year, and almost none of them actually showed Democrats in disarray. But today, we see a party truly running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off.

DEMOCRATIC FAMILY FEUD: It all started with a candid, and true, comment from White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs this Sunday. He stated the obvious, that there are enough seats in play for the Republicans to retake the House. House Democrats have made a huge fuss about this comment, thinking that Gibbs gave the Republicans fundraising ammunition. The White House responded by defending themselves, saying that they've done fundraisers for House candidates etc. House doesn't really matter. Both entities are at fault for what's going on right now.

Gibbs is right that Republicans have a good shot at retaking the House. The reason is that the economy is in the dumps, and Democratic leaders are just throwing in the towel as the election season approaches. White House Advisor David Axelrod said this weekend that there is "not an appetite" for more jobs bills. Really? Maybe there would be if you DID something about it!! You're the President of the United States. I understand Obama can't control Congress, but he's not making any effort whatsoever on the jobs front right now. Forget what's happened over the last year and a half. The President could have used the recent poor jobs numbers for a renewed massive push for jobs legislation. He could have explained every single day that there are 5 unemployed people per every available job, and that if those people don't have any money, they can't spend at local businesses, which causes the broader economy to suffer. He could threaten to keep Congress in session (as is his power as President) until Congress does something about jobs. But, no. He just wants to stand back and passively say that Congress can't do anything about 10% employment.

House Democrats should similiarly not blame Obama's spokesman. While they have been the far more productive of the two chambers of Congress, many members are running scared, and are consequently hurting their own party. Today, 59 House Democrats sent a, frankly, offensive letter to leadership saying that they won't vote for any non-emergency spending if it doesn't include offsets. They are saying that we can't kick the can down the road anymore when it comes to the national debt. This is not only horrible policy, since we absolutely must spend money now to rescue the economy. It's horrible politics too, and I'll bet you that many of these 59 members will lose their seats because the economy continues to go south come November. There is not a majority in the House to do even basic things to rescue the economy. That is abhorrent to me.

Both sides here need to stop bickering, find their focus, get a sense of renewed purpose, and get to work. It may be too late to do anything meaningful to jumpstart the economy before the election, but it's not too late to try, and it certainly won't help to sit around playing the blame game.

I'll say this though, at least they're not as bad as the United States Senate!

THE SENATE: Speaking of the Senate, the upper chamber will vote tomorrow at 11am on the Financial Reform conference report. The bill will get exactly 60 votes, because Senator Grassley (R-IA), a supporter of the earlier Senate bill, announced his opposition today. The vote should pave the way for President Obama to sign the legislation into law next week.

The Senate spent the day considering a bill to provide loans to small businesses. Senators will presumably begin voting on amendments to that bill tomorrow night.

THE HOUSE: The House passed one piece of substantive legislation today. By a vote of 290-131, the House agreed to a bill that will allow for federal employees to telecommute up to 20 hours per pay period. The bill was a response to this past winter's snowstorms, which caused the federal government to basically shut down for the week. 245 Democrats and 45 Republicans supported the bill, while 2 Democrats and 129 Republicans voted no.

That's it for now, we'll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/13/10-60 Assured

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. I will keep this entry short since I got home more than an hour late and I want to watch the All Star Game. But enough about me!

FINREG: The conference report accompanying the Financial Regulation bill is on the verge of passing this Thursday. Today, Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) was the 60th Senator to publicly declare support for the bill, which will assure that the bill makes it to President Obama's desk next week. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) filed cloture on the bill, which sets up a vote Thursday afternoon.

I'm excited about this bill's passage, mostly because it represents the first serious regulation of the financial industry since the 1930's. We've been going in the opposite direction ever since. As many other commentators have noted, the bill is designed for us to better handle a future crisis, not so much to prevent one. A lot of the bill's success depends on its implementation. The new consumer protection agency within the Federal Reserve must be bold and ambitious, for example. I'm mostly afraid that a future Republican President will be able to water down these agencies without enough institutional protection in place.

In other Senate news, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin will announce the replacement to the late Senator Byrd on Friday evening. By next week, this should give the Democrats the votes (hopefully) to pass a much-needed extension of unemployment benefits.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The biggest news today from the White House is that Jacob Lew was selected to be the next Director of the OMB, the same title he held during the later years of the Clinton Administration. This seems like a good choice. Even though correlation certainly doesn't imply causation, Lew presided over the only budget surpluses in the last 40 years.

THE HOUSE: The House just dealt with some suspension bills today, they'll get down to serious legislative business tomorrow.

That's it for now! Comments: Leave them!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/12/10-FinReg Closer

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Make sure you get caught up on the week in politics in this morning's Weekly Strike.

THE SENATE: Before I give a brief election update, there is some news to report from the United States Senate, sort of. The financial regulation bill's conference report appears on the verge of passing, which would send the overhaul directly to the President's desk. Two Republicans, Senators Brown (MA) and Snowe (ME) announced that they will support the bill. With the support of Senator Collins (ME), that gives Democrats three sure Republican votes. The Democrats currently control 58 seats, while the vacant seat in West Virginia remains at the whim of Governor Joe Manchin (D). So far, only Senator Feingold has been the only Democrat to voice official opposition to the bill. Today, though, we found out that America's favorite corporate shill, Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) is also on the fence, which would potentially temporarily keep the Democrats from the 60 vote threshold. Nelson says that he has concerns with the power given to the head of the new consumer protection agency. This has been a policy proposal for over a year, he decided to make a fuss about this NOW? Really, Nelson just wants attention from the media and his beloved corporate lobbyists. I think he'll come around after he gets his moment in the spotlight. Even if he doesn't, the new Democratic Senator will be sworn in next week and will presumably push us over the top.

The Senate did take time today to confirm the nomination of Sharon Johnson Coleman to be a District Court Judge in Illinois. Tomorrow, the Senate will continue consideration of a Small Business lending bill.

ELECTION UPDATE: I'll keep this short, because it's pretty depressing. Election 2010 would be a major bloodbath for the Democratic Party if it were held today. Even though the media has focused on voter enthusiasm, candidates, gaffes, and amorphous concerns about the deficit, the real deciding factor this fall will be the state of the economy. If the recovery remains sluggish, and we have no reason to believe it will improve greatly in the next 4 months, the incumbent party (the Democrats) will pay a large price. There is a time and place for a post mortem of how Democrats got into this situation, but I'll save that for another entry. For now, I'll just give my updated predictions.

If the election were held today, the House would be slightly favored to go Republican. The Republicans must gain 39 seats to regain the majority, and if the political climate stays the way it is now, they will have a pretty decent path to get there. I'd put the Republican chances of a House takeover at slightly above 50/50. I will not be changing individual race ratings on my chart (to your right) since I haven't seen much polling in individual districts. We'll go district-by-district when the election season heats up.

The Senate looks slightly more promising, though mostly because the Republicans have picked some truly awful candidates. I am moving three Lean Democrat races to the "Toss Up" column to reflect polls I've seen in the past few weeks in California, Wisconsin and Washington. This moves the tossup list to an unusually high 10. Since the national environment leans Republican, I expect them to take the majority of these tossup states, but not all of them. If they took 7 of the 10 tossup seats, along with 4 Democratic-held seats that they're already favored to win, they will be at 49 seats, just short of the majority. If they win 9 or 10 of the tossup seats, they'll regain the majority. I'd put the odds of that at about 25%.

As far as Governor's races go, Democrats are in for an old-style Texas whooping. Because of a slew of termed out Democratic governors, and the national political environment, I expect Democrats to lose a net of around 7-8 state houses, which will hurt our efforts during the 2011 redistricting process.

I wish I could bring you more promising news, but alas, things are looking pretty nasty out there. I will change these predictions as events merit.

The Weekly Strike-7/12-7/18

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Now that the World Cup is over, and baseball season is on a brief hiatus, I can turn my full focus to politics. Lucky for you!

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: The theme of the week will be the ability (or lack thereof) of the United States Senate to complete some very important unfinished business. Still outstanding are an extension of unemployment benefits that failed by a single vote at the end of June, and the conference report accompanying the Financial Reform bill. Each bill was about one vote short at the end of the last session, and that vote could be the potential appointee of Governor Joe Manchin (D-WV), to replace the late Senator Byrd. However, Manchin is proving to be a bit of a pain in the neck. Since he's angling to run for the Senate seat himself this year, he's approaching this "strategically" meaning he's actually just dithering. The longer Manchin waits, the longer these pieces of legislation will languish, most likely.

On the unemployment bill, 57 of 58 Democrats, excluding Ben Nelson (NE) voted to end debate, as did Republicans Snowe and Collins of Maine. With the new West Virginia Senator, that could be law within days, giving essential relief to those afflicted by the joblessness crisis. On financial reform, Democrats have the firm support of Republican Susan Collins, and tepid support of Senators Snowe and Brown (MA). Senator Cantwell (WA), who voted against the original bill, has announced her support, leaving Senator Feingold (WI) as the only Democratic holdout. If everyone else votes as expected, this leaves Democrats with exactly 60 votes, possibly 61 depending on the ever-so non-dependable Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who voted yes the first time. Since the House has already passed the conference report, the Senate pretty much needs to an affirmative vote, lest they want to go through the arduous process of reconvening the conference committee to make even further changes. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the Republicans played the Lucy/football routine with Democratic leaders.

The Senate also will try to complete work on a bill that provides for increased loans to small businesses, and will consider, but probably not doing anything, on a potential climate/energy bill that Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) hopes to take up next week. The bill will only include subsidies for alternative energy, and will most likely not include a meaningful cap on carbon emissions.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, due to Republican delays, will probably not vote on the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan this week. That should come next week, with a final full Senate vote coming at the end of the month. Kagan's confirmation is looking like the only sure thing in this bleak-looking Senate session.

THE HOUSE: The House, as usual, will be in a major holding pattern this week waiting on their Senate counterparts. After working on suspensions tomorrow and Wednesday, the House will consider two substantive bills. The first would allow government agencies to come up with policies that maximize workers' ability to tele-commute, provided that it doesn't hurt productivity. The bill is expected to save the Federal Government a little bit of money. The bill got an overwhelming number of votes a couple of weeks ago, but failed to get the 2/3rds vote required to pass under suspension of the rules. They'll try again on Thursday. Also, the House will consider a bill that reforms National Flood Insurance.

THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama will be closely monitoring this week's Senate happenings, but he also has a few other items on his agenda. Today, he will meet with with a member of his Council on Foreign Relations, and with President Fernandez of the Domincan Republic. Nothing else is known yet about what's on the President's schedule.

That's it for now, leave some comments!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/8/10-Depressing

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. To understand why I'm depressed about politics tonight, I bring you three things I read today (with appropriate credit due to The Big Picture).

1. The first is this poll summary from Democracy Corps, which does polling for Democratic causes. Quite simply, the numbers are awful. Yes, Democrats trail in the generic Congressional ballot. Yes, Republicans are actually less disliked than Democrats at this point. None of that is particularly surprising in this political climate. Some of the other numbers are just downright depressing. More people, by far, have favorable opinions of the NRA than just about any other political actor, including President Obama. "Big Corporations" is rated more favorably than the health care bill. And by a disturbingly large margin, people think that "cutting government spending and lowering taxes" is a better economic stimulus than "investments in new jobs."

This represents a massive failure in the war of ideas. He hasn't properly identified the perpetrators of this economic crisis: big corporations and finance. He hasn't explained why we need to make long-term investments to spur job growth. When he has said some good things, he then undermines himself by feeding into the conservative narrative (remember the discretionary spending freeze?) Without offering that vision consistently and coherently, people are stuck with the general impression that things are bad, and that liberals are in charge, so therefore liberal policies are bad.

2. This piece pretty much speaks for itself. Basically, the recession has increased poverty and homelessness significantly, and has caused millions of people to suffer. I link to this also to make the point that when Republicans and Ben Nelson don't vote to extend unemployment benefits, they're not just hurting a bunch of lazy people who can't get their asses to a job interview. They're ignoring an all-out crisis.

3. Finally, there's this article by the nation's Eric Alterman, which argues that a progressive Presidency is pretty much impossible. He argues that while Obama certainly has disappointed in many areas, the real barriers to progress are ridiculous institutional obstacles. He covers pretty much everything: the undemocratic Senate, the right-wing media, the corporate buy-out of our politicians, the mainstream consensus around bad economic policies etc. It's very sobering, but it's an important reminder how much we truly have to change in this country before we can finally tackle our worst problems. I'm afraid some of these barriers may be too difficult to overcome in the forseeable future.

Have I depressed you enough yet? At least you can go to the TV and find out where LeBron James will play next year! T-Minus 37 minutes!

OTHER TIDBITS: Before I go, I should mention that West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin has inexplicably has arranged for the special election to replace Senator Robert Byrd to take place this November instead of 2012, as had been originally planned. Manchin clearly wants to run for the seat himself, and seems to think that running this year would be to his advantage. While Manchin is popular in the state, West Virginia is increasingly conservative, and this is a Republican year, so Manchin is anything but a shoo-in. It's possible that Manchin could potentially cost Democrats a majority in the Senate because of his selfish ambition. Let's hope not.

That's it for now. See you next Monday when Congress gets back into session.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/7/10-Recess Appointment

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Congress is out of town on recess, and the President's schedule has been pretty light. In fact, most even in the political world are focused on the LeBron James sweepstakes. So, we'll keep this short.

BERWICK: President Obama used a recess appointment to nominate Donald Berwick to be the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Republicans had threatened to block Mr. Berwick (who is a friend of The Strike's place of employment), because he once said some pretty nice things about the British National Health System. Oh, and he also said that health care obviously must be rationed, the question is how to do so effectively. Any sane person would understand these statements to be non-controversial. However, the wacko wing of the Republican Party, led by Sarah Palin on her Twitter account, wanted to use Berwick's nomination to engage in a fight over health insurance reform. President Obama was very wise to steer clear of this fight. Recess appointments aren't ideal, but this job is critically important. The CMS administrator must oversee the implementation of major portions of the new health care law, including major changes to government health systems.

Berwick's nomination is good until the end of the next session of the Senate, which will be sometime in late 2011. The Republicans will probably have many more seats than they do now, so offhand I'd say Berwick better get to work quickly.

That's it for today, we'll see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Weekly Strike-7/6-7/11

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. It's sweltering in DC, and lucky for them, members of Congress are out of town. Even if they were here, they'd be better off than the unemployed people at whom they've thumbed their noses.

THE WHITE HOUSE: After a quiet holiday weekend, the White House gets back in gear today as President Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama and Bibi (as he's affectionately known) haven't been on the best of terms. Obama met with the Prime Minister at a terse meeting in May, in which the press was not allowed to take pictures (some sign of sacrilege apparently). The administration was rightly angry that Netanyahu authorized the building of new settlements in East Jerusalem. Both men will use this meeting as a chance to restart diplomatic relations.

If Netanyahu were a smart, rational person, which doesn't seem to be his strong suit, he would help President Obama push for a land-for-peace agreement with the Palestinian people. He would also assure the U.S. leadership that Israel was properly concerned with the human rights situation in the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, I don't really see this happening.

The rest of the President's schedule this week is unknown, but I would be pretty shocked if he didn't give a speech on the economy given last week's poor jobs report.

CONGRESS: Speaking of jobs, Congress takes the week off having done absolutely nothing to alleviate the jobs crisis in America. Last week's jobs report, which showed minuscule growth in private sector employment, hasn't seemed to get the attention of enough members of Congress. Most Republicans are intent to block action on any and all jobs measures, ostensibly because they care about the deficit, but more realistically because they think it is politically advantageous to them. Conservative Democrats concerned about our fiscal health have shown very little interest in even the slightest measures to alleviate the pain and suffering of the unemployed. They are preventing Congress from taking any action whatsoever.

If people didn't already realize that the jobs situation was an absolute crisis, they should now. This is what needs to be done in the short-term:

-President Obama needs to put on a Bush, Iraq-war style political campaign for a jobs relief package that includes primarily aid to state and local governments and an extension of unemployment benefits. This campaign must involve a whirlwind tour of speeches, expressing the urgency of the situation, and branding this bill as the best solution.

-In exchange for the votes of Blue Dog Democrats, Obama should package this deal with future cuts to the deficit (to take place three or four years down the line). These cuts should be a combination of progressive tax increases, and spending cuts to defense and non-essential mandatory spending.

-The leaders of the House and Senate should hold votes on this measure as soon as possible, even if they don't have the votes to pass it. No backroom negotiations, no deals...just see where everyone stands. If the vote fails, leaders should move on to Plan B:

-The House and the Senate could pass a budget resolution that contains reconciliation instructions for a jobs bill. With these instructions, the bill could pass the House and Senate on a simple majority vote, and be signed into law as soon as possible. Democrats could take comfort knowing that this spending would inject demand into the economy immediately.

This, of course, won't happen for a variety of reasons. But I just wanted to show how easy it COULD be if Democratic leaders gave as much care and concern to the jobs situation as is currently warranted. More likely, we'll see pretty much nothing done before the November elections. If the economy, as expected, continues to flutter along with minimal job gains, Democrats will suffer absolutely massive losses in November.

That's it for now, I'll see you tonight.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/1/10-Supplemental Madness

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The Senate skipped out of town yesterday having not finished: a) war funding, b) unemployment benefits and c) financial regulation. Late last night, Majority Leader Reid tried one last time to pass an extension of unemployment benefits, but he failed by a single vote. Republicans Snowe and Collins of Maine both voted yes, but Democrat Ben Nelson (NE) broke with his party and singlehandedly caused mass suffering for millions of people. The plan should be able to pass when the new West Virginia Senator is sworn in, but that won't happen until after the July recess. Now on to the rest of the day in politics.

THE HOUSE: The House is trying to finish up a supplemental war funding bill, and the Democratic leadership is using all sorts of interesting parliamentary maneuvers to include key domestic funding, such as aid to state and local governments, money for summer jobs programs, and Pell Grants. The problem for House leaders is that a majority of House members don't support BOTH the war funding and the domestic spending. So Democrats have resorted to some cleaver trickery. According to a rule adopted by the House this evening, the war funding would be passed and sent to the President, only if all of the other domestic spending is also approved. If the domestic spending is rejected, the war funding too will be rejected. Thus, by voting for the domestic spending, members are actually "deeming" the war funding passed. My guess is that the amendments will be agreed to, and that the war measure will be sent to the President for his approval. I'm not quite sure exactly how this works. I guess the Senate would then have to vote on the domestic spending separately (which won't happen, of course, for another couple of weeks). Also included in this bill (under the rule) is a budget enforcement resolution that sets spending targets for Fiscal Year 2011. This is in place of a normal budget resolution, which House Democrats didn't want to pass, because it would have foreseen record deficits. (I guess we should just pretend they don't exist?).

It looks like the House will be taking votes late into the night, so I'll have to update you tomorrow.

Prior to consideration of this measure, the House passed rather easily the same extension of unemployment that died yesterday in the Senate. The final vote was 270-153, with 29 Republicans voting yes, and a pathetic 11 Democrats voting no. The Senate will try to concur when they return on July 12th, but by that time, millions of Americans will already have gone without needed unemployment assistance.

The House will adjourn after votes end later tonight or early tomorrow morning.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: President Obama gave a speech today at American University outlining his plans for comprehensive immigration reform. The speech was prototypical Obama. He talked about how the issue has been demagogued by the Republicans, and he specifically mentioned the new law in Arizona. He also criticized the left (unfairly in my view) for having unreasonable expectations about illegal immigration, and for not being serious enough about securing the border. I understand politically why Obama would pay close attention to this issue. He does want to bring Latino voters to the polls. However, the political risks seem to outweigh the potential rewards. Jobless Americans are looking for people to blame for their malaise, and if the issue of immigration comes front and center, immigrants will be an easy scapegoat target.

That's it for tonight! See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Daily Strike-6/30/10-Reaching 60

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The theme of the day was getting to 60 votes in the United States Senate. What a surprise.

FINANCIAL REGULATION: Moments ago, the House passed the conference report accompanying the Wall Street reform legislation by, the most sweeping rewrite of our financial system since the Great Depression. The final vote was a healthy 237-192. The bill surprisingly got the support of three Republicans, Reps. Cao (LA), Castle (DE) and Jones (NC). The following Democrats opposed the bill. Call their offices and complain accordingly: Berry (AR), Boren (OK), Boucher (VA), Bright (AL), Chandler (KY), Childers (MS), Copper (TN), Critz (PA), Cuellar (TX), Davis (TN), Edwards (TX), Kaptur (OH) (perhaps the lone opposition from the left), Kirkpatrick (AZ), McIntyre (NC), Mitchell (AZ), Owens (NY), Perriello (VA) (that's sad, he's taken some other courageous votes during his freshman term), Ross (AR), and Skelton (MO). Mostly your standard list of Blue Dogs. It's sure real "maverick-y" of them to stand for Wall Street and against the American people.

Prior to a vote on final passage, Democrats beat back a Republican amendment that would send the bill back to the conference committee with instructions to add a stricter audit of the Federal Reserve. The motion failed 198-229, with all Republicans and 23 Democrats voting yes.

The only stop left before the President's desk is the United States Senate, though it looks like consideration there will be delayed until after the July 4th recess. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), who has been holding negotiations hostage and has one several special carve-outs, says that he "looks forward to reviewing the bill" over the July recess. What a tool, to put it delicately. So here's the math. 56 Democrats are pretty certain to support the bill, and one (Feingold) is certain to oppose it. Republicans Collins and Snowe of Maine are also likely supporters at this point. When West Virginia's new Democratic Senator is sworn in, presumably in the next couple of weeks, they will probably support the bill as well, which puts the magic number at 59. The 60th vote would either have to come from Brown, Democrat Maria Cantwell who opposes the bill from the left, or Chuck Grassley (R-IA) who voted for the bill last time around. Chances are that they'll get one of these Senators to budge.

THE SENATE: Majority Leader Reid (NV) is trying one last time to pass an extension of unemployment benefits, and it appears he is still one vote short. 57 Democrats, as well as Senators Snowe and Collins of Maine, would support the extension, well Democrat Nelson (NE) has voiced his opposition. Either Democrats will have to wait for the new West Virginia Senator to arrive, or they'll have to try to convince another Republican to abandon their party leadership and stand up for struggling families. Because of Republican obstruction over the past month, over 1 million people have lost unemployment benefits. I think Republicans are of the mind that these people are lazy and are just not looking hard enough for a job. Sane people realize that it's tough to find work when hundreds of people are applying to every available job.

The Senate most likely will not vote on this extension until Friday, when they'll also presumably vote on a small business lending bill. The Senate takes a break tomorrow to pay respects to the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV).

The Senate did find time today to unanimously approve the nomination of David Petraeus to be the next commander in Afghanistan. See, the Senate can indeed move quickly when it wants to.

KAGAN: Senators finished questioning Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan today, and the hearings were notable for being, well, entirely uneventful. Kagan faced sharp questions from Republicans about gun rights, Don't Ask Don't Tell, and many other issues. In total, Kagan answerd 500 questions over two days, and didn't give Republicans any real ammunition against her.

I think Kagan is well on her way to gaining confirmation. A vote in the Judiciary Committee will occur in mid-July, with a vote in front of the full Senate slated for just before the August recess.

OBAMA: President Obama held a town hall meeting today in Racine, WI, where he talked about the economy. Obama previewed some fall campaign themes. He attacked Republicans for wanting to move the country backward, and he chastised House Minority Leader Boehner for suggesting that the financial reform bill is "throwing a nuclear weapon at an ant." Obama was sharp and feisty, which is good to see. Because the economy will likely still be in the doldrums through the November elections, the Democrats' only hope is to draw sharp contrasts with the Republicans.

That's it for today, see you tomorrow!