Monday, January 4, 2010

The Weekly Strike-1/4-1/10

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. I hope you had a wonderful New Year, and weren't too deprived of the blog during the holiday season. If you're just getting back into the swing of things, check out my year-end entry below on the most important lessons of 2009. Now, on to the week in politics.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The House is out of session for another week, and the Senate is out of session for another two weeks, so all attention will be focused on President Obama for the time being. Three issues will dominate his agenda this week: terrorism, health care and jobs.

On the terrorism issue, the President is still coordinating the response to the failed Christmas Eve plot targeting a Northwest airliner. The President's team started out shaky, with Homeland Security Napolitano saying that "the system worked" (when it most certainly did not if a known extremist can board a U.S-bound flight), but they seem to be getting their footing. The administration has acted far more competently in the past couple of days, by addressing the systemic and human errors that caused the breach, and by instituting new regulations for the TSA (side note: get ready for full body scans!!). It also helps that the Republican party went off the deep end trying to turn this into a political issue. First, Dick Cheney came out with his usual nonsense about how the President doesn't understand the War on Terror. Then, Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who is running for governor of Michigan, sent out a fund raising email trying to turn the thwarted attack into cash. In fact, this might be a political pattern during 2010. Whatever missteps us Democrats might suffer, the absolute ineptitude of the Republican Party can still save us!

On the health care issue, the President will hopefully begin to wade in head first into House and Senate negotiations. Prior to the holiday break, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) objected to a unanimous consent request for a formal conference. Thus, if the Democrats wanted to hold formal conference negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the health care bill, they'd have to jump over a bunch of procedural hurdles. Instead, Democratic leaders will hold negotiations behind closed doors to work out some of the key remaining issues: subsidy levels, a national vs. state health insurance exchange, the size of the Medicaid expansion, abortion etc. Once an agreement is reached, the new bill will become a House amendment to the Senate-passed bill. The House will vote on that amendment, and then the Senate will vote to agree to the House amendment. Get it? Some people call this "ping-ponging," because the bill goes back and forth between chambers. But this is pretty much the same as holding a formal conference, because each chamber will only have to vote one more time to approve a final package.

Now is the time for President Obama to dive in head first. He needs to lay out his priorities and wield his considerable influence among Democratic leaders. I can see leaving the details up to Congress during the preliminary stages of the health care fight, but the stakes are too high at this point for him to stay on the sidelines.

And finally, on the jobs front, the new unemployment numbers will be coming out this Friday. I expect that unemployment will stay about where it is now, at 10%. Regardless of Friday's numbers, Democrats will still try and push through a job creation measure in Congress. The House passed a bill in late December that would invest in infrastructure projects, safety-net programs and aid to state and local governments. The House paid for these programs with leftover federal bailout money. I would love to see the Senate pass this bill immediately, but I don't think that's terribly realistic. More likely, the Senate will start working on its own bill later this month, and the President won't get something to his desk until March or so.

We'll keep an eye on these three issues and anything else that comes up this week. Leave us some comments as we start out our 2nd year here in Strike-land.

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