Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Daily Strike-3/4/10-Legislative Wrangling

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It was another one of those busy Thursdays on Capital Hill, so let's get right to it.

THE HOUSE: We start today in the House, where members voted on a $15 billion jobs measure. Contrary to what we reported last night, the House did not agree to the Senate bill verbatim. Instead, the House sent the bill back to the Senate with a couple of minor changes. To appease liberals who said that the bill didn't go far enough, the leadership added money for a summer youth employment program. This was a small, but significant, provision won by progressives. Right-wing Blue Dog Democrats didn't like that the bill wasn't paid for. To appease them, Democratic leaders made some tweaks to existing corporate tax laws that, as a result, will make the jobs bill budget neutral.

I think the House is wasting its time, quite frankly. This was supposed to be a small, limited bill that was to get the ball rolling on a more robust jobs agenda. The bill somehow passed the Senate with large bipartisan support. The House should have rushed this bill to the President's desk as quickly as possible. Now, the Senate will have to approve the House changes. This, of course, could take up to a week considering that Senate Republicans will relish a new opportunity to obstruct Democratic progress.

Despite the changes to the bill, the House only passed the jobs measure by a close vote of 217-201. 6 Republicans supported the bill: Camp (MI), Cao (LA), Duncan (TN), Ehlers (MI), T. Murphy (PA), and Young (AK). 35 Democrats voted no. I've divided them into those that opposed the bill from the left, and those who opposed it from the right, and those who are just contrarians for the heck of it.

From the Left: Brown (FL), Clarke (NY), Clay (MO), Cleaver (MO), Conyers (MI), Davis (IL), Doggett (TX), Edwards (MD), Fudge (OH), A. Green (TX), Grijalva (AZ), Hastings (FL), Jackson (IL), Jackson Lee (TX), Johnson (GA), E.B. Johnson (TX), Kilpatrick (MI), Lee (CA), Moore (WI), Pastor (AZ), Payne (NJ), Polis (CO), Richardson (CA), Rush (IL), Thompson (MS), Towns (NY), Waters (CA) and Watt (NC)

From the Right: Driehaus (OH), Kirkpatrick (AZ), Mitchell (AZ) and Perriello (VA).

Just Because: Baird (WA), Schrader (OR), and Visclosky (IN).

THE SENATE: Not to be outdone, the Senate spent the day working on a jobs package of their own. The Senate bill would extend expiring tax breaks, unemployment beneifts and COBRA through the end of the year. It would also give aid to cash-strapped states to cover Medicaid costs. This may be the most stimulative bill that the Democrats have considered since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed last year. By extending the social safety net, and providing critical money to state governments, Congress will help keep money in consumer's pockets. That is, if the bill can survive a continuing onslaught of amendments.

The Senate voted on three critical amendments this afternoon, and each of them failed to get the 60 votes needed to super cede budget rules.

The first amendment, offered by new Massachusetts Senate Scott Brown, would redirect stimulus money towards payroll tax cuts for the middle-class. I would be supportive of this amendment if the it wasn't using stimulus money. But there's no reason to take money away from stimulative projects like infrastructure spending and gear it towards tax cuts (which are not as stimulating). The Brown amendment failed by a vote of 44-56. All Republicans voted yes, but only Democrats Kerry (MA) and Lincoln (AR) joined them. I guess Kerry is trying hard to make friends with his fellow MA Senator.

The next amendment, from Senator Burr (NC) would have the federal government reimburse state and local governments for a sales tax holiday. This would be a pretty regressive tax break, because it would unduly reward those who are already able to spend more. It also would add tremendously to the federal deficit. I'm all for supporting deficit spending during a recession, but Burr should never be allowed to complain about deficits again. The amendment failed 22-78. Only Republicans voted yes.

The final amendment, offered by Senators Sessions (AL) and McCaskill (MO) would implement a freeze on discretionary spending. Anyone who has read this blog knows that I will never be a fan of this idea. The amendment failed by a vote of 59-41. Thus, it was one vote shy of getting the 60 needed for passage. All Republicans, as you would expect, voted for this amendment. Democrats Bayh (IN), Begich (AK), Bennet (CO), Cantwell (WA), Carper (DE), Hagan (NC), Klobuchar (MN), Lieberman (CT), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (NE), Nelson (FL), Pryor (AR), Shaheen (NH), Tester (MT), Udall (CO), Warner (VA) and Webb (VA) all voted yes as well.

The Senate will resume consideration of this legislation next week.

Senators also voted 99-0 to confirm William Conley to be a District Judge in Wisconsin.

HEALTH CARE: There is not too much to update on the health care front today. Two separate groups of Democrats, one representing liberals and the other representing centrists, came to the White House today to meet with the President. After one of the sessions, Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley insisted that the House will have the votes to pass the Senate health care bill and a package of changes via reconciliation.

Once again, abortion has emerged as a sticking point. Bart Stupak, who has proved to be a one man wrecking crew for health care reform, says that he can't accept the Senate's language on abortion. Changes to the bill relating to abortion can not be passed through reconciliation, since abortion is not directly related to the budget. Stupak and the 12 other Democrats he claims will vote against the health care bill solely because of abortion will have to strike a deal with the Democratic leadership.

That's it for today. Please leave some comments!

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