Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/31/10-Offshore Drilling, Seriously?

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We're talking offshore drilling today, and it's giving me flashbacks to the "Drill, Baby, Drill!" days of 2008. And the Republicans thought that chant was their savior...

DRILLING: Today President Obama decided to lift a decades-long ban on offshore drilling off of the mid-Atlantic coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in some areas in Alaska. The good news is that Obama is still protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and it won't affect me because he won't be drilling off the coast of Maryland (take THAT, Virginia!).

The bad news is that this seeming capitulation to the Republicans doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I guess President Obama is using a promise of offshore drilling to get Republican support for his climate change bill. Let's face it: Republicans wouldn't support Obama's climate bill if the President funnelled money to NASCAR, the NRA and the Family Research Council. There is no point in giving ground in a major policy debate if you don't get anything in return. If Democrats were stuck at 59 votes on a groundbreaking climate bill in the Senate, and President Obama proposed increased offshore drilling to guarantee the support of one Republican Senator, I wouldn't have that big of a problem with it. But to propose drilling and get nothing from conservatives in return seems to me a bit pointless.

President Obama wisely pointed out that we only have 2 percent of the world's oil reserves, and we use 20 percent of the world's oil. Eventually we will need to transition to a clean energy economy, and the longer we wait, the more painful sacrifice we'll have to make. I'm not sure that President Obama's announcement today helps to achieve that goal.

I will say this, however: I have a much harder time doubting President Obama after what he pulled out on health reform.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President spent this afternoon hosting a Women and Girls' Forum on Workplace Flexibility. Obama made remarks at the event, and even put in a plug for telecommuting. He doesn't want anymore government snow days, apparently. To achieve this goal, there better not be one inch of snow next year.

That's it for right now. I really need Congress to come back in session.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/30/10-Reconciliation Achieved

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. I could get used to these bill signing days!

RECONCILIATION: Today, President Obama, surrounded by lawmakers and students, signed the Health and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act. The bill makes a series of changes to the recently enacted Affordable Care Act, and also includes a separate unrelated measure that overhauls federal student loans.

Since last week, the President got a signing ceremony in which he dealt exclusively with his health care achievement, today's event was focused on student loans. The signing took place at a Northern Virginia Community College where Second Lady Jill Biden is a professor. Mrs. Biden introduced the President.

The student loan reform bill is a great progressive accomplishment on its own. The bill ends government subsidies to financial institutions that make student loans. It was incredibly inefficient for the government to subsidize private lenders, since private companies rack up quite a bit of overheard. Instead, the government will now be the originator of all student loans. This will save the government about $68 billion. With this savings, the government will invest in higher education in a number of ways. The funding for Pell Grants will be doubled. Student loan payments will be capped at 10% of a graduate's discretionary income, with any remaining balance forgiven after 20 years. Those who enter public service will have their loans forgiven after 10 years. The bill also makes historic investment in historically black colleges, and sets aside $2 billion for community colleges, which will enable 5 million more students to earn certificates or degrees over the next decade. I'm slightly disappointed that negotiatiors stripped down the funding from $10 billion to $2 billion for community colleges, but they needed to use that money to pay for part of the health care legislation. Mother Strike is particularly concerned about this issue, and I'm sure she would like to see the Obama administration commit more money in the next budget.

Nevertheless, the President has taken another huge step in helping out the struggling families of this country. He even talked again today about how this reform contributes to his idea of a "new foundation" for the economy. He had abandoned this rhetoric last year, to our great disappointment. Hopefully we can continue to build this foundation over the next few months by enacted financial reform and energy legislation.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President spent the second part of the day with French President Nicholas Sarkozy. The two Presidents announced that new sanctions against Iran will be adopted "in weeks." Iran has so far rejected any attempts at reaching some sort of deal to curtail their nuclear ambitions. It's pretty clear at this point that strong UN sanctions might be the only way to put on some pressure. Any UN resolution will need the approval of France, which has a permanent seat on the Security Council.

On a separate note, Sarkozy had a vintage DC lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street. Awesome.

That's pretty much it for today. See you tomorrow!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/29/10-Nothing's Happening

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It's hard to get used to slow news days after health care reform has passed. Sure, there was a tragic bombing in Moscow. And the RNC got in trouble for paying for donors to watch a strip show. But I digress, there was very little going on in the political universe, so I thought I'd give an election update.

ELECTION 2010: We have made several updates to our election projections, which you can find on the right side of your screen. The main factor you'll have to pay attention to, though, is the national climate. If the economy continues to improve, and President Obama gains momentum after his health care victory, the Democrats' prospects will improve across the board. My projections reflect both the latest polling and the conventional wisdom about the political climate, which is still decidedly Republican.

In the Senate, the Democrats' fortunes have taken a turn for the worse. In California, it looks like Barbara Boxer is in real trouble against either of her likely opponents, Tom Campbell and Carly Fiorina. I would still put odds on her winning, but recent polls, including the highly respected Field Poll, have shown the race to be a dead heat. In Wisconsin, Senator Russ Feingold may face a tough challenge if former Governor Tommy Thompson enters the race. I don't think Thompson is the best candidate in the world. He was a Bush administration secretary, which isn't exactly political gold these days. He also has recently signed up to be a lobbyist for a hedge fund. That would certainly be easy fodder for Feingold. If Thompson gets in the race, I think it will be a tossup. Without Thompson, it's Feingold's to lose.

At this point, it seems like the Democrats are very likely to lose seats in North Dakota, Delaware and Arkansas. I would also say they are underdogs in Indiana and Nevada. That's 5 seats that they have a 50%+ chance of losing. I consider Democratic seats in Illinois, California, Colorado and Pennsylvania to be tossups. Any of these races could realistically go Republican. If you combine the tossups with the lean takeover seats, the Democrats would be down to 50 seats. Democrats have a decent chance in two Republican held seats, in Missouri and New Hampshire. They also have a solid shot at a Republican open seat in Ohio. The situation, though, remains pretty bleak for Democrats. The numbers still favor a Democratic Senate when the 112th Congress begins, but I think there is at least a 25% chance of a Republican takeover.

I would say the Republicans' chances for retaking the House are slightly greater, maybe in the 35-40% range. Republicans would need to gain 40 seats to take back the majority. There isn't a lot of polling data on individual races, but the political climate, combined with the disproportionate amount of Democratic seats in Republican-leaning districts, and it could be a potential bloodbath for the Democratic party. Again, the ultimate result depends on the political climate, which I'm feeling a lot better about now than it did a couple of weeks ago. I agree with Nate Silver's assessment that the range of Democratic losses should be between 15-55.

The governor's races are all over the map. There could be as many as 20 party switches in governor's mansions this fall, which is almost unheard of. The races are crucial because governors will have the opportunity to influence the new Congressional boundaries after the 2010 Census.

That's it for today's update. Leave some comments, letting me know whether you agree with my assertions. See you tomorrow!

The Weekly Strike-3/29-4/4

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. For those of you Jewish readers, Happy Pesach! For those who aren't Jewish, nobody's perfect.

NORMALCY: The amazing thing about the upcoming week in politics is how devoid it will be of drama. Health care has passed. The reconciliation package of fixes have passed. Student loan reform has passed. Congress has skipped town. There are no tea-partiers in the streets of Washington. There is a welcome sense of quiet around here. But nevertheless, there is enough going on to merit an entry.

AFGHANISTAN: After last week's historic victories, President Obama jetted off on a secret trip to Afghanistan over the weekend. He met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and put pressure on him to bring stability to his government in his second term. The success of the President's mission in Afghanistan depends largely on whether Karzai can make his government more appealing to the Afghan people than the Taliban alternative. The President also met with U.S. troops, where he thanked them for their dedication and sacrifice.

With all of the domestic battles brewing in the past couple of months, there has been very little focus on Afghanistan. Part of the reason is that the military has made significant gains. However, if there isn't adequate civilian progress, this could still be a perilous endeavor for the President.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President has returned from his trip, and faces a very busy week ahead of him. Today, the President participates in a credentialing ceremony for foreign ambassadors. He then hosts a Passover Seder at the White House. The Strike wishes very much that he was invited.

Tomorrow, the President will sign the Reconciliation Act of 2010 at the White House. Because health care already got some pomp and circumstance last week, I expect the President this week to be more geared towards the student loan reform measure that got included in the reconciliation package. The President will also go on the road this week to tout his accomplishments. He will make stops in Maine and North Carolina.

CONGRESS: Congress, after its most productive session in a long, long time, has a well-deserved two week recess. Over the weekend, the President used the occasion to make 15 recess appointments, including one to liberal hero Craig Becker at the National Labor Relations Board. The President's nominees have been held up consistently over the past year due to unprecedented GOP obstructionism. I'm glad the President took advantage of this opportunity.

Congress did skip town without passing an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits. Republicans did not allow a vote on these extensions, because they were not paid for. As a result of this politicking, millions of Americans will lose benefits next Monday, the 5th. Democrats plan to pass another extension when Congress comes back on April 12th, and they will make the extension retroactive, so people will still get benefits they would have accrued over the week of April 5th.

That's it for now, we'll see you tonight!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/25/10-The End is Near

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. That entry title is not in reference to the coming Armageddon that will rage because of health care.

HEALTH CARE: The end is near. Very, very near. Today, the Senate agreed to reconciliation bill, a package of changes to the health care law plus a major student loan overhaul, by a vote of 56-43. The vote came after about 12 hours of amendment votes over two days. Every single amendment failed.

For once, it was majority rules in the Senate, as reconciliation bills are not subject to the filibuster. Every Republican, as expected, opposed the bill. Democrats Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE) and Pryor (AR) also were in opposition. Apparently, all of them decided to side with the student loan industry, and to protect some of the special deals that the reconciliation bill eliminated, like the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback."

Republicans had been making threats for weeks that they would be able to use procedural tricks to gut the reconciliation bill. By rule, reconciliation bills must consist of provisions that directly effect the federal budget. As it turns out, Republicans were only able to gut about two sentences from the bill. Both of the sentences are in the student loan reform section, and neither of them have a tangible effect on the overall bill. Therefore, the bill will have to go back to the House.

As I write, the House has begun debate on the Senate amendments to the reconciliation bill. Because the bill is only marginally different than the original one passed Sunday night, I expect it to pass by an identical margin. If there are changes in the vote, The final vote should come by 9pm this evening. At that point, the reconciliation bill will be sent to the President, and the Congressional debate on health care will officially be over. Hallelujah! Another chance to celebrate!

Just as the Congressional debate draws to a close, the fight for public opinion continues. Today, the President traveled to Iowa City, IA to hold a rally to celebrate the passage of health insurance reform. The President's speech was particularly strong, especially when he dared GOPers to try and repeal the bill. It is vitally important, now that the main health care bill is signed into law, that the President repeatedly highlights provisions that will immediately make lives better for the American people.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: As soon as the House approves the final changes to the reconciliation bill, Congress intends to go on recess for two weeks. For once, it looked like the recess would be well-deserved. Congress has accomplished a lot over over the last week. The problem is that unemployment benefits expire on April 5th, and Congress is not due back in session until April 12th. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) in the Senate tried to bring up another temporary extension for a vote tonight, but the Republicans, like they did a few weeks ago, objected. This time, the objection was led by the obstructionist-in-chief, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. There are discussions happening on the floor as we speak, and hopefully they'll come up with some sort of agreement.

It is amazing that Republicans will hold unemployment benefits hostage for political purposes. They are trying to make a political point about the deficit, but in doing so, they are causing a lot of people to suffer.

THE HOUSE: Before the House took up the revised reconciliation bill tonight, they took up a Senate-passed bill that reauthorizes FAA programs. The House added some provisions of their own, so the bill will have to be returned to the Senate. The bill passed easily by a vote of 276-145. 34 Republicans voted yes, and 6 Democrats voted no.

So here we are, just hours away from health care reform becoming a full reality. It feels pretty good.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/24/10-Another Vote-a-Rama

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. There are many reasons I wouldn't want to serve in the United States Senate. Tonight offers perhaps the best example: Senators are voting for nine hours on amendments to the health care reconciliation bill, and none of them have a remote chance of passing.

THE SENATE: The Senate spent the day debating the Health care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act, which contains changes to the health care law, as well as a long-overdue overhaul of student loans. Reconciliation bills are only eligible for 20 hours of debate, unlike normal bills which can be debated indefinitely. At 5pm today, debate time expired. However, Republicans have had an opportunity to offer unlimited amendments, and they have been happy to use that opportunity. Republicans so far have proposed 23 amendments to the bill. The Senate has thus far voted on 3 of them, and they will presumably vote on the other 20 in the next several hours. As I said last night, Democrats are making a concerted effort to defeat every amendment so that the bill does not have to return to the House. Republicans are taking full advantage by proposing poison pill amendments (like bans on Viagra for sex offenders) that will force Democrats to take tough votes. I will not cover any of the Republican amendments, a) because they will all fail and b) I would be playing into their political gamesmanship.

It is entirely possible that the Senate can take an up-or-down vote on the bill by tomorrow evening. So far, only 2 of the 59 Senate Democrats have come out in opposition to the bill. Even nagging moderates like Lieberman (CT) and Bayh (IN) have agreed to back the measure. It's passage at this point is pretty much a formality. By Friday, two of the President's top domestic priorities will have been enacted into law.

HEALTH CARE: A couple of other quick notes on health care:

Things are getting scary out there. Several Democratic members of Congress have either been threatened or vandalized since Saturday's vote. Rep. Stupak (D-MI) has received death threats since agreeing to a compromise on abortion. Rep. Slaughter (NY), chairwoman of the Rules Committee, had a brick thrown through her window. Republicans and their conservative allies in the media bear full responsibility for this violence. They have egged on anxious tea-party crowds by portraying the bill as a totalitarian, socialist monstrosity that will kill grandma. Amazingly, Republican lawmakers have not fully denounced this behavior, thus making them complicit. I hope they realize the consequences of their overheated, hyperbolic rhetoric.

Also, the President signed an executive order today that re-establishes that no federal funding will pay for abortions. The order was part of an agreement with Rep. Stupak and other pro-life Democrats so that they would support the health care legislation. The order doesn't do much, but it allowed pro-life lawmakers to say that they stood up for their pro-life principals.

THE HOUSE: The House had a very productive day. Members passed two bills related to the President's jobs agenda. The first bill would exempt small businesses from paying capital gains taxes, enhance funding for "Build America Bonds" and provide other infrastructure tax incentives. The bill was fully paid for through a provision that closed a tax loophole for foreign companies.

The bill is essentially full of Republican ideas. It is a bill that provides tax breaks to small businesses that doesn't increase the deficit. The fact that all but 4 Republicans opposed the bill is more proof that they are only interested in seeing the Democrats fail. The bill passed by a vote of 246-178. Republicans supporting the bill were Cao (LA), Castle (DE), Kirk (IL) and Murphy (PA). Democrats opposing were Bright (AL), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Owens (NY), Smith (WA) and Taylor (MS).

The Republicans tried to offer a motion to recommit that would repeal parts of the health care bill. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come. The motion failed by a vote of 184-239. All Republicans voted yes, as did 10 Democrats (disturbingly).

The next bill includes emergency funding for FEMA, as well as funding for youth summer employment. This bill passed by a vote of 239-176. The vote was almost entirely along party lines. 3 Democrats voted no: Minnick (ID), Nye (VA), and Taylor (MS).

The House will take up a Senate-passed bill that reauthorizes FAA programs. The House will then presumably adjourn for a two week recess, unless the Senate changes the reconciliation bill.

That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/23/10-The Signing Ceremony We've Been Waiting For

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Before I continue, I implore you to read a superb entry below by The Big Picture. His piece embodies why we still let him contribute to the blog, albeit reluctantly. Just kidding. Read it.

SIGNING CEREMONY: Today, the President signed the Senate health care legislation into law in the East Room at the White House. The ceremony was a joyous occasion for the many Democratic members of Congress on hand, many of whom have been working to get this done since my parents were teenagers. In the case of Rep. John Dingell, he's been working to get this done since my parents were 4 years old.

Vice President Biden spoke first, and spoke eloquently. That is, until his finished his remarks and turned to the President and said " this is a big f---ing deal." The TV crews picked it up, and Fox News had a field day with it. The Vice President was absolutely right, by the way.

The President then spoke in very clear terms, especially about the immediate benefits in the bill. Starting this year, insurance companies cannot deny coverage to children with preexisting conditions. The Medicare donut hole will begin to be closed. And deadbeats like myself and others my age can stay on their parent's insurance until they are 26.

Surrounded by the lawmakers that made this victory happen, like Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid, House Majority Leader Hoyer and the relevant committee chairs. The President signed the bill 20 different times, so he could give memento pens to those who will relish this victory for a lifetime. I'll leave it to The Big Picture to explain exactly why the bill is such a huge victory not only substantively, but politically. I'm still on cloud nine.

THE SENATE: The effort is not completely over, however. The Senate began consideration of the House-passed reconciliation bill, which contains important revisions to the health care law (it feels good to say that). By a vote of 56-40. All Republicans and Democrat Ben Nelson (NE) voted no, while every other Democrat who was present voted yes.

Debate on reconciliation bills is limited to 20 hours, so in theory, the Senate should finish consideration relatively soon. The problem is that the GOP can propose an unlimited amount of amendments. After the 20 hours expire, Senators will engage in a "vote-or-ama" of all the GOP amendments. Democrats want to defeat all of the amendments, because if the bill changes even slightly, the House would have to vote on it again. The Republicans, who love acting like 3rd graders, are taking great advantage of this opportunity by proposing difficult to oppose amendments. For example, Senator Coburn (R-OK) wants to prevent sexual predators from getting Viagra. Democrats might have to let some of their more vulnerable members vote for poison pill amendments, but they cannot afford to lose more than 9 of their members on any single amendment.

Republicans will also try to poke holes in the bill by making points of order that provisions are illegal under the reconciliation process. They might be successful in having the parliamentarian agree with them on a couple of points, but not enough to significantly alter the bill. The worst that could happen is that the House stays in this weekend to vote on Senate revisions.

And it all feels less tense now that we know we have health care reform!

THE HOUSE: The House voted today on a series of suspension bills, before turning to a bill full of tax breaks for small businesses and infrastructure spending. The bill, which cleared the Ways and Means Committee last week, is part of the Democrats' jobs agenda. We'll have more on the bill tomorrow.

That's it for now. Read The Big Picture's piece and leave comments.

The Big Picture: Fired Up and Ready to Go!

The passage of health care reform is most important substantively. Excellent articles by Tara Siegel Bernard in yesterday's New York Times and in the last couple days by Ezra Klein explain just what the bill will mean to each category of consumer. For me, the most important point is who it helps. While the federal budget, the health care system, and the health care of people who don't desperately need it now will steadily but not wildly improve, but the health care of people who really need it, who will die without it, or go bankrupt - that fundamental insecurity, dependent totally on bad luck, or on having earned just a little too much income to quality for Medicaid, or not quite old enough to be on Medicare, that will be gone within the next few years. That represents enormous, life-altering positive changes for millions of people, and peace of mind for all of us, because there but for the grace of God - an unexpected pink slip or cancer diagnosis - go us all. This accomplishment is especially remarkable because unlike in the Civil Rights Movement, or with Social Security, the people mostly benefiting - the uninsured and underinsured - did not organize into a political movement. This came down to some very privileged people - Obama, Pelosi, Congressmen and Congresswomen from swing districts - risking their power and reputation to benefit people who represent no organized interest, don't donate money, barely even vote. Especially following Scott Brown's victory, with support for health care reform low and all the political analysts saying that pursuing health care reform would cost the Democratic Party dearly, this came down to conviction and empathy for the powerless, rather than self-interest and self-preservation, and rather even than ideology (Pelosi and I suspect Obama would far prefer a single-payer solution rather than taking basically a moderate Republican plan). How often have we ever seen that? It restores some of my faith in politics, activism, working for the greater good, which had been sorely tested this winter.

Obama's performance in the past few weeks finally reached the level of his best stretches of the Presidential campaign. He finally made the problems with the status quo REAL, striking an emotional chord, hitting people where they lived. He finally boiled down what the bill would do for people into clear, digestible nuggets. And, he appealed to our better angels, to our common sense of purpose as Democrats and as Americans, that we have to come together to solve problems rather than fearfully succumbing our own worst fears. For liberalism to succeed, the case must be made with those three components: emotional wallop of the status quo, clear concrete steps to make it better, and an inspiring purposefulness. His drastic improvement is a major reason that liberals are so much more excited about the bill passing the House now, than they were when the exact same bill passed the Senate in December.

The other major reason liberals are excited is that success now vindicated a completely different approach to Obama's Presidency. The way the bill succeeded in the fall seemed to endorse the the Rahm Emanuel approach, of compromise after compromise, playing the inside game, being cautious in the messaging so you don't risk appearing like a dreaded "unreconstructed liberal" who, gasp, might actually be doing this for moral reasons, or "lower the Presidency" to actually full-throated campaign-style advocacy. But that approach was really discredited because it led to combination of liberals being depressed and independents turning away, even as conservatives grew emboldened. The Scott Brown victory was the final verdict on the Rahm approach (which in fairness to Emanuel, is as much reflective of a certain inherent cautiousness, prudence, reticence to be overtly partisan, ideological, to play on emotion in a demagogic way, in Obama's political personality. It's good for a President to have these qualities to be an effective manager; but if he intends to change the status quo, then he needs to balance it with passion, persuasiveness, and yes even some demagoguery.) But even if the Democrats had hung on in Massachussetts, and the House and Senate combined their bills and Obama signed them, it would have been substantively equivalent but strategically very disturbing for liberalism. The lesson would have been: compromise, stick with the conventional process approaches and same mainstream understanding that government is bad, apologize for anything liberal. It would have been: ignore the liberal base, don't worry about persuading public opinion, just pander to it, give in to the process demands of hostage-taking centrist Democrats and the ideological demands of the hard-right, to the conventional wisdom demands of the media punditocracy.

The alternative approach, represented by David Plouffe, was a return to what made Obama so extraordinarily successful in the primary and general election campaigns, not so coincidentally managed by Mr. Plouffe. The previous choice had been to compromise, "pick your battles", to prioritize political prudence above all over risking success and political standing for principle and conviction; Plouffe's approach was the opposite, to go counter to all the punditocracy, to what vulnerable Democratic congressmen saw as their short-term interest, and instead say "when will we have this chance again?" and actually use these historic Democratic majorities to accomplish the top Democratic Party priority. In the endless strategic dispute between principled policy accomplishments and apparent political expediency to maintain power, Obama decisively chose the former in the last month. And it worked. He won. And now the bill, Obama, and the Democrats are gaining significantly in popularity, according to the latest polls. Obama won by refusing to bend to the warnings of electoral apocalypse, refusing to cower before the Republican lies and fear-mongering, refusing to enable Democrats to fulfill their own prophecy.

This last is a crucial point: sometime last fall and winter, the centrist Democrats who hold (held!) veto power over Obama's agenda prophesied that they were likely to lose their seats this November. Their insane response had been to curl up in a ball, do nothing other than repeat right-wing talking points against Obama's agenda while voting against it, so the Democrats accomplish nothing and turn public opinion against the Democrats ... somehow they thought all this would make it more likely they would hang onto their seats, even though it seems extraordinarily clear that their fear of losing caused such irrational behavior that made losing inevitable. The only way for Democrats to defy history and keep their big majorities this fall is to actually accomplish things that deliver for the American people, and to persuade, with conviction, that Democrats have a better approach to the country's problems than the Republicans - not the exact opposite as they had been doing. This health care victory has hopefully ended the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Era as well as the Rahm Era.

Obama and the Congressional Democrats need to recognize that the only way to both enact major reform and then win elections in a tough environment is to do the opposite of the conventional wisdom, and instead to be bold, passionate, unapologetic, and most of all, successful in delivering what people need. Obama needs to build off his message to Dennis Kucinich "It's about time the government did something for ordinary people", repeat it again and again to become the mantra of his Presidency and the Democratic Party, and advocate clear, common-sense, populist measures that would deliver for people like the Consumer Protection Agency, home mortgage relief, job creation, Wall Street to Main Street transfers, and continue to play up the health care bill, the stimulus, and the student loan package embedded in the reconciliation bill the Senate is about to sign. Build off this momentum, rally the base, rally the Congressional troops, and get to work. RIGHT NOW.

As our good friend Small Town Roots says, "Strike while the iron is hot." House Majority Whip James Clyburn gets it:
"I think the credibility of the party is at stake here,” Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told POLITICO, exhorting Obama to take a more active stake in other issues before Congress. “It would be a big mistake [for Obama] to pull back,” he said. “You gotta play to win, you can’t put yourself in a posture of trying not to lose,” he added. “We are on the offense. We have regained momentum and we have to keep it going. If he pulls back now, it will be just like saying he can’t deal with this economy. He’s got to keep moving, keep moving. That’s what the American people sent him here for.”

Roots' boss, a grassroots leader, gets it too: "Leadership would definitely be welladvised to keep working it on banking reform, jobs, climate. And it does seem like seeing more Kirk than Spock from Obama would be helpful from here on in."

There will be a strong temptation to rest after all this effort, but that would be the exact wrong approach. If Obama and the Democrats don't keep pushing forward, they will lose most of the advantage they got from this victory. The lesson of the Obama Presidency (as it was during his primary campaign against Hillary): If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward. If you're not piling up victories, you're losing. Liberals and insurgents are always playing from behind. The clock is the enemy. As Roots says, at this point it's unambiguously clear that Obama is only successful when he's out there in campaign mode, in his shirtsleeves, speaking passionately and from the heart, taking big risks, defying conventional wisdom, inspiring the base, refusing to accept the status quo and the typical approaches. The "Presidential mode" Obama of November 5, 2008 to this February was not very effective and declined radically in popularity among both the base and among independents. The earlier version of "Campaign mode" Obama came from nowhere to have 70 million people elect him a black liberal President, and that version's return successfully resurrected the most important expansion of the social safety net in over four decades. Don't let up. The time is now. We're fired up and ready to go.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/22/10-As The Dust Settles

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. I wrote so much this morning; there isn't that much left to be said. I will keep this entry short.

HEALTH CARE: Tomorrow, President Obama will sign the Senate health care bill into law, and America will be on the path to universal health insurance. We will have full coverage of the ceremony tomorrow. It will be truly momentous.

Of course, the whole effort won't be complete until the reconciliation package of fixes passes the Senate. We found out today that Senators Lincoln (AR) and Nelson (NE) are opposed to the reconciliation bill. Lincoln cited the process as reason for her opposition (like uninsured, struggling people in Arkansas care about the reconciliation process!). Nelson is against the overhaul of the student loan industry included in the bill. Nelson is a major protector of the private insurance industry, which would be slated to lose 30,000 jobs if this bill passes. I'm sure those 30,000 jobs will NOT be offset by the million of jobs created by giving Pell Grants to students!

Since a reconciliation bill only needs 50 votes for passage, Democrats are still in good shape despite these defections. Moderate Senators Bayh (IN) and Landrieu (LA) annouced their support of the bill today, which pretty much clinches passage. First, the Democrats will have to overcome GOP procedural challenges. Debate on the bill will start tomorrow afternoon.

THE SENATE: The Senate approved a bill to authorize new FAA programs by a unanimous vote of 93-0. The Senate, in typical fashion, worked a full week on a bill that passed with zero opposition.

Off of the Senate floor, the Financial Services Commitee, led by Senator Dodd (D-CT) approved a package of financial sector reforms on a strict party line vote. Republicans allowed the Democrats to make quick work of the bill in committee, because they know that at this point, the Democrats don't have the votes to pass the Dodd bill on the floor. Democrats will have to negotiate until they get at least one Republican on board.

THE HOUSE: The House voted on a series of suspension bills today. They'll be getting real legislative business on Wednesday. They deserve a break after what they did this weekend, right?

That's it for now, I will see you tomorrow night. Leave comments!

The Weekly Strike-3/22-3/28

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike on this momentous Monday. For the first time in our country's history, we have the framework in place so that every American can have affordable, comprehensive health insurance. It seemed so unlikely just weeks ago, but now it is a victory for progressivism as large as Social Security and Medicare. We'll talk about last night's vote and the aftermath, but first let's give credit to two brave politicians: President Barack Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. These two fought the odds and the political winds to get this done.

HEALTH CARE: The outcome of the vote was no longer in doubt after about 4pm yesterday, when anti-abortion Rep. Bart Stupak announced a deal with the White House for an executive order that would bring aboard a cadre of pro-life Democrats. For the six hours that followed, we dealt with anticipation similar to Election Night 2008, and the climax occurred at the same time of night, around 11pm.

After a debate filled with extreme rhetoric from the Republicans, including charges of tyranny and communism, the House was finally ready to begin voting. The first vote was to approve the Senate-passed bill verbatim. This was the most important vote, because with its passage, even if nothing happened with the sidecar reconciliation bill, health care would be the law of the land. The Senate bill was approved by a vote of 219-212. All Republicans opposed the bill, including Rep. Joseph Cao (LA) who voted yes on an earlier version in November. The list of 34 Democratic defectors is as follows. This group must not get away with this "no" vote. They should be held accountable to primary challengers for going against the Democratic Party's top priority:

Altmire (PA), Arcuri (NY), Barrow (GA), Berry (AR), Boren (OK), Boucher (VA), Bright (AL), Chandler (KY), Childers (MS), Davis (AL), Davis (TN), Edwards (TX), Herseth Sandlin (SD), Holden (PA), Kissell (NC), Kratovil (MD), Lipinski (IL), Lynch (MA), Marshall (GA), Matheson (UT), McIntyre (NC), McMahon (NY), Melancon (LA), Minnick (ID), Nye (VA), Peterson (MN), Ross (AR), Shuler (NC), Skelton (MO), Space (OH), Tanner (TN), Taylor (MS) and Teague (NM).

The House then voted on one last Republican motion to change the bill. The Republican motion would have inserted the Stupak anti-abortion language into the bill, a move that was clearly intended to bring down the bill entirely. Stupak himself bravely stood up against this measure, knowing that it would bring down the entire health care bill. Someone on the House floor yelled "baby killer!" during Stupak's speech. I'm not a fan of the guy, but I felt a lot of sympathy for him at that moment. The motion failed 199-232. All Republicans supported it, as did the 21 Democrats below:

Altmire (PA), Barrow (GA), Berry (AR), Boren (OK), Bright (AL), Chandler (KY), Childers (MS), Costello (IL), Davis (TN), Donnelly (IN), Holden (PA), Lipinski (IL), Marshall (GA), Matheson (UT), McIntyre (NC), Melancon (LA), Peterson (MN), Ross (AR), Shuler (NC), Skelton (MO) and Taylor (MS).

The final vote was on the reconciliation bill, which is full of fixes to the Senate measure. Many House Democrats conditioned their support of the Senate bill on this separate package. It also includes a monumental overhaul of the country's student loan industry. The bill passed 220-211. The only changes from the vote on the Senate bill were switches from no to yes from Lipinski (IL) and Lynch (MA), and a switch from yes to no from Cooper (TN).

The Senate bill now heads to President Obama's desk for his signature. After the votes last night, President Obama made a brief statement, in which he asserted that Congress has reestablished the ability to get things done on behalf of the American people. It had been a long time coming. The President will be going on the road in the coming days to help sell the plan to a skeptical American public. I am of the belief that once people see that there are no death panels and no rationing, they will realize that this was a responsible, important piece of legislation.

The Big Picture will write a longer entry this week on how the President and his allies got this done. It will be the subject of political science classes for years. Many pundits think that this bill will spell doom for the Democratic party in November. I don't believe that to be true. But even if it were, 219 members of the House made their participation in government worth it last night, regardless of whether they win reelection or not.

THE SENATE: The reconciliation bill now heads to the Senate, where consideration will begin Tuesday. Republicans can't filibuster the bill, of course, and Democrats clearly have the 50 votes needed for passage. The goal of the GOP will be to slow down the process as much as possible. They will raise numerous points of order that will force the parliamentarian to rule whether various provisions in the bill relate directly to the budget (as they must for a reconciliation bill). The parliamentarian helped Democrats write the bill in such a way that it would indeed pass muster. Even if the parliamentarian rules against the Democrats, Vice President Joe Biden, in his capacity as President of the Senate, can overrule him. If a provision is ruled out of order, Democrats can overturn the ruling with 60 votes. Republicans will not let this happen. Therefore, Democrats are hoping that the entire bill is ruled legal for the purposes of reconciliation. If a provision is struck down, the bill would have to go back to the House, which would be an annoyance but not a disaster.

Republicans will also abuse their power to offer unlimited amendments. Debate is limited to 20 hours, but even after debate time has expired, the Senate still must vote on all proposed amendments. Senate Republicans will probably propose an amendment to every sentence of the bill in order to draw out the process. The parliamentarian does have the power to rule that Senators are proposing amendments just to be dilatory. I hope he uses that power.

I am reasonably confident that the Senate will pass the reconciliation bill, unchanged, by the end of this week.

The Senate will vote today on two last amendments and final passage of a bill to reauthorize FAA programs before moving on to health care.

THE HOUSE: The House may have had the craziest week ever, but members still have some work to do. Today and tomorrow, the House will consider a slew of suspension bills. The House will then consider another bill on the jobs agenda. This bill will give a tax exemption for the sale of small business stock. It also will include more funding for Build America Bonds. The bill will be financed by cracking down on tax loopholes for U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies. This bill should pass by a wise margin. Democrats are now doing what they've wanted to do for several months: focus exclusively on jobs.

The House will also vote on a separate bill that appropriates emergency funds for disaster relief (to where exactly, I don't know) and for summer jobs. Yet another item on the jobs agenda. I like it!

That's it for now. I still feel that glow from last night...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/21/10-History

Good evening and welcome to this short, but special, edition of the Daily Strike. By votes of 219-212 (for the Senate bill), and 220-211 (for the reconciliation bill) the House of Representatives finally made real the promise of comprehensive health care reform for every American. The Senate bill will now go directly to the President for his signature, and the reconciliation package full of fixes will go to the Senate.

We will have full coverage of this historic night in tomorrow morning's Weekly Strike. But for now, let's savor this moment. It was a long time coming.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/20/10-Where We Stand

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Let's get you caught up on the latest development ahead of tomorrow's vote.

RULE: Democrats have decided to abandon the so-called "deem and pass" rule that would have deemed the Senate bill agreed to on passage of the sidecar reconciliation bill. Instead, Democrats have decided to hold two separate votes. The first will be on the reconciliation bill, the second on the Senate bill. Therefore, when members vote for the Senate bill, they will have already been on record supporting popular changes to it.

The first vote of the day is expected to occur around 2pm tomorrow, when the House will vote on the rule governing debate. The vote on the reconciliation bill should be held around 4:30 or 5, with a vote on the Senate bill soon afterward. Republicans will be able to force a vote on a motion to recommit, which I'm willing to be might have something to do with abortion. Democrats need to be reminded not to vote for any Republican poison pills. We should all know what their intention is: kill the bill!!

WHIP COUNT: There was mixed news on the whip count today. Last night, we heard news that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was trying to cut a deal with Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his anti-choice holdouts. This made me worry that Pelosi did not have enough votes outside of the Stupak bloc. Today, however, talks broke down with Stupak today, and Pelosi said that they will not be granted a vote on any abortion-related provision. Stupak probably has a block of 6 members or so. Democrats will be able to proceed without them if they can convert a couple more former "no" votes.

One former member of the Stupak crowd was Rep. Chris Carney (PA), who announced today that he will be supporting the bill. This was a good sign that the Stupak group is starting to thaw. The bad news today was that Rep. Zack Space (OH), who voted yes in November, will be a no this time around. It looks like we've found another Democrat who needs to be primaried out of his seat!

With these developments, the path to 216 remains relatively clear. Democrats need to hold on to all of the remaining yes votes from November, which is likely, in my view. They also need to limit the Stupak bloc to 6 members, and then pick up yes votes from retiring Reps. Baird (WA) and Tanner (TN). I would still bet that they'll be able to do it. They BETTER be able to do it. Barack Obama has more than put himself on the line for this. He implored Democrats at a special meeting today to do the right thing.

PROTESTS: I should also mention today that a good number (but not a huge number) of tea party protesters descended on the Capital today to intimidate Democratic lawmakers into voting no. I don't think they have too much of an impact at this point. I did hear, however, that some of them shouted racial slurs at Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis, and an anti-gay slur at Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). This should give Democrats a good idea of who these people really are. We have to beat them.

Alright, my friends. I'm off for now. We'll be back tomorrow to hopefully report on some good news.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/19/10-Whip Count Update (Good News!)

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike as we enter Health Care Weekend 2010. There are a lot of things to cover tonight, so let's get right to it.

WHIP COUNT: The Democrats received a lot of very good news today as they gear up for a final vote on health care legislation this Sunday. Three Democrats who voted no on the House-passed bill in November have decided to support the legislation. Rep. Boccieri (OH), and Reps. Boyd (FL) and Kosmas (FL) have released statements saying that they support the legislation. Rep. Ellsworth (IN), who is running for Senate this year, has also announced he would support the bill. Ellsworth voted yes in November, but many believed he would be a part of the Stupak group that would oppose the bill because of its abortion language.

Democrats, according to trusted vote counters at Open Left, have probably lost 9 members who voted yes last time. 6 Democrats seem to be a part of the "Stupak group" that will vote against the bill solely because of its abortion language. The lone Republican to vote for the bill, Rep. Cao (LA), is solidly in the Stupak camp as well. Reps. Lynch (MA) and Arcuri (NY) seem to be opposing the bill for other (read: stupid) reasons. For the bill to pass with these defections, Democrats would need to convert at least 8 former no votes into yes votes. So far, they have converted 6. There is a pretty decent pool of undecided former no votes for the Democrats to reach into. Rep. Baird (WA) is retiring this year, and he has a reasonably liberal record despite his no vote last November. Rep. Murphy (NY) has seemed inclined to be more of a yes than a no. Rep. Tanner (TN) is also retiring, and would probably join the leadership in supporting the bill if he had absolutely had to. If two of these members switched their votes, and there were no other defections from the yes column, the bill would pass.

UPDATE: Murphy (NY) now a yes!!

Of course, Democrats still have to be wary of rogue members who are threatening to switch to no votes. Reps. DeFazio (OR) and Rush (IL), for example, are making a big fuss about a couple of provisions in the bill and have threatened to oppose it, but I don't think anyone believes they would actually bring the bill down.

If worst comes to worst, Democrats could cut a deal with the Stupak bloc guaranteeing them a separate vote on the bill's abortion language. That will be a last resort.

I would put the odds of passage right now quite high, considering today's switches. I also think we may get some last minute switches into the yes column from unlikely sources (perhaps Lincoln Davis of TN, Mike McMahon of NY, Boucher of VA).

It's gonna be a very close vote. I would say that Democrats probably have a maximum of 220 votes at this point. But if betting were legal in the United States, I would put significant money on passage of the bill once Sunday rolls around.

We will keep you posted with frequent updates on Twitter, which will be the best place to get your instant House vote news this weekend.

THE HOUSE: The House actually took care of some business on the floor today. It was smart for Democratic leaders to schedule votes today, because they can use the time to corner undecided members on the floor.

The House today passed a bill that will award grants for education on Coastal, Ocean and Watershed issues. The vote was 244-170. 8 Republicans voted yes and 9 Democrats voted no. The House also passed a bill dealing with Hudson Valley Resource allocation. The House will probably not hold any votes tomorrow, though the Rules Committee will begin a hearing on the health care legislation. The President is also expected to give a pep talk to House Democrats.

Stay with us this weekend. It could be, perhaps, rather historic.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/18/10-Start the Clock

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The health care showdown has reached a fever pitch. Let's get to it.

HEALTH CARE: This morning, House Democrats released the 2010 Reconciliation Act, which contains revisions to the Senate-passed health care bill. According to preliminary CBO estimates, the bill would cover 32 million people (slightly more than the Senate bill) and would reduce the deficit by $130 billion over the next ten years and over $1 trillion over the ten years after that. As Democratic leaders have noted, this is the largest deficit reduction package since Bill Clinton's deficit reduction package in 1993. The cost estimate is great news for Democrats as they desperately try to cobble together 216 votes. Now, liberals have no excuse for voting against a bill that covers 32 million people. Conservatives have absolutely no excuse to vote against a bill that slashes the federal deficit.

With the CBO estimate released, the clocked has started on the 72 hours Democrats have promised for public review before the final vote. The final vote is expected to occur Sunday. President Obama has postponed his trip to Asia so he can see this process through. If the House acts, the President could sign the Senate bill into law as soon as Sunday. I'm on bended knee.

As far as the whip count is concerned, there was good news and bad news today. Two Democrats who voted no in November have switched their votes to yes. Rep. Bart Gordon (TN) is retiring at the end of this term, and announced his switch this afternoon. Rep. Betsy Markey (CO), a Democrat from a very competitive district in eastern Colorado will be voting yes, and that makes her a profile in courage.

On the other hand, at least one Democrat today has switched from a "yes" to a "no." Inexplicably, Rep. Stephen Lynch (MA) has decided to not only oppose the bill, but attack it relentlessly for it being a giveaway to the insurance companies. I guess he wasn't swayed by that insurance company pawn Dennis Kucinich! Lynch's inexplicable defection is ostensibly because of a new tax on high cost insurance plans, but that tax will not go into effect until 2018, and will be limited in scope. Lynch was summoned to the White House for a meeting this afternoon, and was apparently not swayed I don't understand how any liberal could think that defeating a near-universal health care bill would be a good thing for the progressive movement right now. It's just disgusting. Other liberal holdouts besides Kucinich, like Rep. Guttierez (IL) have all recently indicated that they will be on board.

So far, 8 Democrats who voted yes in November have publicly indicated that they will vote no this time around, including Lynch. The other Democrats on this list are mostly opposed to the abortion language in the Senate bill. If Democrats want to pass the bill despite these defections, they'll need to win over at least 4 previous no votes in addition to the 3 they've already gotten. I think the CBO score will help bring some former "no" votes around. I'm reasonably optimistic about Reps. Baird (WA) and Tanner (TN), who are both retiring. Freshman Reps. Boccieri (OH), Murphy (NY) and Kosmas (FL) have seemed to be at least leaning yes. There are about 4 or 5 other former no votes that I think are genuinely undecided, as well as a perhaps an additional 1-2 yes votes that still might go the other way. The math is difficult, but I would still say that the odds are better than even that the bill passes.

I'm especially pleased that the institutional left is rallying behind this bill. Both the SEIU and AFL-CIO announced that they will support the bill, and they are making some pretty serious threats against Democratic members who betray them. All of the liberal intelligentsia is behind the bill, from what I can tell, except for true firebrands like Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake and David Sirota.

The true pressure now must come from two sources: the grassroots and President Obama. Make sure that you call your representative and tell them to vote yes. At the very least, we need to balance out the enthusiasm of the right-wing crazies.

JOBS BILL: The President scored a legislative victory today as he signed an $18 billion jobs package into law at the White House. The bill is made up mostly of new tax breaks to companies that hire previously unemployed workers. The President lauded members of both parties for coming together to support the bill.

The signing ceremony was also a chance for the President to meet one-on-one with lawmakers to talk about health care. The President interestingly had a conversation with Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA), the only House Republican to support the bill in November. Cao, who is staunchly anti-abortion, was encouraged to take another look at the Senate language.

THE SENATE: The Senate worked today on a bill to reauthorize FAA programs. A vote on final passage of the bill is likely to come Monday, and I expect it to get bipartisan support. Today, the Senate voted on four amendments to the bill. One of the amendments, proposed by Senators Sessions (R-AL) and McCaskill (D-MO) proposed a freeze in discretionary spending. The amendment failed by 4 votes to get the 60 needed to advance. All of the no votes came from Democrats.

Two other amendments to curb discretionary spending, offered by Senators Pryor (D-AR) and Inhofe (R-OK) failed as well. I expect we'll see these types of amendments on almost all Senate bills this year.

Senator McCain's amendment that would prohibit earmark spending during deficit years was defeated soundly by a vote of 26-70.

THE HOUSE: The House spent most of its time today on suspension bills. Republicans tried to force a vote on a motion that would prohibit the Democratic leadership from bringing up the health care bill under a so-called "deem and pass" rule. As I mentioned before, Democrats are going to use a procedural maneuver in which the Senate bill would be deemed passed if the reconciliation bill passes. This is not controversial, and Republicans have done it hundreds of times. But they need something to whine about!

Fortunately, Democrats assembled enough votes to defeat the GOP motion 232-181. The ten Democrats voting no were Boren (OK), Childers (MS), Giffords (AZ), Kissell (NC), McIntyre (NC), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Periello (VA), Shuler (NC) and Taylor (MS). All of those except for Giffords, Mitchell and Periello are certain to vote no on the bill.

That's it for tonight. Stay with us during these crucial 72 hours!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/17/10-Hurry Up!!!

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Another day in this painstaking health care marathon, and as of 6pm, we still don't have the text and score of the health care reconciliation bill. That means the earliest we'll see a vote is Saturday evening.

HEALTH CARE: The biggest news of the day on health care was mostly the lack of news. The Congressional Budget Office has not released a score on the health care reconciliation package of fixes because Democrats haven't figured out how to have the bill hit deficit targets. The bill must reduce the deficit relative to current law, meaning it does not benefit from the major deficit reduction already in the Senate bill. The major changes the Democrats wanted to make consisted of more spending on subsidies, and an easing of the proposed excise tax. Democrats need to offset this new spending. They tried to do that by including a student loan overhaul that is projected to reduce the deficit. Apparently, the loan measure doesn't reduce the deficit enough, so Democrats have been desperately trying to find other sources of revenue. President Obama is meeting today with Richard Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, to see if organized labor can accept a slightly increased excise tax on high cost insurance plans.

The House leadership is meeting right now. Rep. Rob Andrews (NJ) said that is still possible that we'll see a CBO score tonight. Either way, I would still guess that Democrats hold the final vote Saturday evening.

Cobbling the 216 together got slightly easier. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who stubbornly opposed the bill from the left, announced today that he will now support the measure. Kucinich said that he began to recognize in the past couple of days that this bill is an important step in getting to universal health care. He was also seemingly affected by a serious personal pitch from President Obama. At a rally in Ohio this week, President Obama pointed out Kucinich and noted how it has been so long since Congress passed a bill that gave relief to the American people. I think this hit a chord with the firebrand liberal.

Kucinich's announcement means that even if 2 Democrats who voted yes on the bill in November switch their votes to no, the bill would pass. I expect that the Democrats may be able to win 4-5 other former no votes. All we can ask for is that the new yes votes outweigh the Stupak bloc of 5-6 members who would oppose the new bill because of its abortion language.

In an interview tonight with Fox News' Bret Baier, President Obama said that he expects the bill to pass. He also defused Baier's question about the House's decision to use the so-called self-executing rule. He said, correctly, that we will know exactly where members of Congress stand after this weekend's vote. I sure hope they stand in the right place. I'm feeling increasingly confident that the bill will pass , probably by no more than 1 or 2 votes.

THE SENATE: It was one of those rare productive days in the United States Senate. Senators voted 68-29 to send a modest but important jobs bill to President Obama's desk. You know by now that the bill includes a payroll tax break for companies that have hired workers who have been unemployed for at least 60 days. It also includes an infusion of funding to state transportation projects. President Obama will sign the bill into law tomorrow. It will be his first legislative accomplishment since at least January (PAYGO?) but his first significant legislative accomplishment in a long, long time.

Every Democrat voted for the bill except for Senator Ben Nelson (NE) who was opposed to it from the beginning. The bill attracted some solid Republican support, including the vote of the newest Senator Scott Brown (MA). How do you like him now crazy right-wingers? Republicans Alexander (TN), Bond (MO), Burr (NC), Cochran (MS), Collins (ME), Inhofe (OK), LeMieux (FL), Murkowski (AK), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich (OH) also supported the legislation.

The Senate also voted 98-0 today to confirm O. Rogeriee Thompson to be a First Circuit Judge.

THE HOUSE: The House spent the day dealing with suspension bills. A bill honoring the University of Maryland Basketball Team (full disclosure: I'm a Terrapin now!) turned into a partisan grudge match (seriously. )Majority Leader Hoyer proposed the resolution, but Republicans criticized it because some of their similar resolutions haven't been given a vote. I sort of agree with them on this one. Maryland hasn't done anything yet!

The House is in a holding pattern until the health bill vote this weekend.

That's it for now. Leave comments!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/16/10-Can't Even Watch

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. I got my Census form in the mail today, so I'm in an extra democratic mood.

HEALTH CARE: Watching the health care debate is getting rather painful. We are STILL waiting for the Democratic leadership and the Congressional Budget Office to release the text and cost estimate of the reconciliation package of fixes to the Senate-passed bill. Apparently, earlier estimates of the bill did not meet deficit reduction targets. Democrats must reduce the deficit by $1 billion to fulfill last year's reconciliation instructions. Most of the changes to the bill consist of new spending and delayed revenue collection. That's why the Democrats included the student loan overhaul, which is expected to save over $60 billion over ten years. Democrats do not want to release a bill until they get a favorable cost estimate. Democrats will need to release the bill tomorrow if they want to vote on the bill by Saturday while still fulfilling their promise to give the public 72 hours to read the bill online (I'm sure the average Joe out there will really be taken in by legislative mumbo jumbo!).

On top of my frustrations about the delay in getting the bill released, the Republican party, helped by their allies in the media, peddled misleading information all day about a procedure Democrats are planning to use that would "deem" the Senate bill enacted upon passage of the reconciliation measure. Republicans decried the maneuver, even though they did it 300 times when they were in charge. The brain dead media absorbed these Republican talking points and peddled articles with headlines like, "Dems might try to pass Senate bill without vote." Both the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post talked about this normal procedure like it was an affront to democracy. The Hill, a Congressional newspaper that has been conducting vote counts all week, included an article with the headline " Dems set to proceed without actually voting on bill." I'm just so tired of these Republican-promoted lies that become mainstream in a matter of hours. The House will be voting twice on health care. They will vote for a rule that says that the Senate bill is passed if the reconciliation bill is agreed to. Then, they will vote on the reconciliation bill. It's not that complicated.

Even more amazingly, House Republicans had the chutzpah to call for "an up or down vote." Maybe they should tell that to their filibuster-happy comrades in the Senate.

I want this debate to end for a number of reasons, mostly because I want people to have health care. But I also can't wait until the lies and misinformation lose out to the forces of change.

Along with the expected release of the reconciliation bill tomorrow, we'll be closely watching a press conference from Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich has been ardent in opposition to the bill because it is not liberal enough. But he was invited on an Air Force One flight with the President the other day, and has called a press conference to announce his vote. I don't think he would be calling this conference if he was still a no. This could be a crucial vote for Democrats inching toward the magic 216.

President Obama is not resting in his active campaign for reform. Friday, the President will hold a health care rally in Fairfax, VA. It is very important for Obama to get the Democratic base enthused about this bill. Undecided Democrats in Congress need to be reminded that there are consequences for opposing the bill.

THE HOUSE: The House only did work on suspension bills today. Obviously, the real action is off the floor. It will be more of the same tomorrow.

THE SENATE: The Senate today resumed consideration of a bill to authorize FAA programs. They are currently in the middle of a series of amendment votes. So far, the Senate rejected a DeMint (R-SC) proposal to put a one year moratorium on earmarks by a vote of 68-29. The Senate did approve by a vote of 87-11 a Feingold (D-WI) amendment to rescind unused funds that were previously appropriated to the FAA. No word yet on the vote breakdown, but you can get all the information you need right here.

The Senate will vote tomorrow on final passage of the jobs bill, and they will continue to work on the FAA measure.

That's it for now, stay tuned as this crucial week continues.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/15/10-The Waiting Game

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Health care judgment week continues. Let's get right to it.

HEALTH CARE: Today, House Democrats took the first procedural step necessary to ensure health reform's passage by the end of the week. The House Budget Committee, led by Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) held a hearing to vote on a reconciliation bill to send to the House Rules Committee. The bill they were voting on is not the actual reconciliation bill that will come before the House (we explained this morning). Nonetheless, the vote on the committee today gave us some indication that Democrats are ready to move forward. The committee voted 21-16 to move the bill forward. Of course, all Republicans voted no. Two Democrats, Reps. Boyd (FL) and Edwards (TX) voted no as well. Every other Democrat on the committee supported it, which is a good sign. Among the supporters were Reps. Berry (AR) and Kaptur (OH), two pro-life members who were wavering about whether to support a bill without the Stupak anti-abortion language. If this vote is an indication, it looks like they are willing to move forward. No amendments are allowed to reconciliation bills in committee, but Republicans are currently wasting time by proposing "motions to instruct" the Rules Committee. These are non-binding motions instructing the Rules Committee to do things like "stop the government takeover of health care" and "allow people to not lose the coverage they currently have." In other words, Republicans are using this hearing to make political statements.

The reconciliation bill full of fixes to the Senate bill should finally be released tomorrow. The Congressional Budget Office has been dithering a bit on a cost estimate, much to the frustration of House Democrats, who want to see the bill before indicating how they will vote. Once that language is released, the bill will go the Rules Committee. It looks like the Rules Committee is leaning towards considering the bill under a self-executing rule. In other words, the rule will stipulate that if the House passes the reconciliation bill, the Senate bill will be deemed passed as well.

Once the Rules Committee finishes its work, the bill will come to the floor. I'm still thinking that should be Saturday. There aren't any significant updates on where the swing voters stand. I expect we'll get a better indication in the next couple of days. I hope members aren't swayed by the throng of tea-party protesters that are supposed to arrive tomorrow. That might be a real pain in the neck, because they know how to get a lot of media attention.

Meanwhile, the President continued his very strong effort to sway public opinion. At an appearance in Strongsville, OH, the President implored Congress to show courage and get the job done. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who is inexplicably opposing the bill because he doesn't think it is liberal enough, was present at the rally. When the President pointed out Kucinich, someone in the crowd yelled out "vote yes!" President Obama told the person to repeat that message directly to the Congressman. I wonder if Rep. Kucinich can be persuaded that killing the most sweeping progressive bill in a generation is actually not good for progressivism.

THE SENATE: The Senate voted 61-30 tonight to end debate on that $15 billion jobs measure. As we said this morning, this is the measure mostly made up of tax credits for businesses that hire new workers. It also contains increased highway funding and grants to states for infrastructure projects. The Senate approved the bill few weeks ago, but the House has since amended the measure. According to an agreement between the party leaders, a vote on final passage of the bill will occur on Wednesday morning. President Obama will likely sign the bill into law by the end of the week. It will hopefully be a legislative appetizer for health reform.

Every Democrat besides Ben Nelson (NE) voted to cut off debate on the bill, as did Republicans Brown (MA) (ha!), Burr (NC), Collins (ME), Inhofe (OK) and Snowe (ME).

The Senate will continue work on an FAA authorization bill tomorrow.

That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow! It's an exciting week, isn't it?

The Weekly Strike-3/15-3/21

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Woo boy, it's going to be a heck of a week. We might, just might, have health care reform by the end of your week. Hold on to your hats, but don't hold your breath.

HEALTH CARE: This it it. Maybe. House Democrats are going to try and pass the Senate health care bill with a separate package of fixes by the end of the week. On Sunday, it's possible that we will have achieved a historic victory, and it's also possible that we'll be wanting to punch ourselves in the face. Have I raised the stakes enough?

The procedural dance about to be performed is interesting to me, so I'll go through it. But the bottom line is that Democrats need to line up 216 votes this week. Right now, I would guess they are a bit short, with many members still undecided. None of the 37 Democrats who voted no on the original health care bill are willing to admit that they'll vote yes this time around, but I do expect some of them to switch over at the last minute.At this point, I have absolutely zero tolerance for any Democratic member, from the left or right, who doesn't support this bill. It's not perfect, but it would be a monumental achievement. 31 million more Americans would be covered, we would create a system of near-universal coverage, we would reduce the deficit and we would bring down costs in the long run. Any member who votes against this bill not only bears the responsibility of killing the biggest Democratic priority of the past half century, they also will bear the burden of the lives lost as a result of this bill not passing.

So here's how it will go down this week. When referring to the reconciliation bill, I'm talking about the package of "fixes" to the Senate bill.

Today, the House Budget Committee will meet to "mark up" the reconciliation bill. This is basically a purely procedural step. All reconciliation bills must go through the budget committees. The bill they're marking up won't even be the actual bill, strangely enough. All reconciliation bills must be reported by October 15th. Obviously, this package has only been drafted in the past week or so. Therefore, they are using a former discarded House health care bill as a "shell" that they will amend with the new package. Got it?

After the bill goes through the budget committee, it will head to its most crucial destination: the vaunted House Rules Committee. Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) will decide the terms of debate for the bill. The leadership is considering many options. The most obvious option would be to hold separate votes on the Senate bill and the reconciliation bill. Some members, however, don't want to vote directly on the Senate bill, because they don't want to be on record supporting some of its most popular elements. Democrats are considering a rule that would deem the Senate bill passed if the reconciliation bill passed. I'm not sure what the difference is, really. You think the average voter really pays attention to this stuff? They want to know: did my Rep. vote for health care or not? Everything else doesn't matter. The Rules Committee will also be the last chance to make changes to the bill. Democrats are expected to insert an unrelated student loan measure into the reconciliation package.

By Friday or Saturday, the bill will come to the House floor in some form. I'm pretty certain that once the bill is on the floor, members will not have a chance to amend it. A final vote would occur sometime Saturday most likely. The Senate bill would go directly to the President for his signature. The reconciliation package will go to the Senate, where they will begin an arduous debate as soon as possible. Debate on reconciliation is limited in the Senate, meaning that the bill does not need 60 votes to cut off debate. Republicans are expected to slow down the process by offering a myriad of amendments. Yet another reason why their talk about Democrats abusing the legislative process is extremely misguided.

So here we are. This will be a monumental week for Speaker Pelosi and President Obama. Are their arm twisting skills, their combination of threats and incentives, and their powers of political persuasion strong enough? I sure hope so. The President will be taking a very active role in the health care debate in the coming week. Today, he will hold a rally for reform in Strongsville, OH. He has also pushed back a trip to Asia to make sure health reform passes. He's putting a lot on the line for this, with good reason.

THE SENATE: As if this week wasn't busy enough, the Senate will have its hands full with all different sorts of things. This morning, Senator Dodd (D-CT) is expected to release his version of a financial regulation bill. Bipartisan talks with Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) broke down last week, so Dodd is determined to move on his own. The bill does not contain an independent consumer protection agency like the House bill does. Instead, if gives the Federal Reserve a broader role in consumer protection. This is a disappointment for liberals, but probably not enough of a disappointment for them to oppose the bill. Dodd will begin hearings on his bill in the next couple of weeks. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) wants to get the bill done by Memorial Day.

The Senate this afternoon will vote to cut off debate on the final version of that $15 billion jobs bill, made up mostly of tax cuts for companies that hire new workers. The bill passed the Senate a few weeks back, but has since been amended by the House. I think the bill should be in the President's hand shortly. It will be a minor legislative accomplishment that probably won't lead to many jobs, but at least it's something. The Senate will then move to back to a bill authorizing programs for the Federal Aviation Administration.

THE HOUSE: Prior to the big health care showdown at the end of the week, the House will mostly be dealing with suspension bills. It is also possible that the House considers the Senate-passed bill of various tax-extenders and an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits.

That's it for now, we'll be back tonight. It's going to be a long week.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/11/10-What I Learned from the Gallup Poll

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. This will be our last entry until Monday morning, so it better be good.

GALLUP POLL: Gallup recently polled 1,108 Americans on the health care bill. A small plurality opposed the bill. But what was most interesting is that Gallup asked people why they supported or why they opposed the bill. The answers for those opposed to the bill were particularly illuminating. The most common reason people gave is "cost" or "it costs too much" or "it will bankrupt us." This is verifiably false. Every estimate by the Congressional Budget Office has shown that the bill will reduce the deficit, and reduce it significantly in the out years. I think people's instinct is to think that since this is a bill that gives more people insurance, we must be spending a ton of money. It has also, of course, been a hallmark of this past year's Republican talking points.

The second biggest source of opposition was from people who repeated GOP buzzwords like socialism and government-takeover. This means that a majority of the opposition to this bill, by the way, comes from beliefs that are verifiably false or from the blind regurgitation of political slogans. It's very frustrating, isn't it?

Another major source of opposition was from people who are simply ideologically opposed to giving other people health insurance. A shocking number of respondents said things like "I don't want my money to pay for other people's health care" or "people should have to work if they want health care." It's pretty depressing that this many people exist in this country.

Sometimes the media just makes up storylines about why people oppose the bill. Oftentimes in doing so, they create narratives that don't really exist. Almost nobody talked about the reconciliation process, and very few of them talked about abortion. It is very interesting to see what people are actually thinking, rather than what the media thinks they're thinking.

HEALTH CARE: The CBO today released a revise estimate of the Senate health bill today. It said that the bill will cover 31 million additional Americans and cut the deficit by $118 billion. Those are really the only statistics that matter right now. It makes Democratic opposition to the bill seem pretty darn irrational.

Tomorrow, the CBO will release an estimate of President Obama's proposed changes to the bill, which will be taken up in a reconciliation package. The House Budget Committee has scheduled a hearing to markup the reconciliation bill on Monday. This could set up a vote on both the Senate bill and the reconciliation bill by the end of the week. A few major issues are hampering the process.

For one, the Democrats still need to come up with 216 votes. According to The Hill, 25 Democrats have already indicated that they are definite no's or leaning no. Democrats can only afford to lose 37 members of their caucus, since no Republicans are expected to oppose the bill. Even liberal Democrats like Rep. Capuano (D-MA) have to be jerks and announce that they are "undecided." It's just hard to figure out how Nancy Pelosi will pull this off.

Secondly, the Senate parliamentarian claimed today that the President must sign the Senate bill before Congress can consider the reconciliation package of fixes. This is problematic, because House Democrats don't want to vote for some of the more unpopular provisions in the Senate bill without 100% assurance that they will be removed. Democrats had been planning to use a self-executing rule that would state that if the reconciliation bill passed, the Senate bill would automatically pass as well. This way, House members would never have to vote directly on the Senate bill. The parliamentarian's ruling puts this process in question. We'll give you an update on the health care situation on Monday. At the very least, the wheels are in motion. If your member of Congress is undecided, now would be a great time to give them a call.

THE HOUSE: The House spent the day condemning people, basically. First. the House voted unanimously to approve four articles of impeachment on G. Thomas Porteous, a District Court Judge in Louisiana who has been accused of a number of corruption charges. It looks like a lock that the Senate will convict him and throw him out of office. The House also voted to start an investigation into Rep. Eric Massa's departure from Congress. Republican leaders wanted to know whether Democrats like Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi had previous knowledge of Massa's creepy behavior. House Democrats were happy to oblige. A resolution to send the matter to the ethics committee was approved 402-1 with 15 members voting "present." The House will take up the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009. No idea what that means.

THE SENATE: The Senate spent the day considering a bill to authorize FAA programs. They took no votes, and won't resume consideration of the bill until Monday.

That's it for now. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/10/10-A Last Impassioned Appeal

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It was a busy Wednesday in politics, so let's get to it.

HEALTH CARE: The President continues to delve head first into the fight over health care reform. Today, he held a rally St. Louis, MO where he said boldly that "the time for talk is over. It's time to vote." That's a lot more unequivocal than he's been in the past. He called the Republicans out for not doing anything about health care for the last 10 years when they were in charge, and he said that for Republicans it's "never the right time." It seems that the President Obama is trying to energize his base, which is very smart. House Democrats are facing a lot of pressure right now, and it is very important that some of that pressure come from the left.

On the Hill, the big news today is that the CBO will release a cost estimate for the revised health care package. This estimate will include the Senate bill, and the reconciliation bill full of proposed fixes. We may start to hear some more firm positions from House Democrats once the CBO releases its cost estimate.

Meanwhile, the Senate GOP is trying to scare House Democrats into not supporting the Senate version of the health bill. They say that House Democrats should not trust the Senate to enact the package of fixes through reconciliation. Republicans insist that they will be able to strip the reconciliation bill of non-budget related provisions. Isn't it fascinating that suddenly Senate Republicans care about the political well-being of House Democrats?

The White House is still insisting on a March 18th deadline for the House to pass the bills. We'll get a better idea of whether that's doable tomorrow.

THE SENATE: The Senate today passed a bill that extends expiring tax provisions, as well as unemployment and COBRA benefits through the end of the year. The bill costs about $150 billion, but any economist will tell you that the costs of not extending these safety net programs during a recession would cost a lot more. The bill passed by a vote of 62-36. Every Democrat save for Ben Nelson (NE) voted for the bill, as did Republicans Bond (MO), Collins (ME), Murkowski (AK), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich (OH). Prior to a vote on final passage, the Senate voted 66-33 to end debate on the bill. Republicans Brown (MA), Cochran (MS), Chambliss (GA) and Isakson (GA) voted to cut off debate on the bill even though the opposed it. I wish we saw more of that in the United States Senate!

The Senate now moves on to consideration of a bill to authorize FAA programs. No word on when they'll take up that $15 billion jobs bill that the House sent back with amendments last week.

THE HOUSE: The House today voted on a bill that would require all troops to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year. House leaders promised anti-war liberals like Dennis Kucinich a chance to debate and vote on President Obama's troop escalation. I personally believe that the House leadership should not do any favors for Dennis Kucinich as long as he continues to stubbornly oppose health care.

The bill failed by a lopsided vote of 65-356. 60 of the "yes" votes were from liberal Democrats and 5 were from libertarian-leaning Republicans (including Ron Paul).

Off the floor, House Democrats unveiled a new policy that prohibits earmarks geared towards for-profit defense companies. I don't think this policy will do anything to reduce the deficit. Earmarks make up a tiny portion of federal spending. I do think this prohibition is a good for ethics. Hopefully it will stop the defense industry from buying access to Congress.

Republicans are expected to respond with a proposal to put a moratorium on earmarks altogether. It always amazes me that both parties make such hay about earmarks. They're not hurting anyone, and they're barely putting a dent in the deficit. It takes a lot of time away from focusing on actual problems.

That's it for today. We'll keep you up-to-date on health care tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/9/10-The Extenders

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We're entering another "final" crunch in health care reform. It should make things exciting here for awhile.

HEALTH CARE: All eyes are on whether House Democrats can muster 216 votes to pass the Senate health care bill and a separate package of fixes through reconciliation. There weren't too many developments today. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) threw a bit of cold water on the White House's imposed March 18th deadline for finishing the bill. Hoyer said that he would try to meet that deadline, but he wasn't certain it could happen.

On the procedural front, it looks like Democrats have a couple of neat ideas up their sleeve. The House is looking into adopting a "self-executing" rule that would govern debate on the health bill. Basically, the rule would include a provision that says that if the House passes the reconciliation bill, it also passes the Senate version of the bill. This way, vulnerable House members would not have to vote directly for the Senate bill, with its controversial provisions. Democrats also might attach an unrelated bill that would reform the student loan industry to the package of health care fixes. The rules stipulate that Congress can only pass one reconciliation bill per year. The student aid bill passed the House back in September, but the bill's fate became doomed in the Senate, where many Senators are beholden to creditors based in their home states. By attaching the loan bill to the health care fixes, it could pass with 50 votes in the United States Senate. Republicans might make a fuss, but Democrats would be smart to realize that people care more about tangible accomplishments (and the student loan bill is a huge one) than legislative wrangling.

One other thing I wanted to mention: many websites are doing "whip counts" to see where House members stand on the health care bill. I'm not quite sure I trust these counts. As Ezra Klein has pointed out, and it's a very important point, members express objections and threaten to vote against bills in order to exact maximum concessions from their leadership. This doesn't necessarily mean they oppose the bill. It does, unfortunately, make the bill much more unpopular when potential supporters attack it all the time.

THE SENATE: The Senate today voted to move forward on a bill that extends various expiring tax provisions, and includes an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits through the end of the year. The Senate is poised to pass the bill tomorrow afternoon and send it over to the House. This bill is extremely important to make sure that those stung by the recession have money to spend. It will not only save them from suffering, but it will also have a multiplier effect when they become consumers.

A vote to cut off debate on the bill passed 66-34. Every Democrats except for Ben Nelson (NE) voted to move the bill forward, as did Republicans Brown (MA), Chambliss (GA), Cochran (MS), Collins (ME), Isakson (GA), Murkowski (AK), Snowe (ME), and Voinovich (OH). I guess Scott Brown is once again breaking from the conservative activists who helped elect him.

The Senate voted on a few amendments to the bill as well. The first amendment, offered by Senator Coburn (R-OK) would require Congress to post all spending online that violates PAYGO budgeting rules. The amendment was agreed to by a unanimous vote of 100-0.

The next amendment, offered by Senator Murray (D-WA) would have expanded funding for summer employment programs. This seems like a no-brainer during a recession, but apparently 45 Senators didn't think so, and thus, the amendment failed. Senators objected to the amendment because it was not paid for. If they had any brains, they would know that summer employment for students will pay off in the long-run. Every Republican opposed the amendment, as did Democrats McCaskill (MO), Nelson (NE), Warner (VA) and Webb (VA).

That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/8/10-On the Road Again

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Make sure you read the entry below to get caught up on the week in politics.

HEALTH CARE: President Obama took his health care pitch to supporters at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania. We've seen the President give many speeches on health care, but none of them were quite as direct as this one. Once again, President Obama called on Congress to get the job done, and that reform is "within our grasp." He blasted the Washington media for being so focused on the "sport of politics" and feeding misinformation on the health care legislation. He also framed his bill as a proposal that includes the best ideas of both parties. This claim seems unlikely, though it is 100% true. The excise tax was based on John McCain's proposal to help do away with the employer-based system. The individual mandate was first implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney. I think the President hasn't always talked enough about how the bill is actually a very moderate proposal. The public needs to understand that Republicans oppose the bill not because it's left-wing bill, but for strictly political purposes.

The speech may not have changed any minds in Congress, but it can help get a drumbeat of momentum going that might help push the bill over the finish line.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF ERIC MASSA: Congressman Eric Massa was elected in November 2008, and immediately he was in the good graces of myself and The Big Picture. We loved that he was a former Navy Seal who staunchly opposed the Iraq War. He also was an ardent supporter of single-payer health care who in a conservative upstate district.

Boy, were we wrong. Massa has completely gone off the deep end. In the past week, he announced his retirement because of health issues, he admitted to improper conduct with some of his staffers, and he resigned his seat because of the investigation into this conduct. The charges against Massa are just plain weird. Massa admitted to being drunk at a wedding party and making inappropriate sexual references to one of his staffers. I highly recommend you read the dirty details. Speaking of dirty details, THIS is weird.

Now Massa is claiming that the ethics investigation has been orchestrated by the House leadership and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in retaliation of Massa's "nay" vote on health care legislation. Massa has absolutely no proof to substantiate these charges, but that hasn't stopped the right-wing to go crazy over these allegations. To top it off, Massa has agreed to be on Glenn Beck's show tomorrow night. This should be very interesting.

Massa officially resigned his seat tonight, leaving the whole number of members in the House at 431. There are currently 253 Democrats and 178 Republicans. Democrats will need to muster 216 votes to pass health care legislation. We'll have more on the vote count in the House later.

No action in Congress today, they return tomorrow. We will see you then!

The Weekly Strike-3/8-3/14

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. The weather is beautiful on the East Coast, Spring is in the air, and there is at least some small reason to be hopeful in the world of politics.

HEALTH CARE: There are new signs of hope in the ongoing health care saga, though I've learned over the past year never to get my hopes up too much. In the Senate, it appears as if Harry Reid (D-NV) has locked down the 50 votes needed to pass a package of fixes to the main health care bill via reconciliation. Even moderate rascals like Senators Nelson (NE) and Landrieu (LA) don't seem too opposed to the reconciliation idea. Amazingly, Harry Reid may actually have some votes to spare when this is all said and done. Senate Democrats need to produce a piece of paper signed by 50 Democrats that they will support the reconciliation bill. If they do that, nervous House members will know that their difficult votes in the coming weeks won't go to waste.

Over in the House, there are some signs that some of the Democrats who voted no on the original health bill may cross over to the yes side. The biggest block of potential switchers are the 5 or 6 previous "no" votes who have since announced their retirements. With nothing to lose this election season, they may be willing to do the right thing. A couple of other moderate Democrats that voted no on the original bill, like Reps. Boccieri (OH) and Altmire (PA), seemed to indicate over the weekend that they would be willing to support the Senate bill as long as it comes with the package of fixes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will need to pick up some previous "no" votes to push the bill over the finish line. Since the vote in November, 2 yes votes have resigned, and another passed away. Other members who previously voted yes may switch their votes to "no" if there isn't strict anti-abortion language in the bill.

The President will be doing his part this week to move the ball forward. Today, he will hold a rally in a suburb outside Pennsylvania, where he will reignite his sales pitch. He has a powerful new argument to make today. Investment firm Goldman Sachs has recently been seen encouraging investors to buy stock in health insurance companies because prices are skyrocketing and competition is decreasing. This seems like a pretty powerful argument for comprehensive reform, though it might ring hollow coming from an administration full of former Goldman Sachs brass. Later this week, he will be traveling to St. Louis, MO to give a similar speech.

This effort is all geared towards securing passage of health reform, at least in the House, by March 18th. To do this, Democrats will need a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office this week, which in turn means that they will have to find some general consensus among 216 members in the next few days. We'll keep you posted.

THE HOUSE: The House this week has a relatively light schedule. Tomorrow and Wednesday, the House will take up a series of suspension bills. On Thursday, the House will take up a measure offered by Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) that would require all troops to be removed from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The bill has no chance of passing, but the Democratic leadership wants to give anti-war members a chance to voice their concerns with President Obama's war strategy. My guess is that a loose coalition of about 100 Democrats and 10 or so Republicans vote for the measure.

The House will also vote on an impeachment resolution on G. Thomas Porteous, an Alabama District Judge who has been accused of high crimes and misdemeanors as a result of corruption charges.

THE SENATE: The Senate this week will be attempting to take action on two pieces of the so-called jobs agenda. By Tuesday, the Senate should pass a bill that extends unemployment benefits, COBRA benefits and various expiring tax provisions through the end of this year. Despite some Republican opposition, I don't think the bill should have any trouble passing. It might have trouble passing promptly if Republicans decide to pursue more reckless procedural delays.

The Senate is also expected to give final approval to the first jobs bill, the $15 billion package that passed the House last week. This bill originated in the Senate, but since the House made some changes to it last week (more money for summer jobs programs and some spending offsets), the Senate will have to take up the revised version. I expect them to do so by week's end.

That's it for now. We'll see you this evening! Please leave comments!