Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/25/10-The Health Care Summit

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Today was a quite a spectacle. I don't think we would have ever seen President Bush engaged in an unscripted event with his Democratic counterparts for 6 hours. It certainly gave us a lot to swallow.

SUMMIT: The President hosted members of Congress from both parties today in a high-stakes health care reform summit. The summit, as expected, did not lead to any breakthroughs. The fundamentals of the debate remain the same. Most Democrats want a bill to pass in some form but are politically fearful of the consequences. Republicans don't want a bill to pass and are giddy about the political ramifications.

The summit did have some usefulness, however. The public got some clarity as to the deep ideological divide between the two parties. Democrats want to expand access to insurance by having the government give assistance to low-and-middle income Americans. Republicans do not. Democrats want to regulate the insurance industry so that people are not abused and are guaranteed fair minimum benefits. Republicans believe that regulation of the insurance industry is detrimental, and that defining minimum benefits is "government intrusion." Democrats believe in solving big problems with comprehensive pieces of legislation. Republicans want "piecemeal," small reform packages because they are distrustful of government. I don't mean to oversimplify things, but I do think that these fundamental differences became crystal clear after today's session.

The summit also gave the President a chance to confront his critics directly. One of the main problems for Democrats during this debate is that Republicans repeat false memes (death panels, government takeover, higher premiums etc) so much that they become ingrained the public's mind. Today, President Obama was able to address these falsehoods head-on. Here are some highlights:

-The meeting got underway with a great exchange between Obama and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander. Alexander falsely claimed that the Congressional Budget Office said that the Senate bill would raise premiums. The CBO actually said that for those who get insurance through their employers, the price of insurance would stay the same or would be slightly lower. For those getting insurance through the individual market, people would pay more for insurance because they would be getting far better services. The value of insurance, therefore, would be much greater. Also, they would be spending more money on insurance largely because they would be spending government subsidies. Obama repeatedly told Alexander that his contention was just not true. It was good to see that charge rebutted.

-We got a little 2008 election redux when the President sparred with John McCain. McCain, like many other speakers, talked about the process rather than the policy. When McCain mentioned President Obama's promise to televise negotiations on CSPAN (see the irony?), Obama sharply reminded McCain that the campaign was over. McCain seemed like he was bubbling with anger (as he often does). I should also mention that many Democrats very wisely reminded viewers that the focus should NOT be on process. Americans don't care about process, they want results. Oftentimes, we forget why we are doing this: to give people health security and to save people's lives Who cares about the reconciliation process?

-The President called out House Minority Whip Eric Cantor for using the giant 2,400 page bill as a prop. Obama reminded Cantor that we can pretend that these issues aren't complicated but they are. Obama also chided House Minority Leader/Attack Dog John Boehner for spewing out talking points.

I don't think today's event changes much. Ultimately, health care is in the hands of 218 House Democrats and 50 Senate Democrats (if the Democrats pass legislative fixes to the Senate bill through reconciliation). The President was able to show the American people that he was willing to engage with his opponents. He also told Republicans that there were areas of compromise, like more tort reform. Republicans offered zero concessions of their own. I don't think enough people who are on the fence on health care really tuned into this event. I'll be interested to see if the summit has any effect on health care polling.

If you want to read some great material on today's event, as always I recommend Ezra Klein's blog. He delves into some of the GOP's talking points.

THE HOUSE: While Congressional leaders were at the White House summit, it was still a pretty busy day on the hill. The House began debate on an Intelligence Authorization bill, and went through several amendments. Consideration of the bill has come to a temporary standstill, because Democrats tried to insert an amendment that would allow punishment for intelligence officials who torture detainees. Republicans were outraged that the provision was put in the manager's amendment. It looks like the bill will be pushed to next week. The bill sets intelligence policies for the rest of the fiscal year which ends at the end of this September.

The House also voted to extend various expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act through the beginning of next year. The Senate approved these extensions by unanimous consent last night. The House approved the bill by a vote of 315-97. 87 Democrats and 10 libertarian-leaning Republicans voted no.

THE SENATE: The Senate passed a bill tonight to encourage international tourism into the United States. The bill is a pet project of Majority Leader Reid, who wants to help his constituent businesses in Las Vegas. The Senate passed a different tourism bill last year, but the bill changed when it got to the House of Representatives. The House sent this new bill to the Senate late last year. The Senate first voted to cut off debate on the bill by a vote of 76-20, with all no votes coming from Republicans. Republican Senator DeMint (SC) tried to introduce a non-related amendment relating to the designation of national monuments, but his effort was stymied by a vote of 38-58. Senators Nelson (NE) and Tester (MT) voted with the GOP, and Republicans Collins (ME), Gregg (NH) and Snowe (ME) voted with the Democrats. The bill itself was approved by a vote of 78-18. It will now go to President Obama for his signature.

Senator Reid tried to gain unanimous consent to extend unemployment and COBRA benefits for 30 days while the Senate worked out a long-term extension. Republican nihilist Jim Bunning (KY) objected to the request because he wanted the extension to be paid for with other spending cuts. Reid even offered Bunning a chance to offer an amendment to offset the objection, but Bunning was apparently only interested in making a political point at the expense of millions of struggling Americans. The Senate will have to consider the bill early next week.

That's it for a busy day. We'll see you again tomorrow! Leave some comments/thoughts on the health summit!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/24/10-Baby Steps

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. There haven't been many good legislative days for Democrats recently, but today was one of then.

JOBS: Today, the United States Senate passed a modest jobs bill by a vote of 70-28. The bill won't create very many jobs because it's not very big, but it is a symbolic victory for Democrats that they could get anything passed in the Senate that will remotely help people in the short-run. Also amazing, is that the bill passed with strong bipartisan support. Every Democrat besides the increasingly idiotic Ben Nelson (NE) voted for the bill, as did Republicans Bond (MO), Brown (MA), Burr (NC), Cochran (MS), Collins (ME), Hatch (UT), Inhofe (OK), LeMieux (FL), Murkowski (AK), Snowe (ME) and Wicker (MS). That list includes some very conservative Republicans. What is absolutely baffling to me is that Burr, Cochran, Hatch, Inhofe, LeMieux, Murkowski and Wicker voted the other day to filibuster the bill, but then ended up voting for it. This is example number 23534235982305 of why the Senate is horrible. These Senators are verifiably supportive of the bill, yet they still wanted to torpedo it for some reason.

Prior to a vote on final passage, the Senate voted 62-34 to subvert Senate rules that require new spending to be offset. Bond, Brown, Collins, Inhofe and Snowe voted with Democrats to subvert the rules. Ben Nelson, once again, voted against his own party.

The bill includes a payroll tax holiday for small business, an extension of highway funding, and infrastructure bonds for states. It's possible that the House will approve this Senate bill in the next week or so, and send it along to President Obama. Even though the bill is a sorry excuse for a jobs measure, the House should vote for it just to give Obama a much-needed political victory.

Late in the day, Majority Leader Reid tried to get a an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits passed by unanimous consent. Retiring Republican Senator Jim Bunning (KY) objected to the request, meaning that the bill will have to be put through the arduous cloture process. Maybe it will pass by next Wednesday?

Reid did succeed in passing a one-year extension to the USA PATRIOT Act. I don't think anybody wants to alter a piece of legislation like that during an election year.

THE HOUSE: Not to be outdone by their friends in the other body, the House also got some work done today. By an overwhelming margin of 406-19, the House voted to remove the anti-trust exemption enjoyed by health insurance companies. All no votes came from Republicans. The exemption was granted in the 1950's to make it easier for state health insurance commissioners to make their own regulatory decisions, but it has allowed insurance companies to have a virtual monopoly in many regions of the country. Policy wonks don't think that removing this exemption will do much to bring down the price of insurance. I frankly don't know too much about this particular issue. But Democrats were smart to take a potshot at the insurance industry as they try to complete a comprehensive health reform bill. The insurance industry is especially vulnerable after it was discovered that Anthem raised insurance rates by 30% in California.

It was also politically smart to force Republicans to either support a piece of Democratic legislation, or risk being accused of being pawns for the insurance industry. Let's just say, it was the perfect occasion for a speech like this.

HEALTH CARE SUMMIT: The President, as you know, will host a bipartisan health care summit. The President plans to attend all 6 hours of the meeting, which will be nationally televised. We will have complete coverage of the summit tomorrow. I'll be interested to see if there are any made-for-TV moments that make one or the other side look bad. Because of course, it's not important all whether or not 30 million Americans get health insurance. It just matters who wins a 6 hour dog and pony show!

That's it for tonight. We'll see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/23/10-Crashing the Summit

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Health care is heating up again as the key political issue. Lucky, us.

HEALTH CARE: We are two days away from the White House health care summit. This event will feature members of Congress from both parties, though it is mostly a chance for President Obama to flex his muscles toward fellow Democrats. Republicans have said that they will go to the summit with the intention of "crashing the President's taxpayer-funded PR blitz." Obviously, they couldn't possibly come to the forum with any ideas of their own besides "scrap the bill." It's just so glaringly obvious that they are nihilists. After months of making a huge deal about how long the bill is, Republican House Leader John Boehner now says that the President's proposal is "shorter than a comic book." I'm not sure whether the President thinks it's good politics to have the Republicans at this meeting, but it's like inviting four-year old children to a corporate board meeting.

I'm glad the President released a serious proposal on Monday that will help bring this process to a successful conclusion. But his performance on this issue remains deeply disappointing.

Over the past several weeks, Democrats have realized that as long as they are passing fixes to the Senate health bill through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process, they might as well try to get the public option. Senate Democrats, led by Freshman Michael Bennet (CO), have circulated a letter calling on Senator Reid to include the public option in the bill. Today, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the President would not push for the public option because he didn't believe they had the votes. This makes absolutely no sense. If they don't have the votes, why don't they at least TRY to get the votes for the most popular element of an unpopular bill? Why don't they use this opportunity to motivate their dispirited base? It doesn't make any sense to me.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office says that they will not submit a price estimate until next week. Once the estimate is in, we'll have a better idea whether the President's plan will fly with House and Senate Democrats. Even if they use the reconciliation process, Democrats will be facing some nail biting votes.

JOBS BILL: It looks like the Senate will be able to pass the $15 billion jobs bill tomorrow. The Senate will vote on whether to do away with pay-as-you-go budgeting rules (subject to 60 votes), and then they will vote on final passage. If Monday night's test vote is any indication, Majority Leader Reid (NV) will have successfully gotten a bill passed for once.

House Majority Leader Hoyer hasn't yet decided whether the House will simply vote to approve the Senate jobs bill. In my opinion, they should. This bill won't do much, but it's time that Democrats have some legislative accomplishments to go home and brag about.

THE HOUSE: The House dealt with some suspension bills during the day today. Right now, they are considering a bill to
provide a process for the recognition by the United States of the Native Hawaiian governing entity. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (HI), who will be resigning his seat in the House shortly to run for Governor. I expect the bill to pass late tonight or tomorrow. The House is considering a number of amendments this evening.

That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/28/10-Jobs Test Vote

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Make sure you catch this morning's entry to learn about the President's new health care proposal. We can confirm that the proposal is intended to be a package of fixes to the Senate bill. If the Democrats can't get a Republican vote, they intend to move the package of fixes through reconciliation. For a great rundown of what is in the compromise bill, see this graph by the great Igor Volsky. The thing I'm most disappointed in is that the White House has abandoned the idea of a national health insurance exchange in favor of state exchanges.

JOBS VOTE: Any time the Senate does anything these days, there should be a major celebration. Today, the Senate voted 62-30 to begin debate on a $15 billion jobs bill, the contents of which we wrote about this morning. The bill is chalked full of Republican ideas, like a tax holiday for small businesses and money for the highway fund. Yet, only 5 Republicans voted to advance the bill. Two of them, Senators Bond (MO) and Voinovich (OH) are retiring. The other Republicans who voted to advance to the bill are Snowe (ME), Collins and Brown (MA) (!). It looks like Mr. Scott Brown may fall out of favor with conservatives quicker than we thought. Senator Ben Nelson, who somehow still calls himself a Democrat, voted against debating the bill. 7 Republican Senators and the ailing Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) did not vote.

The bill will be debated in the next couple of days, and will likely pass in the next couple of days. There is no word yet on whether there will be any amendments. At the very least, this modest jobs bill has a very realistic shot of becoming law in the near future. Perhaps this will get the President some momentum to enact bigger, more substantive jobs measures.

THE HOUSE: The House came back into session today to consider a couple of suspension bills. They will do more of the same tomorrow. See this morning's entry for more information on this week's House schedule.

That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow! Leave comments!

The Weekly Strike-2/22-2/28

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. The political world really heats up this week after last week's Congressional recess and the previous week's snowstorms. And lucky for you, I'm feeling extra patriotic after the U.S. win over Canada in Olympic hockey last night.

HEALTH CARE: There seem to have been many "last chances" for health reform over the last year. This week might actually be the last chance to get something done. Later today, the President will unveil a proposal that will bridge the differences between the House and Senate bills and lay the path forward for health reform to be completed. I assume that the new bill will be a reconciliation bill. This would enable the House to pass the previously approved Senate bill, while both chambers enacted the President's recommended changes through new reconciliation legislation. I'm not entirely sure that the White House isn't proposing a new bill altogether. We'll have the full details in this evening's entry.

The new measure will contain a couple of key new provisions. The President will propose a new oversight board that will have the power to review and block premium increases by private insurers, like the one Anthem initiated last week in California. The bill will also include a Republican proposal to crack down on waste, fraud and abuse. This will not bring any Republicans into the fold, but it might ease the concerns of some Democrats that the White House isn't reaching out to the other side of the aisle. In addition, the White House proposal will eliminate the special deals that marred the final Senate bill, like Ben Nelson's infamous "Cornhusker Kickback." Eliminating these items will allow President Obama and the Democrats to say "we listened" to the voters in Massachusetts and elsewhere just as they pass a bill pretty similar to what has already passed both chambers.

The President is making this proposal in advance of Thursday's bipartisan health summit at the White House. The summit is completely for show. The President, again, is reaching out to the GOP not because he think he can get their votes, but because he thinks it will help him secure Democratic votes. For what it's worth, Majority Leader Reid thinks that this health summit will help the health care bill pass within 60 days.

I am encouraged for the first time in weeks about health reform. It seems like with the passage of time, and with a few good innovative ideas, the White House can help erase some of the ugliness that led to Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts. We'll see if it works out.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President has a busy schedule beyond health care this week. Today, he will address the National Governor's Association. In the speech, the President will lay out a new initiative to create “new, state-of-the art assessments aligned to college and career-ready standards.” The initiative will be funded with $350 million of stimulus money. This proposal is part of the President's new found focus on education. He is looking this year to reauthorize George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation, while revamping curriculum requirements for math and reading.

If I were a governor of either party, I would be focusing my energy on getting new stimulus/jobs money for state and local governments. Because of mandated balanced budgets in many states, governors have been forced to make painful cuts, which has caused massive job losses.

The President later has meetings with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), and cabinet Secretaries Hilda Solis (Labor) and Tom Vilsack (agriculture).

THE SENATE: Speaking of jobs, the Senate will take a key test vote tonight on whether to proceed to Majority Leader Reid's scaled-back $15 billion jobs legislation. As we've talked about before, the legislation includes a payroll tax holiday for small businesses that hire new workers, a reauthorization of highway funds, bonds for state and local governments, and other small business tax breaks. Because of the illness of Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Reid will need at least two Republicans to vote for the bill in order for it to move forward. No Republicans have formally committed to advancing the bill, though some, including Scott Brown, have hinted that they might let the bill proceed. Republicans are still angry at Reid for abandoning a bipartisan Senate Finance Committee jobs bill that included a whole bunch of Republican goodies.

If Reid can round up 60 votes to advance the bill, I expect the bill to be debated for a couple of days before a vote on final passage. After the Senate passes this bill, I wouldn't be surprised to see the House approve it quickly and send it along to President Obama. Reid wants to move next to a bill that extends unemployment benefits and COBRA health benefits. He hopes to start consideration of that bill this week.

THE HOUSE: The House gets back to work this week with a lot left on its plate after snow canceled business two weeks ago. The House will vote on suspension bills today and tomorrow. On Wednesday, the House will consider legislation to reorganize the Native Hawaiian Government (whatever that means). On Thursday, the House will vote on a bill that removes the health insurance industry's anti-trust status. As we've talked about before, this would do little to help lower health care costs, but it is always good politically to vote against the interest of the health insurance industry. The House will also vote on a bill to authorize intelligence programs.

We'll keep you up to date on Congress' happenings throughout the week.

Thanks for tuning it. We'll see you tonight! Please leave some comments!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/18/10-Let's Form a Commission

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. This will be our last entry until Monday. I will be escaping politics this weekend skiing in the Poconos with Lady Strike.

DEFICIT COMMISSION: The President today announced the creation of a bipartisan commission to address the federal deficit. As we mentioned the other day, the President tapped former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson (WY). The commission will function as follows:

-The President will appoint 6 panelists, with no more than 4 from one political party. Basically that means there will be 4 Democrats and 2 Republicans. Obviously, the White House has already chosen two of the panelists.

-The other 12 panelists will be chosen by Congressional leaders. House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans will each appoint 3 members.

-14 of the 18 commissioners must agree to the plan for it to move forward. That means that probably 4 Republicans will have to endorse the commission's recommendations.

-The plan must be submitted by December 1st of this year, when it would presumably be presented to Congress for a vote.

I'm very skeptical that this commission will solve our deficit problems. At some point, Congress will have to vote on a package that inevitably will contain massive tax increases (probably including some on the middle class), huge discretionary spending cuts, and decreased entitlements. Congress can't even pass a modest decrease in Medicare as part of a larger health care bill. I just have such little confidence that Congress will ever be able to make tough choices.

I've been adamant that we should not freak out about the deficit during this recession. The best way to cut the deficit is to create jobs, and thus increase tax revenue. Politically, I think people wouldn't worry so much about the deficit if the jobs situation improved. Therefore, I wish the President would create a job-creation commission instead of this commission. At least he should have created both.

CPAC: It's that time of the year, the time when conservatives descend on our nation's capital for the CPAC conference. Today was the first day of the conference, and it featured a star-studded lineup of angry, motivated conservative leaders. Dick Cheney spoke, saying that President Obama is going to be a one-termer. Mitt Romney was there with new Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. Conservative darling Marco Rubio, the former Republican House Speaker running against moderate Republican Governor Charlie Crist for the United States Senate, gave a generic Republican manifesto speech about cutting taxes and killing terrorists. The conference makes very clear: Republicans are enthusiastic, optimistic and energized now. House Minority Leader John Boehner even started talking about what he would do as House Speaker.

Democrats have no chance of changing the minds of people like those at CPAC. Nor is it likely that they'll do well with independents this year. Their only possible saving grace is to motivate their base. They will have to do that two ways: actually accomplish something legislatively and draw sharp distinctions between ourselves and the Republicans. So far Democrats, from President Obama on down, seem reluctant to take either of these steps.

That's it for tonight. I'll see you on Monday. Congress will come back in session, and we'll have more to talk about.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/17/10-One Year Stimulus Push

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It's been one year since we were disappointed that Congress only enacted at $787 billion spending bill chalked full of progressive priorities because it wasn't big enough. We were right, of course. But still, times have changed.

STIMULUS: Today, the President and politicians across the spectrum marked the one-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. New York Times David Leonhardt seems to have emboldened liberals by writing a great piece citing the successes of the stimulus. Independent analysts now agree that the stimulus saved or created at least 2.4 million jobs. The economy went from losing 700,000 jobs per month a year ago from basically breaking even the past few months. We are now growing at a 5.6% pace, when we were actually contracting a year ago. It's time for everyone to admit it: the stimulus worked.

The President tried to make that case today. He correctly noted that the stimulus helped us avoid a Great Depression, and has helped facilitate our recovery. He was introduced by Vice President Biden, who has successfully overseen the implementation of the act, with only minimal hiccups.

The problem for the Democrats is that virtually nobody sees the stimulus as a success. An insanely low 6% of Americans think that the stimulus created jobs, according to a recent poll. The obvious reasons for this. The unemployment rate has risen since the act was signed, which is pretty much all people see or care about. It's hard to be touting a successful economic policy with 10% unemployment. This confirms Paul Krugman's theory a year ago, that the stimulus would be too small, meaning it wouldn't be effective enough to change the employment picture, meaning it would be associated with economic failure.

The Democrats therefore will have to embark on a massive political effort to sell the stimulus. They've been using a pretty effective strategy lately by pointing out the hypocrisy of GOP members of Congress railing against the stimulus while attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies of stimulus-funded projects at home. What they really should do is hammer home real-world examples of stimulus money creating jobs. Firemen, policy officers and teachers are always good to highlight. They can also throw this graph around a lot.

JOBS: Breaking news: Harry Reid is a pretty bad Majority Leader. Last week, Senator Reid scrapped a bipartisan Senate Finance Committee Jobs bill and instead pushed a pared-down $15 billion bill. Apparently, this move has angered enough Republicans and Democrats that Reid may not have the 60 votes needed to advance the bill. Reid will need to hold his entire 59 member caucus together, and he needs to pick up a Republican vote. Apparently, Reid has been reaching out to none other that new Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. I'll be interested to see if Brown can support a tiny bill that's basically full of tax cuts. My guess is that, as always, the Democrats won't get any Republican votes, because Republicans, again do not want Democrats to succeed at anything.

HEALTH CARE: There is a small possibility that a deal could be in the works on health reform. Apparently the White House is helping to ease the process of the House passing the Senate bill, with both chambers passing fixes to the bill through reconciliation. The proverbial unnamed Democratic source even says that Senate Democrats are now likely to support this effort because they just want health care to go away once and for all. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, assistant to Speaker Pelosi, claims that the House and Senate are on the cusp of a deal. I'll believe it when I see it. It would be great if the Democrats could have a firm plan to handle health care when President Obama holds his bipartisan summit on February 25th.

That's it for now. See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/16/10-Getting Nuclear

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The political world is still reacting to the retirement of Democratic Senator Evan Bayh (IN). I'll just say, read my previous entry. I don't like that guy at all.

ENERGY: The President gave a speech on clean energy today at a local union hall in Maryland. The key tenet of his speech was a proposal to build two new nuclear power plants with $8 billion in government loan guarantees. Environmentalists have long been opposed to the use of nuclear energy, and the Republicans have consistently talked about nuclear energy as a way to increase our energy independence. The President's speech today tried to bridge those views. Obama talked about how nuclear power produces very low emissions, and can be a key tool in addressing climate change. This announcement would seem to be an olive branch to Republicans. Republican outsiders liked former Rep. Joe Scarborough effusively praised the President after he made this announcement. Obama also announced new efforts to spur growth in wind and solar energy as well.

It would be ok for President Obama offer a nuclear energy olive branch if he got assurances from Republicans that they would support cap-and-trade or a carbon tax. We all know that is not going to happen. I'm tired of Democrats making concessions without getting anything in return. That's not a good way to act when you're in the majority.

In fact, the Democrats have done that repeatedly on health care. We gave up the public option, we added provisions related to tort reform. By the time the Senate voted on final passage, the bill was completely stripped down from its original version. Yet all of these efforts yielded Republican votes. President Obama and Democrats must learn to be more effective deal-makers if they are going to have any legislative successes this year.

DEFICIT COMMISSION: On Thursday, the President will announce the creation of a deficit reduction panel. The panel will submit its recommendations to Congress, supposedly. The reason the President has to create this commission by executive order is because a similar provision was defeated in the United States Senate. Former White House Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton, Erskine Bowles, and former Republican Senate Whip Alan Simpson (WY) will chair and co-chair the committee. We'll have more on this commission after the announcement on Thursday.

That is it for tonight. See you tomorrow!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mini-Strike: Bayh Retires

Just a quick update not meriting a full entry:

Indiana Democratic Senator Evan Bayh has announced his retirement. The self-proclaimed centrist and deficit hawk, who enjoyed being a thorn in the side of his party, dealt the Democrats one more giant blow by not announcing his retirement until after last week's filing deadline. The Democrats will be forced to choose their candidate in a state nominating convention.

Bayh's seat will now move into the "Tossup" rating on our election scorecard. Once we know more about the race, it's possible that Bayh's seat could move into Lean Republican territory because of the current political climate. As others have noted, it is now a somewhat realistic (though still unlikely) proposition that the Republicans could take back the Senate this November. Right now I'm projecting a 51-44 Democrat lead in the Senate with 5 tossups. There are two races I rate as "Lean Democrat" though, and if those were to flip, the Republicans would gain control and flip Obama's presidency on its head even more than it is now.

The Weekly Strike-2/15-2/21

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike where we preview the week in politics. With unemployment still hovering around 10%, with health care hanging in the balance, and with the rest of Obama's legislative agenda seemingly on the back burner, Congress will be taking the week off. That means there is much less for me to write about. That's a good thing, because I happen to enjoy the Winter Olympics, unlike The Big Picture, who couldn't care less. Maybe he can write an entry this week.

THE WHITE HOUSE: Remember back in December how we identified three major issues that would dominate the President's plate that month? Those issues were jobs, health care and Afghanistan. It turns out, we've made very little progress on any of those issues, but each of them is now back in the forefront.

The White House has its eye on a Senate vote next Monday to limit debate on a scaled down jobs package. Last week, Majority Leader Reid put the breaks on a Senate Finance Committee compromise jobs bill that had bipartisan support. Reid correctly believed that the compromise legislation had too many legislative goodies to attract Republicans, like a permanent cut in the estate and gift taxes. The scaled down bill is far too minuscule to have any real impact on the jobs situation. The bill consists of a payroll tax holiday for small businesses that hire new workers, increased funding for infrastructure bonds, and an extension of the highway bill. The White House really needs the bill to pass though, just so they can get a little momentum for a broader jobs agenda. The question is whether Democrats can get that necessary 1 Republican to advance the bill. It is possible that by pulling the rug from under the Finance Committee negotiations, Leader Reid has angered the Republican conference enough that they won't support a bill full of Republican-friendly provisions. That, and the fact that Republicans want good legislation to fail to help their own political cause, make me think that Monday's vote could be dangerously close. The White House might need to twist some arms during this week's recess to make it happen.

On the health care front, the White House is preparing for a February 25th bipartisan summit at the White House. The meeting is ostensibly to see if there can be any sort of bipartisan breakthrough. That's not going to happen. Republicans are saying that they'll only be active participants if Democrats scrap the current bills. The best thing that can come out of this summit is that nervous Democrats can tell their constituents that they tried to be bipartisan and transparent, but the Republicans were unwilling to come to the table. This argument didn't exactly work too well after the Senate Finance Committee's "bipartisan" effort broke down. I'm not sure it will work so well after next week's summit. I'm still of the belief that Congress needs to get over itself and "pass the damn bill." When you hear stories about how Anthem Blue Cross in California is about to hike insurance rates by 39%, we're reminded about how this is not a game. This bill is about saving lives. It's time that the House pass the Senate bill, and that both chambers pass fixes through the reconciliation process.

As for Afghanistan, the U.S. has launched its first major offensive on the Taliban since Obama's troop escalation came into effect. The U.S., with its NATO allies, is currently launching an air and ground assault on Marja, a Taliban stronghold. I don't know enough about this to know whether the offensive will be effective, so I'll just say a couple of things. One, at the very least we are embarking on this offensive with a reasonably large group of NATO allies. And two, I hope this isn't a case of whack-a-mole, where we continue to attack Taliban strongholds, and the Taliban just moves somewhere else.

ELECTIONS UPDATE: After we signed off last Thursday, we learned that Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D), son of Ted, is retiring. With his retirement, it is likely that there will be no members of the Kennedy clan in the 112th Congress. I find this deeply depressing. Patrick Kennedy has had trouble with alcohol abuse, and his time in rehab over the past couple of years has made him less of an effective Congressman. I expect his district to stay in Democratic hands, though with the current national environment the way it is, I wouldn't be surprised to see Republicans competitive.

That's it for now. It's a holiday today, so we're not expecting much news. Therefore, we'll skip tonight's entry and see you all tomorrow.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/11/10-Another De-Bauc-Le

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. For the first time in a week, I will have work tomorrow. Awesome. I hopefully will be cured of my cabin fever.

JOBS BILL: Midday today, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced a deal on a bipartisan jobs package. The package was to have included everything in Majority Leader Reid's original package (tax credits for small businesses, money for the Highway Trust Fund, extension of tax credits etc.), but it also would have included some absurd tax cuts to win over Republican members. Among the tax cuts in the compromise agreement were a permanent fix in the estate tax and gift tax. These tax cuts will exclusively benefit the rich and would do absolutely nothing to create jobs. Baucus and Grassley seemed so proud of themselves for creating a bipartisan package, that they didn't quite seem to care what was in the bill.

Luckily this afternoon, Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) announced that the finance committee package will not be the official Senate jobs bill. Instead, Democrats will pursue a scaled-back bill with highway bonds, provisions that make it easier for small businesses to write off expenses, the aforementioned small business tax credits and a one year extension of the highway act. The Senate is expected to take up a separate measure later that will extend expiring tax provisions, COBRA, and unemployment insurance. Senator Reid has filed cloture on the bill. A vote to end debate (subject, of course, to the 60 vote threshold) will take place on Monday, the 22nd.

The question now is whether Reid will get the one Republican vote he needs to move this package forward. In a vacuum, it would seem like a small jobs package focused mostly on tax cuts would gain broad Republican support. Though most commentators ignore the obvious fact: Republicans don't want Democratic efforts to succeed, and they are in absolutely no room to compromise. This will be another one of those times that Democrats will have to grovel at the feet of Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. If the GOP does oppose this bill en masse, the Democrats need to call them out publicly for opposing a package full of their own ideas.

Meanwhile, even Reid's Senate bill will do far too little to spur job creation. The bill will not contain truly stimulative measures like investments in public works and aid to bankrupt state and local governments. This is yet another sign of how difficult it will be this year to enact any sort of meaningful legislative agenda without using the reconciliation process for almost everything (which Democrats should do!).

ECONOMIC REPORT: The White House has released its official economic report for 2010. The picture is not rosy. The White House is projecting unemployment around 10 percent for the rest of the year without a new jobs package. The White House is even a little bullish on job growth. They are projecting that 95,000 jobs will be created per month during 2010. That would be great, if it were true. The White House also expects the savings rate to increase, which will cause problems with aggregate demand. The White House wants to create more demand with investment in infrastructure and exports. The Senate might get around to addressing these problems....well....never. Ugh.

ELECTIONS UPDATE: Since we last updated, there have been a few more retirements in the House. On the GOP side, Rep. Vern Ehlers (MI) is retiring from his swing district in Michigan. The district went evenly for Obama and McCain in 2008. I'm giving the GOP the advantage, though, in this race considering the district's Republican history and the current political climate. In Florida, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart is retiring from his south Florida district. His brother Mario, a Congressmen in a nearby district, is going to run for his brother's seat. For those of you keeping score at home, that would make Mario Diaz-Balart's district the true open district. These districts are heavily Cuban, and tilt conservative, but with the right candidate, Democrats could potentially be competitive.

On the Democratic side, longtime California Rep. Diane Watson is retiring. She has been a staunch progressive advocated and an anti-war stalwart. She will be missed. Her district went about 90% for Obama, so there's nothing for us to worry about there. We have updated our rankings on the right side of your screen to reflect these changes.

That's it for today. We will be back tomorrow. Ta ta!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/10/10-Out of Commission

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It's hard to do much when you can barely go outside. That goes for me, and for politicians and Washington. Therefore, there's really nothing to write about tonight. Plus, I barely have internet access, so I don't exactly have the means for an insightful entry. For those back east, stay inside, enjoy the time off, and try not to get cabin fever. See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/9/10-Jobs, Baby.

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The DC area continues to be paralyzed with winter weather. We could be getting another foot or so of snow in the next 24 hours. In fact, I have to go out on my freezing porch to even get internet access! The House has cancelled votes for the week, and the Senate 's schedule is in question. It was a perfect setup for the Washington Post's Tom Toles.

JOBS: The Senate is on the cusp of reaching agreement on a jobs bill. The bill is, quite frankly, pretty meager and disappointing, though it is still better than nothing. The bill will contain four components, according to an article by our good friends at Open Left.

1. A tax credit, proposed by Senators Schumer (NY) and Hatch (UT) for small businesses that hire new workers.

2. So-called "build American Bonds" which help state and local governments borrow more money. This is a very important provision given that so many states have had to lay off workers. I wish there was far more aid to states in this bill.

3. An extension of various expiring tax cuts.

4. About $20 billion for the highway trust fund.

The jobs bill that passed the House back in December was much stronger. It had far more money for infrastructure and greater aid to states. But the new reality is that Democrats will need the support of one Republican in order for this thing to pass. Republicans are in no mood to compromise, so doing anything more progressive would be virtually impossible. Welcome to politics in 2010.

THE SENATE: The Senate (at least some of it) was actually in Washington for a couple of votes this afternoon. The first vote was on the nomination of Joseph A. Greenway to be a Circuit Court Judge. His nomination was agreed to unanimously by a vote of 84-0. The next vote was a major disappointment for progressives. Craig Becker, the nominee to be a member of the National Labor Relations Board, did not get the 60 votes needed to advance. Becker was opposed unanimously by Republicans, who did not agree with his modestly pro-organized labor views. The final vote was 52-33, with 15 Senators not showing up to vote. Unfortunately, cloture requires 3/5ths of all those duly chosen and sworn, not those present and voting. Democrats Ben Nelson (NE) and Blanche Lincoln (AR) voted against the nomination. Lincoln is trying to tack hard to the right in what is an increasingly impossible reelection fight, and her state is a "right-to-work" anti-union state. Nelson is just, well, Nelson.

This was the first vote for newly sworn-in Senator Scott Brown (R-MA). He voted no with the rest of his Republican colleagues.

That's it for right now. The snow in the nation's capital will keep this a quiet week in politics. We'll be back tomorrow, if we have power that is.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Weekly Strike-2/8-2/14

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. DC is still digging out from its historic snowstorm, so politics has been pushed to the back burner for a couple of days. It looks like we might get 10+ more inches of snow on top of the two feet we got over the weekend. 1 day work week anyone?

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President appears to have a new strategy for health reform. Under increasing pressure from members of his own party to move the ball forward, the President has invited members of both parties to a summit at the White House on February 25th. He will be
feeding cat nip to the media by televising the event. The thought is, if Obama can go toe to toe with his political foes, he can a) say he made one last bipartisan outreach and b) put in a performance on par with his "question time" event with the House GOP last month. GOP leaders praised the President's move, but basically indicated that he would have to scrap the current plans for Republicans to get involved at all. I don't think President Obama is proposing this meeting with any intention of locking up Republican votes. He is doing this to re-frame the debate, to let lawmakers air their grievances in public, and to buy time while House and Senate Democrats come up with a legislative endgame. I'll reserve judgment on this strategy until I see that it lights a fire under reticent Congressional Democrats. I have the same feelings I had since the day Scott Brown ended the Democrats 60-vote majority: the House needs to pass the Senate bill, and both chambers need to approve changes via reconciliation. Get it done!

There is not much on the President's public schedule this week, and things in the District are still very uncertain because of the weather. It's still unclear whether the Federal Government will be open before Friday. Wow.

THE HOUSE: We got some sad news today, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. John Murtha has passed away at the age of 77. Murtha was a Marine veteran who became a hero to the anti-war left when he announced firm opposition to the Iraq War in 2005, before it became politically popular. Murtha also lost a long shot bid to become House Majority Leader after the Democrats retook the House in 2006. He is a longtime friend and ally of House Speaker Pelosi. Murtha has been criticized in the past for steering money to his district from his perch atop the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, but he was a good man who cared about the middle-class people in his district. He will be missed.

And yes, we must pivot into a crass examination of the political ramifications of Murtha's death. Murtha's successor will be chosen in a special election, likely to take place in May of this year. Murtha's district is a swing district, in fact, it is the only district in the country that went for John Kerry in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. I would give the Republicans an early edge based on the district's trends and the current political environment.

The House gavels in tomorrow for a reasonably busy week. After dealing with suspensions tomorrow and Wednesday, the House will take up two important bills. First, the House will vote on an Intelligence Authorization bill, which will set policies and procedures for intelligence agencies in 2010. I expect some politically-motivated amendments on both sides, which should make things interesting. The House will then take up a bill to remove the anti-trust exemption enjoyed by insurance companies. The House included this bill as a provision in its health reform legislation, but Democratic leaders thought it might be a good idea to gain some momentum by passing the popular parts of the big bill in smaller chunks. Policy experts don't think that removing this anti-trust exemption would do much to bring down the cost of insurance. However, it's never a bad idea politically to battle the insurance companies, especially since we've been trying to make them a villain for more than a year now.

THE SENATE: The Senate is an absolute mess right now. Late last week, Republican Senator Richard Shelby announced that he has put a hold on all of Obama's nominees so that he can get some pork to his home state of Alabama. This is absolutely ludicrous. Our government is deeply understaffed. Some of these nominees are not only qualified, but have high bipartisan support. But with Shelby's hold, the nominees would have to go through cloture votes, a process that can take days. President Obama may have to play hardball here and make some recess appointments.

Two of these appointments will be voted on this week, when the Senate returns tomorrow evening. The first is the nomination of Joseph Greenway to be a Judge on the Third Circuit. The second is a vote on Craig Becker to be a member of the National Labor Relations Board. I expect Greenway to be confirmed relatively easily. Becker has drawn some controversy since he is (gasp!) somewhat pro-worker, and cares about allowing unions to organize. The Democrats will need at least one Republican vote to move his nomination forward, and I'm not sure they have it at this time.

The Senate was supposed to take up some sort of jobs bill before it goes out of town for the President's day recess. The likeliest scenario was a vote on a tax credit for small businesses that hire new workers. The Democrats have yet to lock down Republican votes for a proposal that is almost uniquely Republican. We'll see if they can come up with some sort of agreement by the end of the week. This is the supposed to be the first of many jobs bills to be voted on in the coming weeks as Democrats turn their attention to the economy. The jobs agenda can only move as fast as the United States Senate, which makes your average snail look like Roger Bannister.

That's it for now. Because the snow storm seems to be changing the whole rhythm of my life, this will count as both the Weekly Strike and today's Daily Strike. We'll bring you another Daily Strike tomorrow evening. Take care!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/4/10-A Legislative Accomplishment?

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. I'm happy to take a break from stocking up on milk and toilet paper in advance of the DC Snowpocolypse and fill you in on the day in politics.

THE HOUSE: On the day that the Democrats officially lost their 60-seat majority, Congress actually sent a reasonably important piece of legislation to President Obama's desk! It's been awhile. Unfortunately, this bill isn't quite anything to write home about. The House voted today to agree to the Senate-passed bill that both raises the debt ceiling and implements new pay-as-you-go budgeting rules. Because House leaders wanted their members to be able to vote for the PAYGO provision (popular!) and against raising the debt ceiling (unpopular) they voted on each part of the bill separately.

The debt ceiling portion, as expected, passed by an extremely narrow 217-212 vote. 37 Democrats joined every single Republican in opposition. It still amazes me how easily politicians can get away with votes like this. If we did not raise the debt ceiling, we would default on our loans and the economy would descend into chaos. The PAYGO provision, which requires Congress to offset all new spending increases with offsetting spending cuts or tax increases, passed by a larger vote of 233-187. This has long been a cause celebre of Blue Dog Democrats, which makes it all the more confusing that a few Blue Dog Democrats voted against it. Once again, Republicans all voted no, because they think that the provision will result in tax increases.

For those of you Congress nerds, here is a list of Democrats who voted against the debt ceiling and PAYGO. For the rest of you, skip down to the next section.

Debt Ceiling: Adler (NJ), Boccieri (OH), Bright (AL), Carney (PA), Childers (MS), Donnelly (IN), Drieuhaus (OH), Ellsworth (IN), Foster (IL), Giffords (AZ), Grayson (FL) (that one surprises me), Halvorson (IL), Hodes (NH), Kirkpatrick (AZ), Kissell (NC), Kosmas (FL), Kratovil (MD), Maffei (NY), Markey (CO), Massa (NY), McIntyre (NC), McNerney (CA), Melancon (LA), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Murphy (NY), Murphy (PA), Nye (VA), Owens (NY), Perriello (VA), Peters (MI), Schauer (MI), Space (OH), Taylor (MS), Teague (NM), Titus (NV) and Wu (OR).

PAYGO: Bright (AL), Filner (CA), Kosmas (FL), Kucinich (OH), Maffei (NY), McIntyre (NC), McNerney (CA), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Nye (VA), Pastor (AZ), Peters (MI), Taylor (MS), Waters (CA), and Weiner (NY). An interesting mixtures of liberals and moderates.

The House also passed a bill to enhance cybersecurity by a vote of 422-5, with all no votes coming from the GOP. The bill authorizes new spending for research and development for cybersecurity research. The House also voted on a bunch of amendments.

Next week, the House plans to vote on a bill to eliminate the health insurance industry's anti-trust exemption. This bill would have little policy implications, but it is perhaps a decent way to get Democrats momentum on health reform. We'll have more on this next week.

THE SENATE: The Senate today swore in its newest member, Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Brown was sworn in by Vice President Biden this evening, officially ending the Democrats' 60-vote majority. Before Brown was sworn in, the Democrats used their remaining super majority hours on some nominations. By a vote of 60-37, the Senate approved the nomination of Patricia Smith to be Solicitor for the Department of Labor. All yes votes were from Democrats. The Senate also confirmed Martha Johnson to be administrator of the General Services Administration by a unanimous 94-2 vote. Her nomination was delayed almost a year by Republican Senators, and then she is confirmed almost unanimously. What a perfect embodiment of what's wrong with the United States Senate. Now we get word that Republican Senator Shelby (AL) has announced that he will filibuster EVERY Obama nominee until the administration heeds his demands on some unrelated issues. I can't believe this is how the United States Senate functions. The American people need to understand how the Senate is crippling progress in this country.

Majority Leader Reid (NV) said that the Democrats will take a vote on a jobs-related bill on Monday. Reid did not release details of exactly what the bill is or how much it's going to cost. Reid will need the support of one Republican to advance the bill. Thus is the new reality for Democrats.

THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama held a conference call with Democratic National Committee supporters this afternoon. He answered questions on jobs, health care, small business tax cuts and education. The most notable takeaway from the even was that President Obama wants a jobs bill passed before Congress goes back to health care. I disagree with that approach. Like sour milk, the longer the health care bill is out there, the nastier it gets. I'm very disappointed that President Obama hasn't shown more leadership in crossing the health care finish line.

That's it for now. Because of the snowpocolypse, we won't be writing until we've dug ourselves out on Monday morning. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/3/10-Friendly Congressional Showdown

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It looks like we are headed for another snow-pocolypse this weekend. Is this God's punishment for Congress' inaction on health reform? Maybe.

SENATE DEM/OBAMA CONFRONTATION: The President, fresh off his stellar performance during a Friday question/answer session with the House GOP, held a similar public meeting today with members of the Senate Democratic caucus. The President was slightly more polite to members of his own party, but he came with some harsh words of advice. The President told Democratic Senators that the message from the Massachusetts election was NOT to sit back and do nothing. He said that if Democrats don't follow through on their promises and pass health reform, people will soon not be able to differentiate between the two parties. Finally, he implored Democratic Senators to get out of the world of inside-the-beltway cable chatter and blogs and to get back in touch with their constituents.

It's becoming increasingly clear that Democrats won't heed this good advice. In fact, you could tell by the questions asked at the meeting. First of all, Obama took questions primarily from vulnerable members who wanted some free air time. Embattled Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln said that Obama has to disassociate from the "extreme left" and return to the center. Of course! It's such a radical, extreme idea to expand the private health care system! It's absolutely COMMUNIST to want to create jobs and regulate Wall Street. I can understand when political pundits complain about Obama being too "leftist," but Democratic Senators should know that his agenda is centrist.

Another vulnerable Senator, Evan Bayh of Indiana, said that the President must make "hard choices" to decrease the deficit. This is the same Senator Bayh who voted to drastically cut taxes on the heirs of millionaire estates. B(a)y(h) the way, the Senator's predecessor, Republican Dan Coats, has decided to take another shot at the seat this November. This could be a very close race.

Today's display, combined with the Democrats inability to come up with a coherent plan to finish health reform, lead me to believe that Democratic Senators are more interested in running for the hills than doing anything productive. Matthew Yglesias suggested that Senate Democrats might want to be in the minority so they won't have to have the responsibility of governing. I think, unfortunately, he may be right.

SCOTT BROWN: Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown (MA ) made a big fuss before he was elected about being sworn-in right away. Then, he decided he needed "time" for a transition. Basically he decided that he didn't want to be sworn in before February 11th, because the Senate was taking tough votes on raising the debt ceiling. Every Republican knew the bill had to pass, but none of them wanted to vote for it. If Brown had been sworn in, at least one Republican would have to support the bill. Well now Brown has changed his mind and wants to be sworn in tomorrow so that he can vote on a possible jobs bill next week. So starting tomorrow evening, the Democrats will officially lose their 60 seat supermajority.

Speaking of a jobs bill, it looks like the Senate will be taking up various jobs measures piece by piece. They'll probably start with the more popular ideas, like tax breaks for small businesses who hire new workers. I wish they would do something more comprehensive, but some action is better than no action.

Before Brown is sworn in, the Senate will vote on the nomination of Patricia Smith to be a Solicitor at the Department of Labor. The Senate will then vote to cut off debate on Martha Johnson to be Administrator for the GSA. Republicans are adamantly opposed to her nomination for some reason (I have no idea). So Democrats will use their last hours with a supermajority to push through her nomination.

HOUSE: The House today today began consideration of a bill that enacts new cyber-security provisions. The bill appears to have bipartisan support. The House has already voted on a few amendments, and will vote on final passage tomorrow. They will also vote on whether to adopt the Senate-passed measure to raise the debt ceiling and institute statutory pay-as-you-go budgeting rules. We'll have full coverage in tomorrow night's entry.

That's it for now. We'll see you tomorrow night!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/2/10-Don't Ask

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. This angle has been overplayed, but we're talking about a floundering health care plan, gays in the military, and a pending Democratic electoral nightmare. Is it 1994 again?

DADT: There was a very interesting hearing on Capitol Hill today in which Senators grilled top Pentagon officials on repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy relating to gays in the military. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that it's not a matter of if the policy is overturned, but how and when. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, also strongly endorsed the idea that gays and lesbians should be able to serve openly in the United States military. It's pretty significant when the military establishment is pushing for a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

I've never been particularly passionate about this issue, because I think it is premised on two largely more important issues: the broader struggle for LGBT rights, and why the Pentagon needs such a broad military force that they're willing to overlook their past prejudices. That said, if Congress can pull off a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, it would be a major victory for equal rights. It can also be done relatively easily if Congress overturns the ban in its annual Defense Authorization Bill.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President has decided to put himself out there a bit more over the past week. Today, he held a town hall meeting in Nashua, NH to promote a proposal to give $30 billion in loans to the Small Business Administration. This is one of several proposals on the table intended to accelerate job creation. I wish the United States Senate would get going on some of these proposals, but the likeliness of that happening soon is not good.

ELECTION UPDATE: Today is primary day in Illinois. Voters in the Land of Lincoln will choose nominees for this fall's Senate and Gubernatorial races. It is very possible that incumbent Democratic Governor Pat Quinn loses his primary race tonight to state comptroller Dan Hynes. In the Senate races, the favorite on the Democratic side to replace Roland Burris is State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. He is locked in a pretty close race with Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman. On the Republican side, "moderate" Rep. Mark Kirk is expected to win the primary relatively easily, despite challenges from the far-right. I have this race listed as a tossup, though recent polling shows that Democrats might not be as doomed here as they are in other places.

Speaking of Lincoln and doomed, two new polls today show that Arkansas Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln is toast in her reelection bid this year no matter which Republican she faces. And for those of you who think the seat could be saved if Lincoln retires, no other Democratic candidates fare well either. As PPP polls director Tom Jensen said, Arkansas voters are just not in the mood to elect a Democrat this year. I hope Lincoln sees the writing on the wall and focuses her last year in office on being a good legislator. Chances are, she will freak out about this polling and tack hard to the right. As a result of these two polls, we are changing Senator Lincoln's race from "Lean Republican" to "Likely Republican."

That's it for tonight. No significant action to report from Congress today, though the House did vote on a few suspension bills. The Senate is out of session tomorrow for the Democrats' policy retreat, which President Obama will attend.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Daily Strike-2/1/10-More on the Budget

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Make sure you catch up on the week in politics in this morning's Weekly Strike, which is below.

BUDGET: We talked about the President's budget this morning. But little did I know, the Republicans have released a budget of their own. The ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has written a budget that actually eliminates the deficit and projects long-term budget surpluses. The way he does this is, well, absolutely insane. Ryan proposes privatizing Medicare and Social Security, and giving seniors vouchers to buy private insurance. The vouchers, though, will grow far slower than projected health care costs. In other words, we would be drastically cutting health benefits to future seniors. In fact, as Ezra Klein points out, it's not the privatization that saves money, it's that Ryan would have the government impose strict cost controls on health care.

This budget proposal teaches us three things. For one, the Republican party's policy proposals are extremely dangerous. They would do violence to what remains of our social safety net. Second, all the Republican rhetoric about how Democrats were cutting Medicare in the health care bill were disingenuous at best. Democrats would have enacted modest cost controls in Medicare that independent analysts said would not effect benefits. Ryan's budget would end Medicare as we know it. This is proof once again that Republicans are willing to do or say anything for their own political benefit. Third, when politicians of either party grandstand about "cutting the deficit" and "balancing the budget," they never explain exactly what they would do. Ryan's budget proposal is what ACTUAL deficit reduction looks like without raising taxes. At the very least, Ryan is being honest.

And finally, we're reminded that even though we may be disappointed with President Obama and Democrats in Congress, we are reminded of what could potentially happen with Republicans in power.

THE SENATE: The Senate voted this evening to cut off debate on the nomination of Patricia Smith to be Solicitor at the Department of Labor. Smith's nomination had been held up by Republicans due to their worries about her work as New York's Labor Commissioner. The vote was 60-32, with all 60 Democrats (including lame duck Massachusetts Senator Paul Kirk) supporting her nomination, and all 32 Republicans voting no. 8 Republicans did not vote. Boy, things are gonna be really difficult after February 11th when Senator-elect Scott Brown is sworn in. We won't be able to pass controversial nominations on straight party-line votes. Thank you, Massachusetts.

That's it for tonight, see you tomorrow!

The Weekly Strike-2/1-2/7

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike, where we preview the week in politics. It's the first day in February, and you know what that means, budget time!

BUDGET: The President this morning unveiled his Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposal. There is a lot of good, and some bad, in this blueprint. Among the good things in this proposal are money set aside for a jobs bill, money for the health care overhaul, and increased funding for Pell Grants. On the revenue side, I'm particularly pleased with a new fee on banks (though it is a modest fee), the expiration this year of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and new taxes on international corporations. The bad parts of the budget are, of course, the freeze in non-defense discretionary spending over the next three years and continued inflated spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Overall, the budget will increase the deficit this year to $1.6 trillion, and would increase the ten year projected deficit to just under $9 trillion. The budget proposal will add $5 trillion to the national debt over 10 years.

First off, I should mention that a President's budget blueprint never actually comes to fruition. Congress has its own priorities, and it almost never agrees to most of the President's recommended tax increases and spending cuts. Overall, though, the budget is a solid proposal that keeps in tact the President's key investments in health care, education, and energy. The revenue proposals strike me as very progressive; all of the taxes will be imposed on the wealthy and corporations.

I will say, though, that this proposal makes the freeze in discretionary spending look even more ridiculous. The budget proposal was going to show record deficits no matter what, and the proposed spending fee is barely making a dent. I don't think Republicans will stop attacking the President's spending habits because he proposed something that, at most, would decrease the deficit a fraction of a percentage point. All the freeze will do is deprive government agencies of critical funding needs.

Real deficit reduction will only occur when the economy grows, unemployment goes down, and tax revenue increases. Even with the jobs bill, there is still not enough in this budget that will ignite necessary economic growth. We'll have more on the budget proposal throughout the week, including reactions from key lawmakers. Just a hunch: Republicans won't be praising it.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President has only released his schedule for today thus far. This morning, he will give remarks on the budget. This afternoon, he will participate in a YouTube forum, where he will answer questions from users that were posed during last week's State of the Union address.

I don't think the President could possibly have a better day than he did on Friday. By now you've probably heard that President Obama engaged in an hour-long back and forth with members of the House Republican Conference. House Republicans asked questions (usually in the form of veiled political attacks), and the President responded in detail, politely ridiculing the Republicans for lies and obstruction. It was beyond good political theater; it was must-see. Democracy would work a lot better if these types of honest exchanges and debate happened more frequently. As you can see in this video, the President was able to address GOP criticism head-on, without shoddy filtering from the mainstream media.

THE HOUSE: The House has a reasonably busy schedule this week. Tomorrow and Wednesday, the House will vote on a series of suspension bills. Thursday, the House will take up a measure to improve cyber-security. The bill will award research grants to improve computer and network security.

The House will then take up the Senate-passed bill raising the debt ceiling by $1.9 trillion. I expect that the House will pass this bill and send it to the President. Blue Dog Democrats should feel more comfortable supporting this debt increase after the Senate included an amendment that would reinstitute pay-as-you-go budgeting rules. If the House agrees to the Senate bill, and the President signs it, the debt limit should be sufficient to finance government operations through the end of the year.

By the way, it's looking like we'll go another week without any resolution on health reform. House and Senate Democrats have not yet agreed on a way forward. I would continue to insist that the House pass the Senate version of health reform, and then both chambers pass a "sidecar" reconciliation bill with requisite changes.

THE SENATE: The Senate will vote this evening on the nomination of Patricia Smith to be Solicitor for the Department of Labor. Smith's nomination has been held up by Republicans for several months due to statements she made relating to her work as a New York State Labor Commissioner. Smith told the Senate HELP committee that her labor commission launched a program called "wage watch" to find companies who were not paying proper wages. Evidence surfaced that showed that the program was actually developed by unions and public interest groups. This seems like a reason to support her nomination even more in my view.

That's it for now. We'll see you tonight! Leave some comments!