Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/3/10-The Good, the Ugly and the Very Ugly

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The best thing I can say to sum up the day is: thank God you are not a Democratic member of Congress from New York.

THE GOOD: President Obama today made official his plans to finish health reform in the next couple of weeks. Telling the nation that we've been through a year-long debate, and that it's time to get the job done, the President asked Congress to get a health care package to him by the Easter recess later this month. He made clear that he's not sure whether this will be politically beneficial to him or his party, but that it was the right thing to do. It was certainly the most direct he's been with the American public about the specific steps needed to get health reform done.

It will be a tall order to fulfill this goal, especially in the House. The House bill passed in November with 220 votes. Several of those "yes" votes will be "no" votes unless the abortion language in the bill mirrors the Stupak language in the original House bill. Furthermore, many House Democrats, including both those who voted yes and those who voted no, have become convinced that supporting a health care bill now would be politically perilous. As The Big Picture says, there would be nothing more insane than if "after Obama says he's not baking down, House Democrats think they're better off if he suffers a humiliating defeat, which would mean Democrats spent all their time with nothing to show for it. It would be just so stupid."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that the House will take up the Senate health bill as soon as his caucus gets assurances from 51 Senate Democrats that they will pass a series of fixes to the bill via reconciliation. This is creating a bit of a game of chicken between the House and the Senate. At this point though, because Democrats clearly have the 51 votes to proceed with reconciliation in the Senate, the real slog will be getting 216 Democrats on board in the House. Let the arm twisting begin.

THE UGLY: It was bound to happen sooner or later. After years of facing numerous ethics charges, New York Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel has given up his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. The chairman of the tax-writing committee apparently had a lot of trouble filling out an honest tax return. His ethics violations are so numerous that I don't even know what the straw was that broke the camel's back. Either way, it was long past time for this corrupt lawmaker to get out of the way. Rangel will be replaced (temporarily, at least) by California Rep. Pete Stark, a hardcore liberal who has never been shy about attacking the Republican party. It is possible that I might try and watch every Ways and Means Committee hearing this year.

THE VERY UGLY: Freshman Democratic Rep. Eric Massa (NY) announced that he will not seek reelection today. Massa has had a recurrence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and appeared to indicate on a conference call today that his illness might become life-limiting. However, the real reason Massa is retiring might be that he has been accused of making unwanted sexual advances on a young male staffer. The House Ethics Committee is currently investigating the matter. Massa sort of denied these charges by saying that he was only guilty of using "salty language" in private. Massa's upstate New York seat is very competitive, and it might lean Republican in this cycle of the guy Massa beat, former Rep. Randy Kuhl, tries to get his old seat back.

THE HOUSE: The House passed a bill today that would prevent harmful restraint and seclusion of children in public schools. This bill, which would seem like a no-brainer to most of us, only passed by a vote of 262-153. 145 Republicans and 8 Democrats voted against this bill, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. I guess it's controversial these days for the Federal government to set out minimum standards that protect against school personnel keeping students under restraint.

The House agreed to a Flake (R-AZ) amendment to the bill that would ensure that any grants issued under the legislation were done so using competitive, merit-based procedures. Sounds fair enough to me.

The House tomorrow will take up the Senate-passed jobs measure after a week of delay. It appears that the Democrats will have enough votes to clear the $15 billion bill and send it to President Obama for his signature.

THE SENATE: The Senate was finally able to break Senator Bunning's (R-KY) filibuster of a bill to temporarily extend various expiring tax provisions, as well as unemployment and COBRA benefits. The Senate is now working on a bill that will extend these expiring provisions even further. The Senate voted on seven amendments to this bill, but has not yet voted on final passage. Your loyal blogger is too tired to run down these amendments tonight. If you want to see a list, you can click here. We'll cover a vote on final passage tomorrow night.

That's it for now. Leave comments!

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