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!

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