Monday, February 22, 2010

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!

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