Monday, January 18, 2010

The Weekly Strike-1/18-1/24

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview the week in politics. I hope you are all enjoying your three day weekend. Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day.

MA-SEN: The biggest story of the week is tomorrow's Senate election in Massachusetts to replace the late Ted Kennedy. This race will determine whether Democrats will keep their current 60 vote filibuster-proof (in theory) majority, or whether the Republicans will have their 41st vote to obstruct the Obama agenda. In the short-term, the election will determine whether health care reform, most notably the delicate compromises being worked out at the White House, will survive. Beyond the practical implications of this election, this race carries enormous symbolic meaning. If Republican Scott Brown wins, Republicans will feel more confident in their "just say no" tactics as a winning political strategy. Vulnerable Democrats will see that if their party is losing in Massachusetts, things are really grim, and it might be time to start running for the hills.

It's hard to get a firm read on where the race is right now. Since I last wrote on Friday, it seems that there has been a slight halt to Scott Brown's momentum. I'm not sure how reliable internal polls are, but Democrat Martha Coakley's own polls showed her down by 3 points on Friday, and they now show her up by 2 points. It's possible that President Obama's visit yesterday has awakened despondent Democrats, who are now more likely to to head to the polls. On the other hand, all independent polling I've seen since Thursday has shown Brown ahead, including a poll released last night from the Democratic firm, PPP polls. These polls reflect what voters were thinking BEFORE Obama's appearance, however. The PPP poll showed that almost 20% of Obama voters would vote for Republican Scott Brown. I'd like to believe that some of these voters will change their minds after hearing Obama's speech yesterday.

Coakley has run an extremely uninspired campaign in a difficult political environment for Democrats. In some ways, this race is a perfect storm for the Republican party, and that's why I would say that Brown is the slight, slight favorite at this point. The x-factor is turnout. If Coakley's turnout operation is as good as it has been hyped, then it's possible she could pull this thing out. For the sake of President Obama's agenda, I hope she does. God speed.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President will be keeping a very close eye on this race, but he also has a full plate of other matters. Today, he will participate in a service event in D.C. to honor Martin Luther King Jr. He will also host a reception at the White House with African American seniors and their grandchildren on the civil rights movement. The President's schedule of the rest of the week has not been released, but I expect that he'll spend some considerable time on the relief efforts in Haiti, and facilitating additional compromises on health reform. In the event that Scott Brown wins, Obama will probably start groveling at the feet of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), the one Republican who has expressed one iota of interest in supporting health reform.

Also, Wednesday will be the one year anniversary of Obama's inauguration. It's hard to believe that it's really been a year. Many of us wish we could go back in time to the jubilation of inauguration weekend, and not be stuck with the harsh realities of governing. But alas, the fight goes on.

THE SENATE: The Senate comes back into session this week. On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on the nomination of Beverly Baldwin Martin to be a Circuit Judge on the 11th District Court of Appeals. I expect her nomination to pass relatively easily.

The Senate will then vote on amendments and final passage of a bill that raises the statutory debt limit. The Senate approved a temporary increase in the debt limit prior to the August recess. Congress must raise the ceiling again by February lest the U.S. default on its loans.

What the Senate turns to next will depend on the situation in Massachusetts. If a winner is declared on Tuesday night, the new Senator will be sworn in anytime from this Wednesday to early February, depending on when the Bay State issues an election certification.

THE HOUSE: The House is once again in a holding pattern, waiting for the Senate to act on a whole host of items. This week, the House will vote on a series of suspension bills tomorrow and Wednesday. On Thursday, the House will vote on a trio of bills dealing with Indian water rights (the biggest issue of our time, of course).

That's it for now. I will not be writing you until tomorrow evening, when I will be live-twittering the results in Massachusetts. You can follow along here.

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