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!

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