Monday, March 15, 2010

The Weekly Strike-3/15-3/21

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Woo boy, it's going to be a heck of a week. We might, just might, have health care reform by the end of your week. Hold on to your hats, but don't hold your breath.

HEALTH CARE: This it it. Maybe. House Democrats are going to try and pass the Senate health care bill with a separate package of fixes by the end of the week. On Sunday, it's possible that we will have achieved a historic victory, and it's also possible that we'll be wanting to punch ourselves in the face. Have I raised the stakes enough?

The procedural dance about to be performed is interesting to me, so I'll go through it. But the bottom line is that Democrats need to line up 216 votes this week. Right now, I would guess they are a bit short, with many members still undecided. None of the 37 Democrats who voted no on the original health care bill are willing to admit that they'll vote yes this time around, but I do expect some of them to switch over at the last minute.At this point, I have absolutely zero tolerance for any Democratic member, from the left or right, who doesn't support this bill. It's not perfect, but it would be a monumental achievement. 31 million more Americans would be covered, we would create a system of near-universal coverage, we would reduce the deficit and we would bring down costs in the long run. Any member who votes against this bill not only bears the responsibility of killing the biggest Democratic priority of the past half century, they also will bear the burden of the lives lost as a result of this bill not passing.

So here's how it will go down this week. When referring to the reconciliation bill, I'm talking about the package of "fixes" to the Senate bill.

Today, the House Budget Committee will meet to "mark up" the reconciliation bill. This is basically a purely procedural step. All reconciliation bills must go through the budget committees. The bill they're marking up won't even be the actual bill, strangely enough. All reconciliation bills must be reported by October 15th. Obviously, this package has only been drafted in the past week or so. Therefore, they are using a former discarded House health care bill as a "shell" that they will amend with the new package. Got it?

After the bill goes through the budget committee, it will head to its most crucial destination: the vaunted House Rules Committee. Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) will decide the terms of debate for the bill. The leadership is considering many options. The most obvious option would be to hold separate votes on the Senate bill and the reconciliation bill. Some members, however, don't want to vote directly on the Senate bill, because they don't want to be on record supporting some of its most popular elements. Democrats are considering a rule that would deem the Senate bill passed if the reconciliation bill passed. I'm not sure what the difference is, really. You think the average voter really pays attention to this stuff? They want to know: did my Rep. vote for health care or not? Everything else doesn't matter. The Rules Committee will also be the last chance to make changes to the bill. Democrats are expected to insert an unrelated student loan measure into the reconciliation package.

By Friday or Saturday, the bill will come to the House floor in some form. I'm pretty certain that once the bill is on the floor, members will not have a chance to amend it. A final vote would occur sometime Saturday most likely. The Senate bill would go directly to the President for his signature. The reconciliation package will go to the Senate, where they will begin an arduous debate as soon as possible. Debate on reconciliation is limited in the Senate, meaning that the bill does not need 60 votes to cut off debate. Republicans are expected to slow down the process by offering a myriad of amendments. Yet another reason why their talk about Democrats abusing the legislative process is extremely misguided.

So here we are. This will be a monumental week for Speaker Pelosi and President Obama. Are their arm twisting skills, their combination of threats and incentives, and their powers of political persuasion strong enough? I sure hope so. The President will be taking a very active role in the health care debate in the coming week. Today, he will hold a rally for reform in Strongsville, OH. He has also pushed back a trip to Asia to make sure health reform passes. He's putting a lot on the line for this, with good reason.

THE SENATE: As if this week wasn't busy enough, the Senate will have its hands full with all different sorts of things. This morning, Senator Dodd (D-CT) is expected to release his version of a financial regulation bill. Bipartisan talks with Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) broke down last week, so Dodd is determined to move on his own. The bill does not contain an independent consumer protection agency like the House bill does. Instead, if gives the Federal Reserve a broader role in consumer protection. This is a disappointment for liberals, but probably not enough of a disappointment for them to oppose the bill. Dodd will begin hearings on his bill in the next couple of weeks. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) wants to get the bill done by Memorial Day.

The Senate this afternoon will vote to cut off debate on the final version of that $15 billion jobs bill, made up mostly of tax cuts for companies that hire new workers. The bill passed the Senate a few weeks back, but has since been amended by the House. I think the bill should be in the President's hand shortly. It will be a minor legislative accomplishment that probably won't lead to many jobs, but at least it's something. The Senate will then move to back to a bill authorizing programs for the Federal Aviation Administration.

THE HOUSE: Prior to the big health care showdown at the end of the week, the House will mostly be dealing with suspension bills. It is also possible that the House considers the Senate-passed bill of various tax-extenders and an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits.

That's it for now, we'll be back tonight. It's going to be a long week.

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