Monday, February 1, 2010

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!

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