Monday, March 1, 2010

The Weekly Strike-3/1-3/7

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Please excuse my negligence on Friday night. I had just ended a long car trip. What did I miss?

-The Senate is being held hostage by a one Jim Bunning (R-KY). Democrats tried to pass an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits by unanimous consent, but Bunning repeatedly objected. Inexplicably, Democrats basically gave up their fight midday, and thus, unemployment benefits will expire for millions of Americans this morning. Democrats will be forced to go through the arduous process of breaking cloture and scheduling a vote on the bill, which will hopefully happen by the end of the week.

-The House passed a bill authorizing intelligence programs by a vote of 235-168. Democrats tried to sneak in a provision that would allow for the prosecution of torture, but they were forced to remove it when confronted by lawmakers of both parties, and unfortunately, the White House. 9 liberal Democrats voted against the bill, along with all but one House Republican. Apparently, there wasn't enough pro-torture stuff in there.

Now, we return to the present.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President's week begins this morning with a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Conference about education. The speech relates to the " America's Promise Alliance" founded by Colin and Alma Powell. The President spends the rest of the day meeting with various cabinet secretaries.

On Wednesday, the President will announce his proposed way forward on health care reform. If I were a betting man, I would guess that he would endorse the idea of the House passing the Senate bill, followed by a package of fixes to be passed via reconciliation. Democrats face challenges mustering up votes for this proposal in both chambers, though for once the effort in the House seems a bit tougher. In the Senate, since the package of fixes will be a reconciliation bill, Democrats can afford to lose 9 of their own members if Vice President Biden breaks a tie. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has to cope with a large portion of her caucus that is nervous about reelection prospects, and that for some reason thinks voting against health care will save their political careers. The original House bill passed 220-215. Since that time, three House members have retired (2 Democrats and 1 Republican, which we'll discuss below), and John Murtha passed away. Therefore, Pelosi needs 216 votes to round up a majority. We'll be closely following the Speaker's efforts to whip her members.

THE HOUSE: Speaking of the House, they have a pretty busy week on tap. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the House will vote on a series of suspension bills. On Thursday, the House will consider a bill to "prevent and reduce the use of physical restraint and seclusion in schools, and for other purposes." The bill would impose minimum federal standards to protect public school children from being physically restrained or put in seclusion by school personnel. Sounds like a good idea to me. There is an exception written into the bill if there is a situation that presents an imminent danger. I imagine this would be a Columbine-like incident that would necessitate students being quarantined in classrooms.

The House is also likely to pass the Senate's modest $15 billion jobs bill. Liberal Democrats have threatened to withhold their support because they don't think the bill is big enough. I agree that the bill isn't big enough, but they must pass this bill to get the jobs agenda rolling. The bill passed the Senate last week with strong bipartisan support.

THE SENATE: The Senate will begin consideration of a package of tax-break extenders that will include the aforementioned extensions of unemployment and COBRA benefits. No votes are scheduled on the bill, but I expect something to be passed by midweek. The House would probably approve these extensions late Thursday and send the bill to the President.

The Senate does have a vote scheduled tomorrow on the nomination of Barbara Keenan to be a U.S. Circuit Court Judge. I don't know anything about her, which leads me to believe that her nomination shouldn't be terribly controversial.

ELECTION UPDATES: As we hinted above, another member of Congress is stepping down in the middle of his term. Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) is retiring this week to focus on his run for Governor. Democratic Reps. Abercrombie (HI) and Wexler (FL) have already stepped down to pursue other ventures. With John Murtha's death, that leaves four vacancies in the House that must be filled through a special election. I expect the only competitive race would be for Murtha's seat, a swing district in Pennsylvania.

Also over the weekend, another Republican announced his retirement. This time, it was John Linder (GA). Overall, 20 Republicans are retiring, as opposed to just 15 Democrats. This seems pretty counter-intuitive given the dire predictions for Democrats this fall.

On the Senate side, this morning Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter announced that he will challenge incumbent Blanche Lincoln in the primary. This is great news for Washington Democrats. So far, Lincoln has only been challenged on the far-right. She has been forced to take more conservative positions on issues. Now she'll be getting pressure from both the left and the right. I currently rate Lincoln's prospects for reelection very low. (See rankings on the right side of your screen).

That's it for this morning. Please leave us some comments!

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