Monday, February 15, 2010

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.

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