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!

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