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.

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