Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/29/10-Crist/Oil/Puerto Rico

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. It was a real mixed bag in politics today, and none of it involved the biggest current issue: financial regulation. The Senate will not vote on amendments to the bill until Tuesday.

CRIST: It's official. Florida Governor Charlie Crist will now run for the Senate as an independent, instead of a Republican. He was due to get his clocked cleaned in the Republican primary by Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American former State House Speaker. I'm not sure Crist's decision makes the race any more winnable for Democrat Kendrick Meek. Crist has completely alienated the Republican party. At this point, I don't think many Republicans in that state will vote for Crist. It's unclear how many true independents vote in Florida. In fact, if I were Kendrick Meek, I'd worry that Crist may eat into the Democratic vote, especially among some of the older Florida voters who may not be comfortable voting for an African American Senator.

The broader significance of Crist's decision is the continued purging of moderates in the Republican party. Crist is far more of an orthodox Republican, for example, than Ben Nelson is an orthodox Democrat. He harshly criticized the health care bill, and has generally governed as a conservative. That is not enough to be in today's Republican party. Bob Bennett, a very conservative Republican Senator from Utah, looks like he will lose his primary election next month to a challenger from the right, simply because he is somewhat moderate-tempered, and because he co-sponsored a health care bill with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. If this sort of purging brings more moderate Democrats into the fold, then I'll be thrilled. I'm more worried, however, that the Republican party, one of the two major parties in this country, will be exclusively far, far-right.

I'm changing the rating for this seat to "toss-up" until I see some additional polling. If I were a betting man, I'd bet on Marco Rubio to win the race.

OIL: I don't have much to say about the oil spill in the Gulf Coast, but I will echo the words of comedian Bill Maher, who said that, "Every asshole who ever chanted 'Drill baby drill' should have to report to the Gulf coast today for cleanup duty." This includes President Obama, who as recently as a month ago, said that no oil spills today are caused by offshore oil rigs. Offshore drilling isn't the most outrageous policy in the world to me, but the benefits of getting a little more fossil fuel that won't be available for 10 years doesn't outweigh the cost of massive environmental damage.

THE HOUSE: The House today considered a bill that gives Puerto Rico the ability to choose its future relationship with the United States. The bill would mandate an election, where the Puerto Rican people could vote up or down on whether to maintain their current arrangement with our country. If the vote succeeded, another such vote would occur in 8 years. If the vote failed, the Puerto Rican people would be able to vote to sever ties with the U.S., or apply for statehood. The bill passed, though as of press time we dont' have the final tally. The House also took up a series of amendments to the bill.

The next votes in both the House and Senate will occur on Tuesday. This is our last entry for the week. Leave us some comments, and we'll see you on Monday!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/28/10-Playing Hardball

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Today's score: Democrats 1, Republicans 0.

FINANCIAL REGULATIONS: After three days of obstruction, Republicans have caved and will now allow debate on the financial reform bill. By unanimous consent this evening, the Senate has agreed to debate the bill and amendments starting tomorrow. The Republican cave-in occurred late this afternoon. Earlier in the day, the GOP held together (with the help of Democrat Ben Nelson) to defeat another attempt at proceeding to the bill. But the Democrats didn't give in like they had so many times in the past. Democratic Senators, led by the freshman class, threatened to keep the Senate in session all night to highlight GOP obstruction.

Republicans claim that they acquiesced because they negotiated a deal with Senator Dodd (D-CT) to take out a provision they consider to be a potential "taxpayer bailout." The provision is actually a bank-financed fund that would help wind down banks that are too big to fail. Dodd has agreed to close a loophole that would prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to assist these firms. I wouldn't count this as a particularly significant concession, given that the White House and Democratic leaders had previously agreed to make the change. It seems to me that Republicans gave in due to successful public pressure from the Democrats, who clearly have the upper hand on this issue.

Debate and amendments on this key bill will begin tomorrow, and we expect it to continue possibly for several weeks.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President continued his "Main Street" tour today with stops in Missouri and Southern Illinois. His speeches today centered around an articulate defense of his Presidency, and some of his best rhetoric yet on what his overall vision is. For the first time in more than a year, he talked about not just bringing our economy back from the brink, but creating the foundation for a new, more prosperous, economy. This is the type of positive case he will have to make to voters this fall and in 2012.

I'm hopeful that the President will continue making this case to the country while his agenda struggles through Congress.

THE HOUSE: The House passed a bill today to set new rules for defense acquisition. The bill passed by a wide bipartisan margin of 417-3. The only no votes came from Republicans Broun (GA), Flake (AZ) and Paul (TX).

The bill requires the Secretary of Defense to implement ways to measure the performance of the weapons that we buy. Hopefully this can save some money from our bloated defense budget.

The House will move on the Puerto Rico Democracy Act tomorrow.

Make sure you read the first entry from The Picturette about the Arizona immigration bill. It is very, very interesting. Also, read The Big Picture's and my response to it.

The Big Picture and the Strike Discuss the Picturette's Post

(Please see the Picturette's excellent and thought-provoking post below. The Strike and the Big Picture discussed the post and the conversation took a provocative turn.)
The Strike: really gets at the personal side of the issue
but also some very good counter-conventional wisdom in there
about immigrants not committing criminals more than NORMAL americans
Th:he Big Picture: yeah getting at the broader point that immigrants, including and perhaps especially illegal immigrants, are more American than "real" Americans
now that's a campaign slogan!
but I do believe it
The Strike: i completely believe it
much more of an "american dream" story
than your average exeter-princeton-goldman sachs track
The Big Picture: or really any track
The Strike: yeah exactly
much more american than what I've ever done in my life
The Big Picture: taking huge risks, sacricificing, to give your kids a better life
working really hard, saving
Better to retire at 55, play the stock market, shoot 18 in the morning, and watch Glenn Beck in the afternoon
that's what real Americans do in Arizona!
THEY're the ones who should be stopped and questioned:
"what are YOU doing to contribute to this country?"
The Strike: that would be a great thing for michael moore to do
or that open left interviewer guy
new left i mean
first ask them if they're carrying their birth certificates
then threaten to lock them up if they don't provide justification for what they do in society
The Big Picture: All they do is collect Social Security checks, cash in on the stock market casino and put tons of pressure for quick quarterly profits to maximize the god-given rights of shareholders
tremendously terrible consequences
and then vote to cut school funding, cut any investments in our future
and try to kick out the people who are doing all the work and providing much more than they are taking out
this is just such a perfect example of who has the moral high ground and who has the low ground
The Strike: it's also just a subject that needs to see the light of day
who is ACTUALLY working hard in society, and who is ACTUALLY reaping the benefits
The Big Picture: the very idea that these jerks sit around and collect money purely because of their good fortune
then whine about how bad they have it, refuse to allow the government to help anyone else
direct their goons to kick everyone else out
even if it makes the goons (police) jobs much harder
and actually will make everyone less safe
except for those who can afford to hire private goons on top of their semi-private goon police force
THEY're the ones complaining????
The Strike: yeah i mean goddamn
compared to the immigrant who works in the field for 10 hours
in 115 degree heat
just to feed his family
The Big Picture: nobody in the world is in a cushier position in life than these Arizona retirees
someone needs to tell them to shut their goddamn mouths
and pitch in
who would be the best candidate to give such a speech?
Joe Biden's got to be number one
The Strike: someone white
yeah he'd be very goo
The Big Picture: Bill Moyers
The Strike: no one really likes bill moyers though
besides the liberal NPR crowd
The Big Picture: yeah but he grew up working-class in Texas
The Strike: he doesn't have any tough guy reputation
obviously he should
jim webb would be pretty good but he's anti-immigrant
The Big Picture: Jonny Tester
maybe the Udall cousins
would be a huge political risk
but that's what would make it meaningful
The Tester-Udall and Udall "Shut Up and Pitch In" bill
The Strike: mandatory janatorial work for all white people in arizona
The Big Picture: or at least paying some higher taxes for schools, working hard to help integrate immigrants into society, some tutoring in education, finances, health, navigating American bureaucracies
they actually have a lot to offer
and it would make these retirees a helluva lot happier as well
you feel a lot better when you're helping people and recognizing others' humanity
than when you're angry, bitter, and screaming

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Picturette: What does Arizona's new immigration law imply about our country?

(This is a post by The Picturette, who occasionally contributes to under the name Just a State School Girl)
What does Arizona's new immigration law imply about our country?

Lately, there has been quite a bit of coverage in the media about Arizona's new immigration bill. It is the toughest piece of immigration legislation in United States' recent history, and it will give the Arizona police power to detain anyone who they "reasonably" suspect is an illegal immigrant. Moreover, all non-U.S. citizens in Arizona will now be required to carry their documents at all times. As an immigrant to and a citizen of this country, this new law makes me angry and sad because I fear that it will lead to racial profiling and second-class treatment of both legal and illegal residents of this country, and it indicates that America might not be the "land of opportunity" and "the melting pot" that so many people who risk their lives to come here imagine it to be.

I truly worry about the direct implications of this law. In response to many people's criticisms of the potential for racial profiling in this law, law-makers in Arizona have tried to assure us there will be training for the police officers on how to determine whether someone is an illegal immigrant without racial profiling, and Arizona cops claim that they will not racially profile. However, I am not sure how this is really feasible. Now, I will not claim to know very much about how police officers are trained or how they do their job. But, I don't know how one can determine whether a person is an illegal immigrant or not without relying on some observable characteristics of this individual. In particular, we know that the vast majority of illegal immigrants are of Hispanic origin. So, it seems highly unlikely that police officers will demand that a white person walking down the street will present their documents to prove their legal status in this country. They will inherently have to rely on some form of racial profiling -- regardless of whether they are trained to look past race or not. And this means that a certain portion of Arizona's population will be treated in a way that is different (more accurately, worse) than the rest of the population. It's hard to imagine that Arizona cops won't occasionally make mistakes in their assessment of who is legal or not. As a result, they will treat legal residents in this country who just happen to be of the same race as the illegal residents, as second-class citizens. Given the historical significance of racism and discrimination in this country, it seems that policies that actively force police officers to make judgments that are so inherently based on race is a step backwards and detrimental to our progress.

In following the media about Arizona's law, I was heartened to see that so many people share my concerns and have been actively protesting it. But what struck me the most is the quiet, but unyielding support that exists for it. This article, in particular, documents people's opinions on both sides of the debate. Supporters of the law seem to be just tired of these immigrants "congregating on the streets", committing all these crimes (despite the fact that there is no evidence that illegal immigrants commit more crime than the rest of the population), and taking jobs from Americans (although they should probably be more worried about highly-skilled and highly-educated legal immigrants on this front, but people seem to like them more).

I won't pretend that I can speak for the plight of illegal immigrants in this country. But I can say something about the overall immigrant experience. My family and I moved to this country from Russia when I was ten years old. As far as immigrant experiences go, I would say that mine was very fortunate. My parents are highly-educated and spoke some English when we first moved here. This enabled them to quickly find well-paying jobs, and to start adjusting to their new environment. I came at a young-enough age, which allowed me to learn English quickly and to learn to speak without a clearly detectable accent. Further, my family is mostly white (although not entirely), so we have benefited from being able to "fit in" with other upper-middle-class whites in our neighborhood and in our lives. Yet my family (at least in the current generation) will always feel as though it is *not* entirely American. People will always look at my parents, who don't speak English completely fluently and have accents, as outsiders. I know that they feel like that have to work hard to prove that they are capable at their jobs, perhaps harder than some of their more "native" American counterparts. Yet, despite never feeling completely at home in America, my parents chose to uproot their entire lives, leave their friends and families behind, and come to a place that was completely foreign and new. And if you ask them why, they'll tell you that it was to obtain better opportunities for our family and for my future.

And I think that -- this firm belief that America is a place where opportunities abound and where people have a real chance to truly make something of themselves and live comfortably and happily -- is something that all immigrants (legal and illegal) share. Immigrants who are nowhere near as fortunate as my family is -- either because they are considered non-white or they have lower education or are less able to speak English -- still choose to leave their homes, and despite some serious and often life-threatening risks, come to America. Because what was offered to them in their home country was just so dismal and so poor that they had no choice but to seek something better. Because they thought that they could do something to change the fates of their own and their families' lives. And because they couldn't wait for ten or twenty years to get legal authorization to immigrate to the U.S., they had to succumb to a life of fear and second-class citizenship as illegal immigrants. I don't think that any Americans who legally reside in this country can truly imagine or understand the gravity of the decision that an illegal immigrant had to make. And we, as Americans, who supposedly believe in the ultimate American dream of success and making the most of your opportunities, instead of supporting and admiring these individuals for their bravery and determination, treat them as though they are not good enough to be amongst us.

I hope that my fears about racial profiling in this law will not come true, and that police officers will actually implement it not on the basis of race. More importantly, I hope that we act soon to show that America really is a land of opportunity for ALL, and not just for those of us who are lucky enough to be white and have easier access to legal immigration (or have benefited from simply being born here).

The Daily Strike-4/27/10-Same S#it, Different Day

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The title has two meanings, just you wait.

FINANCIAL REGULATION: The Senate today took another vote to begin debate on the financial regulation package, and again, Republicans successfully filibustered. Every Republican voted against starting debate on the bill, as did Democrat Ben Nelson, who we found out is simply holding out to win a loophole for his constituent, one Warren Buffet. I guess he didn't learn anything from that whole Cornhusker Kickback thing.

I'm not sure the Republicans will be able to sustain this obstruction. Senator Voinovich (R-OH) said this evening that he's willing to wait a few more days for a bipartisan deal, but that he won't vote to filibuster debate indefinitely. I suspect that a few other Republicans feel the same way. It appears that talks between the leaders of the Banking Committee, Senators Dodd (D-CT) and Shelby (R-AL) have just about collapsed. So the name of the game right now is continuing the public pressure on Republicans, expose their obstruction, and intimidate a couple of them into at least letting the debate begin.

One thing I'll mention is that this effort would be a lot easier if there were vulnerable Republican Senators out there. With the possible exception of Senator Burr (R-NC), no incumbent Republican is realistically going to lose this year. That makes it more difficult to exploit this obstruction in the near term.

While the debate on the floor was at a standstill, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) held hearings examining Goldman Sachs executives. He called them out for misleading investors by selling them assets that they knew were worthless. Emails surfaced in which the assets were called a "s#itty deal" by GS analysts. Levin repeated this line several times on live TV. It was a good chance for a tongue lashing of the financial industry. I highly recommend watching.

THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama is finally taking his reform pitch on the road. Today, he held a Town Hall event in Iowa. Obama told the audience that the American people "deserve an honest debate." I hope he continues this drumbeat when he makes similar appearances later in the week. At the event, he also gave a general defense of his performance in office, including the state of the economy and healthcare.

THE HOUSE: The House spent the day on suspension bills. Only one of them was remotely interesting. By a vote of 402-15, Congress voted to reject its own pay raise during the next fiscal year. I may be alone on this one, but I happen to think Congress deserves to get paid more. At least they are theoretically adding value to society by doing the people's business. I can tell you for sure that they offer far more societal value than Wall Street traders.

Every no vote came from the Democrats, with 13 of the no votes coming from the Congressional Black Caucus.

That's it for today. We'll be back tomorrow to see if Republicans have caved yet on beginning the financial reform debate.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/26/10-The Motion Fails

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Make sure you're caught up on the week in politics by reading our Weekly Strike below. And comments are pretty much required.

FINANCIAL REGULATION: Senate Democrats failed to get the 60 votes necessary to even begin debate on financial regulatory reform. To the political credit of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, every single Republican voted against debating bill, as did Democratic Senator, and Wall Street whipping boy, Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Majority Leader Reid voted no for procedural reasons, so that he can bring up the bill again when the time comes.

Republicans have won a short term victory. They think that by showing that Democrats don't have the votes to advance the bill without Republican support, the Democrats will be forced to make a series of concessions. There are a few problems with this thinking, and thus a few reasons that should give us hope. For one, Republicans haven't really articulated what they want out of the bill, just some vague desire to "start over." Soon, the public will have to see that they are obstructing this important bill for obstruction's sake. Unlike the health care bill, Wall Street regulation polls very well, so Republicans are clearly on the wrong side of public opinion. If Democrats can message this correctly, by saying that Republicans are using delay tactics to do Wall Street's bidding, they could make some major political hay out of this and still end up with a reasonably strong bill.

Negotiations will continue with Senators Dodd (D-CT) and Shelby (R-AL) to reach some sort of compromise. My preferred course of action at this point would be to forgo a major compromise, and instead politically intimidate one or two Republicans (like Snowe and Collins of Maine) to stop obstructing this bill. President Obama needs to do his part on this front. He released an appropriately blistering statement criticizing Republican obstruction and delay, but again, he needs to take this case to the American people.

I just found out that Majority Leader Reid will hold another vote to begin debate Wednesday. Stay tuned...

The House just dealt with suspension bills today, and the President's only public event was recognizing the New York Yankees at the White House, so we'll leave it there.

The Weekly Strike-4/26-5/2

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. The President's agenda seems pretty stalled in Congress, and the administration is opposing breaking up the big banks. Plus it's dreary outside. It all adds up to me in a pretty sour mood.

FINANCIAL REGULATION: The battle for financial regulation will forge on this week, starting this afternoon in the United States Senate. The Senate will take a test vote this evening to begin debate on the bill. It appears that Democrats will be unable to win over the one Republican necessary to move forward. Senate Republicans are united in sticking together to block the bill so they can extract some concessions that will inevitably make the bill worse. Democrats need Republicans to pay for this obstruction. They should not weaken the regulations, and they should relentlessly attack Republicans for standing with Wall Street. Democrats are on the winning side of this issue, and there is no reason to give in now, even in the face of uniform Republican obstruction.

For his part, President Obama doesn't seem to have any events this week pushing the bill. It is frustrating that the President isn't out there forcefully explaining what this bill does, why it's needed, and what it will do to ease the burden on middle class families (i.e. protect people's savings from the reckless traders on Wall Street).

THE SENATE: It is unclear what the Senate will move to if Financial Reform fails its test vote today, as I expect it will. Two major items on the agenda were threatened by the selfish nihilism this week of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham was the lead negotiator for Republicans on both climate legislation, as well as immigration reform. In fact, Graham was supposed to unveil his climate bill today with Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lieberman (I-CT). But Graham backed out at the last minute, saying that murmurs from the White House that they want to push immigration reform somehow threaten the work on climate change. So basically, two of our country's most pressing issues are currently on the back burner because one Republican Senator is having a temper tantrum.

The need for legislation on both of these issues is obviously great. Last Friday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed an immoral law that will allow police to pull over those they "suspect" as being illegal immigrants, and ask for identification. This measure will amount to pure racial profiling. The Obama administration rightly reacted to this bill by emphasizing the need for a comprehensive national immigration strategy. It becomes a lot harder to do this in an election year without Graham's involvement. Democrats will have to find another Republican willing to work on both of these issues. I'll try to remain confident.

THE HOUSE: While the Senate dithers on big ticket items, the House continues to pass smaller pieces of legislation. This pattern will continue this week. The House will consider suspension bills today and tomorrow. On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will consider two pieces of substantive legislation. The first is the "Puerto Rico Democracy Act." The bill gives the Puerto Rican people the option to vote on whether to maintain its current relationship with the United States. If the populous disapproves of the arrangement, they will vote whether to become fully independent of the U.S., or whether to join the U.S. as our 51st state. The bill has wide bipartisan support, and I expect it to pass relatively easily. The bill is sponsored by Puerto Rico's non-voting House member, Rep. Pedro Pierliusi.

The House will then vote on a bill that further reforms how our military acquires weapons. This legislation builds off of last year's bill that reformed the procurement process. I expect this bill to pass relatively easily as well.

That's it for now. Unless you want me to talk about today's visit to the White House by the World Series Champion New York Yankees. But that would just depress me even further...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/22/10-Too Cozy for Comfort

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. This will be our last entry until Monday morning, so you better enjoy it. Leave some comments!

FINANCIAL REGULATIONS: Majority Leader Reid today filed cloture on the motion to proceed to the Wall Street Reform bill. Basically what this means is that at 5:15pm on Monday, the Senate will vote whether to debate the bill, subject to a 60 vote threshold. Reid asked for unanimous consent that the bill be considered immediately, but Minority Leader McConnell objected, saying that he wanted to give bipartisan negotiators time to hash out a final deal.

Of course, Reid is smart enough to know what happened last year with health care, where the GOP used delay tactics at every turn to grind the process to a complete halt. Reid won't let that happen. If Republicans want to block debate on financial reform, they will be forced to do it publicly. So far, no Republican has committed to voting yes on Monday. If the vote fails, Democrats will need to find another way to pluck off a single Republican, most likely one of the Maine Senators.

Meanwhile, the President took his push for financial reform on the road to Wall Street today, and quite frankly, did not meet expectations. The Big Picture offered good commentary on his speech:

I am VERY disappointed in Obama's speech. Just look at that New York Times headline: "Don't fight us, join us". That approach makes sense in a lot of contexts, and it would make sense if he was encouraging Wall Street bankers to accept massive pay cuts or to become social workers. But what is "us", what are we working toward, if somehow hedge fund people making $100 million a year off the misery of average people are included in it? How could Wall Street as it exists join "us"? If it somehow can, then nothing is really changing.

The President needs to separate himself as much as possible from the financial industry, especially considering how much money he's taken from them. This bill should NOT be good for the industry, because if it is, it will preserve a system that caused the downfall of the economy. The President would do very well to read this fantastic article from the Wall Street Journal, which provides story of real people, average Americans, who because of intense hardship, could not pay their mortgages. Wealthy derivatives traders profited immensely by betting against these assets. This is fundamentally wrong, and I think most Americans would strongly agree that we'd need to end these dangerous financial instruments if they were explained in these terms.

I'm telling you: the more I find out about financial derivatives, the more I'm convinced that we need to do away with large swaths of the financial industry.

THE SENATE: The Senate voted on the nomination of Denny Chin to be a Judge on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. His nomination was agreed to be a unanimous 98-0 vote. I'm glad that President Obama is finally getting a chance to fill some spots on those all-important Appeals Courts.

The Senate will be out of session until Monday's aforementioned vote.

THE HOUSE: The House today voted to send the Iran Sanctions bill to a House-Senate conference. The House also approved of a "motion to instruct conferees," basically a non-binding request that negotiators get to work as soon as possible. The sanctions bill should be approved with wide bipartisan support, though they won't have too much of an impact unless China and Russia get involved.

That's it for tonight. See you Monday!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/21/10-What I Can Derive

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. This week I keep getting bombarded with more and more evidence that the financial system is fundamentally corrupt and should be done away with almost completely. Just throwing that out there. Maybe The Big Picture can elaborate further in the coming days.

FINANCIAL REGULATIONS: The Senate Agriculture Committee today passed the last key part of the overall financial regulatory overhaul today. The bill, authored by embattled Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln, sets enormously strong regulations over the sale of derivatives, the financial instruments that partially caused the collapse of the economy two years ago. Amazingly, Lincoln was able to win the vote of Republican Chuck Grassley. To this point, Democrats had not been able to make a thaw in the unified Republican opposition to the measure. Grassley quickly pointed out that his vote on the derivatives measure wasn't indicative of how he'd vote on the bill at large, but it is still a positive sign.

Republican Senators are now insisting that a deal could soon be in place that would assure bipartisan support for the bill. At this point, I'm not sure what policy concessions would be part of the deal, though I would suspect that they'd do away with the "resolution" fund we talked about yesterday. If a deal is not struck, Democrats will probably still bring the measure to the floor for a test vote to see if they could get a spare Republican vote with no major concessions. Republican Senator John Thune (SD) said that he's not sure all 41 Senators would oppose a motion to proceed to the bill, which would allow debate and amendment votes.

The President will do his part tomorrow to make a public case for the bill in downtown Manhattan. I'm sure he will address the SEC investigation of Goldman Sachs, a firm that did a bunch of really shady stuff that I still barely can understand (they basically sold assets that they knew were worthless, and bet on them being worthless to make money...right?). The President desperately needs to distance himself from the Goldman Sachs crowd to have any legitimacy on this issue. It does not help his cause that many members of his economic team are Goldman alums. Nor does it help that his former White House Counsel is now advising them.

SUPREME COURT: The President today consulted with a bipartisan group of Senators about his upcoming choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. According to attendees, the President didn't mention any candidates by name, though he did say he was in contact with the main contenders. A White House staffer said that President Obama won't be afraid to make a bold choice, knowing that the GOP will oppose the nominee no matter who it is. My first choice would be Appeals Court Judge Diane Wood, a liberal intellectual heavyweight, and experienced jurist, who could be a major force of opposition to the conservative wing of the court.

THE SENATE: The Senate spent the day on various nominees as Democrats are successfully moving through more and more Presidential appointments. The Senate today confirmed the nomination of Christopher Schroeder to be an Assistant Attorney General by a vote of 72-24. The Senate also confirmed Thomas Vanaskie to be a Judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals by a wide bipartisan vote of 77-20. In each case, all the opposition is from Republicans.

It is notable that these nominations are not particularly controversial, but they have still been held up for months because of horrendous Senate rules.

THE HOUSE: It was a relatively quiet day in the House, as the chamber dealt with suspension bills. Tomorrow, there will be a vote to go to conference a the Iran sanctions bill.

That's it for now, see you tomorrow! Leave some comments!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/20/10-Back to the Table?

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. There were lots of little movements on pieces of legislation today, so let's get to it.

FINANCIAL REFORM: It looks like Republicans are back at the negotiating table. As we talked about yesterday, Democrats still need the support of one Republican in order to just debate the financial regulatory measure. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), peddler of the falsehood that the bill institutionalizes taxpayer bailouts, said today that Republicans are confident that a deal could be within reach. It seems like one major sticking point is the proposed $50 billion fund, paid by financial institutions who make risky investments, that would help wind down firms that are too big to fail. Republicans have barked about this provision, and Democrats, from the White House especially, don't seem particularly attached to it. I would caution against Congressional Democrats who think that one concession will create bipartisan support. If Democrats drop this provision though, in my view, Republicans will keep moving the goalposts. They'll find something else in the bill to demagogue. I think Democrats should keep that provision in there as a bargaining chip, if not for anything else.

Majority Leader Reid said that a vote to proceed to the bill would happen as soon as Thursday and as late as early next week. The White House and Democratic leaders will continue to reach out to Republicans until they secure that one vote.

THE SENATE: Meanwhile, the Senate was busy dealing with a couple of other items. On the floor, Democrats are actually engaging in a successful push to get some of President Obama's nominees confirmed. The Senate today voted 78-19 to confirm Lael Brainerd to be Undersecretary of Treasury for International Affairs. They also confirmed Marisa Dameo to be an associate judge on the D.C. Superior Court for a term of 15 years (I had no idea they had terms!). The vote on the nomination was 66-32. In each case, all of the opposition came from Republicans.

Senator Claire McCaskill (MO) was the street fighter for Senate Democrats to move past Republican obstructionism. She asked unanimous consent to vote on up to 80 Obama nominees, which forced Republicans to actively object on the floor. Every single one of these nominees was approved unanimously in committee, and McCaskill was trying to expose the fact that individual GOP Senators are putting holds on nominees to gain leverage on non-related issues. McCaskill's efforts, supported wholeheartedly by the Democratic leadership, succeeding in getting votes for a few nominees in the next couple of days, including two nominees for key posts on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Way to go, Claire!

Off the floor, Senate Democrats, led by Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, are preparing to release a Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2011. Democrats in both the House and Senate have been reluctant to release a budget blueprint because it will project large deficits for the next several years. If Democrats want to pursuit any legislation through the filibuster-proof reconciliation progress (and believe me, there's a lot they could do through reconciliation) they will need to pass a budget resolution. Reconciliation instructions could be used for jobs legislation, tax policy (like an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class), and possibly for energy policy. The Budget Resolution is expected to include the President's proposal to cap non-defense discretionary spending (which if you can recall, I think is an awful proposal). We'll have more on the proposal when it is released.

It's interesting that the Senate is going first in crafting a Budget Resolution. House Democrats feel that they've done a lot of the legislative heavy lifting over the last year, and they want their Senate counterparts to take the plunge.

THE HOUSE: The big news from the House today is that, unfortunately, there will be no consideration of a bill to give voting rights to the District of Columbia in this Congress. Democrats couldn't figure out a way to pass the bill without a rider that invalidated D.C's strict gun laws. Apparently this was a trade stakeholders were not willing to make. This is awful news, because this Congress was the best chance DC was gonna get to have voting representation. If as expected, Democrats lose seats this November in both Houses, that will not bode well for DC voting rights.

Otherwise today, the House just dealt with some suspension bills.

That's it for now, see you tomorrow!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/16/10-Not Playing Ball

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Make sure you catch up on the week in politics in the Weekly Strike below. Here's what happened today in politics.

FINANCIAL REGULATIONS: It looks like Democrats still have not peeled off the one Republican vote needed to begin debate on the financial reform bill. I'll first note how absurd it is that a) we need 60 votes just to debate something, and b) zero Republicans are willing to even debate a bill that would help prevent the next economic catastrophe. I mentioned this morning that Majority Leader Reid had hoped to begin debate on the bill this week. Since Democrats have yet to win over a Republican vote to put them at the magic 60, they'll have to delay until next week.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner held meetings today with Republicans Collins and Snowe of Maine, but neither of them made commitments about supporting the bill. They also did not lay out any specific demands as to what they would want in the legislation. It seems that Republicans, both conservatives and moderates, are once again using the "let's go back to the drawing board" meme.

Unlike during the health care debate last December, we unfortunately have to listen to them. That is the ultimate result of Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts. We can't even begin debate on a Wall Street reform bill. I'm not sure that's quite what Bay State voters intended.

The President on Thursday goes to Wall Street to make a direct pitch for financial reform. He needs to articulate clearly what the bill will do for the American people. I'm thinking something like " You worked hard your whole life and played by the rules, and you set aside a little money so that you could have a dignified retirement. But the Wall Street fat cats made risky bets with the money you entrusted to them, and they lost it. We need to make sure they can never do this again. All lawmakers need to decide: are you with the Wall Street bankers or are you with the American people?"

THE SENATE: The Senate, in lieu of the financial reform bill, will spend most of the week on lingering nominations. They started today by voting to end debate on the nomination of Lael Brainerd to be Undersecretary of the Treasury by a 84-10 vote. All no votes were from Republicans. A vote on the nomination itself will be held midday tomorrow.

The House was out today. They'll gavel back in tomorrow.

That's it for now, see you later!

The Weekly Strike-4/19-4/25

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. I'm still recovering from a brutal hockey game last night, but being the hero blogger that I am, I couldn't possibly forget about you. On to the week in politics...

FINANCIAL REGULATIONS: The next major legislative battle is in full gear. We talked last week about how Obama hasn't really pushed very hard on enacting sweeping Wall Street reform. That seemingly has changed significantly. In the last week, President Obama personally called out Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell for first meeting secretly with Wall Street bankers, and then lying about the contents of the bill to the American public. He also issued a veto threat if the bill did not contain strong enough regulation of derivatives. Boosted by government charges against Goldman Sachs on Friday, the President and his allies believe they are positioned well to win this fight.

First things first, though. In order for the Senate to even consider the bill, it needs 60 votes. Though a few Democrats have problems with parts of the bill, I don't think any of them would object to at least considering the measure. That leaves Democrats in need of one Republican vote. Minority Leader McConnell tried to get every Republican to sign on to a letter saying they would filibuster the bill if the Democrats didn't come to the negotiating table. After Senator Collins (ME) refused to sign on, he changed the letter to make the threat not quite as strong. Today, Collins meets with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who hopes to persuade her that this bill is necessary to avoid a repeat of the 2008 economic collapse.

If indeed Democrats do not have the votes to proceed, they'll be forced to make some concessions. It seems like the White House is already willing to drop some key provisions. Included in the Dodd bill is a provision that creates a $50 billion fund, paid for by Wall Street firms, to help wind down companies that are "too big to fail." Republicans falsely contend that this constitutes a taxpayer bailout. Obama has asked Senate leaders to take the provision out of the bill. I'm not sure how I feel about this policy-wise. But again, it is not politically smart to make any concessions until you have secured votes. I thought we learned that lesson with health care.

Democratic leaders hope to bring a motion to proceed to the bill to the floor as soon as Wednesday, and as late as Friday. We'll keep you posted. It's also possible that President Obama goes on the road to pitch the plan. I think he desperately needs to connect the dots as to how these regulations will protect the American people from losing their hard-earned money.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President has a somewhat quiet start to his week. He will hold a meeting this morning with General Scott Gration, the administration's envoy to Sudan. The genocide in Darfur certainly has gotten a disproportionately small amount of attention since Obama took office, don't you think?

The President then flies to California where he will hold a fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer, who is in a tough reelection fight this year. No word yet on the rest of the week's schedule.

THE SENATE: Before the Senate gets to financial reform, they will vote on a series of previously stalled executive nominations. Majority Leader Reid has filed cloture on on 5 Presidential nominations, including two Appeals Court judges. The first vote will be a vote to end debate on the nomination of Lael Brainerd to be the Under Secretary of the Treasury. It is pretty pathetic that during a financial crisis, key positions at the Treasury remain unfilled.

THE HOUSE: The House will come into session tomorrow, and they will spend a couple of days dealing with suspension bills. The House will also vote on a motion to go to conference on a bill to impose sanctions on Iran. On Thursday, the House will take up a long-stalled bill that would give voting rights to the District of Columbia. The bill also would temporarily give a House seat to Utah, so that an obvious Democratic seat would be offset by a safe Republican seat. The bill passed both the House and Senate last year. However, the Senate included a provision that would strike down most of D.C's restrictive gun laws. Democrats did not want to swallow this compromise, but it appears as if DC interests are willing to sacrifice their gun laws for official representation in Congress.

I'm not entirely sure whether the House will take up the Senate-passed bill verbatim, or whether they will be voting on a brand new version of the measure. We'll keep you posted.

That's it for now. See you tonight, and leave some comments!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/15/10-Tax Day

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Happy Tax Day! Today, I left my office during lunch to take pictures of the tea party event going on in Freedom Plaza. Check out my Facebook album for pictures. Let's just say there are some pretty "creative" signs.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: Americans honestly owe a good deal of thanks to the Democratic Party on this tax day. For one, taxes have gone down for about 95% of them following the passage of last year's stimulus bill. Today, Congress further eased the crippling burden of the recession by passing an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits through June 2nd. Members of Congress are still working on passing a more permanent extension.

The bill passed the Senate this afternoon by a vote of 59-38. Every Democrat voted to extend safety net benefits for average Americans, while all but three Republicans (Snowe/Collins of Maine and Voinovich of Ohio) voted no. Prior to a vote on final passage, the Senate rejected a few Republican amendments.

First, Democrats killed a Republican amendment that would have required Congress to pay for the bill by cutting other spending. The amendment failed by a vote of 48-50. Every Republican voted yes, as did Democrats Bayh (IN), Bennet (CO), Feingold (WI), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR) and Udall (CO). A twin amendment, which sought to take money from different federal programs, also failed, this time by a vote of 45-53.

The Senate then voted on a politically-motivated amendment from Senator McCain (AZ) that would declare the Senate officially opposed to a "Value Added Tax." Members of the Obama administration have talked about this form of taxation as a way to raise revenue, but it has not yet been formally proposed by anyone in Congress. Mr. Deficit Hawk McCain wanted to show that the Senate would completely rule out a pretty reasonable way of decreasing the deficit. Unfortunately, he amendment passed 85-13, with the following reasonable Senators casting a courageous no vote: Akaka (HI), Bingaman (NM), Brown (OH), Byrd (WV), Cardin (MD), Dorgan (ND), Kaufman (DE), Levin (MI), Reed (RI), Udall (NM), Voinovich (OH), Webb (VA) and Whitehouse (RI).

After the Senate approved the bill, it was sent back over the House for final ratification. This evening, the House passed the revised version by a vote of 289-112. All but one no vote came from the Republicans.

THE HOUSE: The House also approved a bill today to control water pollution in our country's estuaries. The bill passed easily by a vote of 278-128. It now goes to the Senate where it will languish indefinitely like every other half decent bill.

Also today in the House, Democrat Ted Deutch of Florida was sworn in as the new Representative from Florida's 21st District. He won a special election Tuesday to finish the term of former Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler, who is now at a Middle East Think Tank. Although his district is reliably Democratic, it was good to see a Democratic romp in the first federal election after the passage of health reform.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The President gave a speech today in Florida to a bunch of NASA workers. Many NASA heavyweights, including moonwalker Neil Armstrong, have criticized the President for cutting various space programs, including the planned "Constellation" program. Obama assured the skeptical audience that he would continue to invest in space programs, including a manned Mars mission in the distant future.

I find it ironic that many conservatives are attacking the President for basically privatizing a huge federal agency.

That's it for today. We'll be back on Monday, ahead of what looks like it could be an action packed legislative week. The Senate will begin consideration of the Financial Reform measure. It looks like the House will return to a bill that gives voting rights to good old Washington D.C.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/14/10-Financial Regulation Battle

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The NHL playoffs start tonight, so my mind, quite frankly, is elsewhere. But how could I let you all down?

FINANCIAL REGULATION: The next big legislative battle on Capital Hill is heating up. President Obama met today with leaders from both parties to discuss Financial Regulatory reform, which is due to come to the Senate floor in the next week or so. Senator Dodd (D-CT) has tried to get Republican support for the bill, but his patience has been running out. Republican Senator Bob Corker (TN) had been a willing participant in discussions, and had even contributed to the derivatives regulation in the bill.

But once again, the Republicans realize that they have an electoral stake in seeing this go down in flames. In recent days, Republicans have ramped up their rhetoric against the bill, saying that it represents a "permanent bailout." Apparently flat out lying is an acceptable political strategy these days. President Obama, as he does almost weekly, chastised Republicans for peddling "misinformation."

Yes, the Democrats will need one Republican vote (at least) to get this plan through the Senate. But that does NOT mean they should give in to GOP opposition. This, to put it bluntly, can be a winning issue for the Democratic party. We need to frame this fight as Us vs. Them. The "Us" is the Democrats and the American Middle Class and the "Them" is the Republican Party and Wall Street. It's an easy dichotomy to make when the Republican Party is so obviously doing Wall Street's bidding on this. Democrats in the Senate especially need to follow Obama's lead and accept nothing less than robust regulation of financial derivatives.

As we learned from the health care fight, as soon as Democrats give in, the public begins to think that there must be something inherently bad about the underlying bill. We can't let this dynamic play out again. Preventing another financial collapse is just too important.

THE SENATE: The Senate took some votes today on the bill to temporarily extend unemployment and COBRA insurance. The first amendment, offered by Senator Baucus (D-MT) would have extended the extension (yes I said it) through the end of May. The amendment failed to get the 60 votes needed to waive relevant budget rules. The amendment had the support of 59 Senators (all Democrats plus Voinovich of Ohio), with Patrick Leahy absent. Since Leahy would vote for it, Majority Leader Reid decided to ask to reconsider the vote. Only those who vote on the prevailing side can request reconsideration, so Reid voted against the amendment for procedural reasons. Another vote on that amendment will be held tomorrow.

The Senate rejected, by a vote of 51-46, an amendment from Senator Coburn (R-OK) that calls for the bill to be paid for with unspent stimulus funds. All Republicans supported the amendment, as did Democrats Bayh (IN), Feingold (WI), Klobuchar (MN), Lincoln (AR) and Nelson (NE).

There might be a couple other amendment or procedural votes tonight and tomorrow morning, but I expect the bill to pass by tomorrow evening. Any changes to the bill would require it to return to the House.

THE HOUSE: The House mostly dealt with suspension bills today. The Republicans brought up a question of privilege demanding an investigation into former Rep. Eric Massa. But that story is totally played at this point. House Democrats voted to kill the question.

The House will consider The Clean Estuaries Act tomorrow.

That's it for now, see you tomorrow night! Go Sharks!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/13/10-After the Summit

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. The nuclear summit has ended, so DC is no longer occupied by massive military tanks. We can resume living.

NUCLEAR SUMMIT: The President concluded the nuclear proliferation summit today by calling on the nations of the world to adopt a "new mindset" to control nuclear weapons in the 21st century. The President called the meeting productive, and he was indeed able to get countries to commit to securing loose nuclear materials. I happen to be somewhat skeptical, since these commitments won't be enforced by any international body, but I guess that's how international relations has to work.

The President addressed the media at a press conference after the summit. He was asked about sanctions in Iran, about which he said they would be "no magic wand" but that he wanted to move quickly on some sort of action. He also talked about his meeting with President Hu Jintao of China, where he talked to the Chinese leader about revaluing the Yuan.

The President holds a closing reception with world leaders tonight, followed by a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After that, it will be about time for the President to turn back to domestic affairs. He has a lot on his plate.

THE SENATE: The Senate didn't take any votes today. They are in the middle of consideration of a temporary extension to unemployment and COBRA benefits. Tomorrow, the Senate will presumably vote on amendments to the extension, including one from Senator Baucus (D-MT) that would make the extensions effective through May so that Congress can agree on a permanent solution. Final passage of the extenders bill could happen as early as tomorrow.

The Senate will likely then turn to the next big battle: Financial Regulatory Reform. Minority Leader McConnell (KY) unveiled the GOP's strategy for defeating the bill: argue that it is just another bailout bill. Of course the facts dictate otherwise. The bill actually will prevent Congress from ever enacting a bailout again, because it will create a process for the orderly dismantling of firms that are "too big to fail."

In one of those weird Congressional quirks, regulation of derivatives (a major part of the bill) have to go through the Senate Agriculture Committee, which is chaired by embattled Senator Lincoln of Arkansas. According to trusted sources, she has drafted a strong bill. Once again, the power of a primary challenge (she is being challenged from the left by Lt. Gov Bill Halter).

Speaking of trusted sources, this is a difficult issue to get a handle on. It has a lot of moving parts. As always, I recommend the good wonks out there like Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias.

THE HOUSE: The House came back into session today after a two week recess. They dealt only with suspension bills today.

There is actually a special House election going on tonight in Florida to replace Robert Wexler (D) who is now running a Middle East think tank. Democratic State Senator Ted Deutch is heavily favored against Republican Ed Lynch in this Democratic district. If he doesn't win, woahhhh boy. This election will bring the whole number of members in the House to 431.

That's it for tonight, we'll see you tomorrow!

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/12/10-Extensions, Extensions

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Make sure you catch up on the week in politics in The Weekly Strike below.

THE SENATE: The Senate came back into session today and voted to cut off debate on a bill that extends unemployment insurance, COBRA, and flood insurance. The bill had been held up by Republican obstructionists prior to the two week recess, and as a result, millions of Americans saw benefits disappear. Democrats were able to scrounge together the 60 votes necessary to begin debate on the bill. Every Democrat voted for it, as did Republicans Brown (MA), Collins (ME), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich (OH). 34 Republicans voted to cut off these benefits. 3 Senators from each party did not vote.

Majority Leader Reid is trying to come to an agreement with Minority Leader McConnell to schedule a final vote in the next couple of days. Obstructionist Tom Coburn might break with his leadership and prolong the debate as long as possible. This is the sort of obstructionism, the kind that hurts everyday Americans, that Democrats need to highlight as much as possible.

NUCLEAR SUMMIT: The rest of Washington D.C. was consumed with the multilateral summit on nuclear weapons. Leaders from all over the world descended on the nation's capital to figure out ways to stop nuclear proliferation. The President stepped out of the summit at points today to have bilateral meetings with the leaders of Jordan, Malaysia, Ukraine, Armenia, and China. Obama is hosting a working dinner tonight with foreign leaders.

The best news of the day is that Obama reached an agreement with the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanokovych that requires the Ukranians to give up their stock of highly-enriched uranium. If only we could make such a deal with the Iranians and the North Koreans!

That's it for now. See you tomorrow!

The Weekly Strike-4/12-4/18

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Congress is back and session, and pretty much every world leader is in town, so there is much to discuss.

THE WHITE HOUSE: It seems like everything has been nuclear lately for this White House. First, they release their new policy on nuclear weapons. Then, they sign the START treaty with Russia. Starting today, the President hosts a summit among world leaders to discuss how to prevent nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorists. This is an important topic, and it is arguably the biggest threat to our national security. I don't, however, see much coming out of this summit. The biggest news potentially could be how much the meeting snarls traffic around here.

With so much focus on international affairs over the past couple of weeks, and continuing through this week, the President has halted all of his momentum on the domestic agenda. After his victory on health care, we were looking to see a new, invigorated President ready to push hard on the next big items, like financial regulatory reform and jobs. He could have started a drum beat for a new post-health care narrative: it's us vs. Republicans and the powerful special interests. We delivered for you on health reform, now let's deliver for you again!

Instead, the President has been almost completely silent on these issues. He barely talked about jobs, and I don't think he said one word in support of financial regulation. As a result, his political momentum from health care has completely stalled. In fact, his numbers in the tracking polls reflect this blunted momentum. The President needs to remember that with the clock running out on strong Democratic majorities, any idle time is wasted time. I didn't admire President Bush for much, but he was able to act like pending items on his agenda (Iraq War, anyone?) were the most important thing in the world and had to get done immediately. Obama needs to get that drum beat going immediately. Yes, I understand his schedule is busy, but if he can't do it himself, he needs to get some of his surrogates out there, like Vice President Biden.

This White House has not been good at creating a narrative and pounding it home day after day. It is important to change this dynamic now, not just because of political necessity, but because of the magnitude of our country's problems.

THE SENATE: Speaking of our country's problems, the Senate has a chance to stop the bleeding on one of the biggest, unemployment. Before the last recess began, Republican Senators objected to passing an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits. As a result, some of these benefits ran out last week. At 5:30pm today, the Senate will vote to cut off debate on this extension. Democrats need at least one Republican vote to advance the bill. So far, Republicans have seemed pretty united in their misguided view that any extension of these benefits must be accompanied by spending cuts elsewhere. Of course, the most stimulative thing we could do for our economy would be to give money to people (the unemployed) who would spend it immediately.

It's possible that when the Senate finishes the extenders bill, that it starts consideration of the financial reform measure.

THE HOUSE: The House comes back into session tomorrow, but it should have a pretty slow week. It will be all suspensions Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday, the House takes up a bill dealing with clean estuaries. Hopefully, this will allow me to swim in the San Francisco Bay.

That's it for now, see you tonight!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/9/10-Stevens Retires

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. We weren't planning on doing an entry tonight, but news intervened. I'd also like to acknowledge that this is our 500th entry! Hooray!

STEVENS: Today, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens announced that he will retire from the Supreme Court when the current term ends in June. He wanted to announce his retirement early enough so that his successor can be seated by the time the 2010-2011 term begins.

Stevens was nominated by President Gerald Ford in 1975, and at the time was expected to be a relatively conservative Justice. As the court began veering far to the right during the Reagan years, Stevens gradually became the court's most consistently liberal members. Chris Hayes of The Nation wrote today that Stevens is "one of the absolute great heroes of liberalism over the past several decades." I completely agree. Stevens became a staunch advocate for civil rights and the right to privacy. He also was key in bringing aboard other court members to strike down Bush Administration abuses of executive power. Stevens also wrote three of my favorite dissents over the past decade. The first, was his scathing indictment of the majority in the infamous Bush V. Gore case. The next was his brilliant usage of my favorite Anatole France quote in his dissent in the Seattle School District case, which dealt with racial-based consideration in public school admissions. Finally, I must cite his strongly worded dissent in this year's disastrous "Citizens United" case, in which the majority threw away restrictions against corporate buyouts of campaigns. His fair-mindedness, character, and yes, empathy will be sorely missed.

President Obama is now tasked with appointing Stevens' successor. As I mentioned to The Big Picture this morning, this might be a good chance for President Obama to appoint someone outside of the box who could serve as a populist voice against the special-interest judging by the current conservative majority. Obama today said that he will appoint a Justice with similar qualities to Justice Stevens. We will have more on the President's choice in the coming weeks, but today, let's celebrate the legacy of a great Supreme Court Justice.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/8/10-A New START

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Yes, that title is a bit cliche.

START TREATY: Before we woke up this morning, President Obama flew to Prague to sign a new nuclear arms agreement with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev. The treaty advances the long-term U.S. goal, endorsed by President Ronald Reagan, to cut our nuclear arsenal. The plan calls for each country to reduce its arms by about 1/3rd. Don't worry: we'll still have enough nukes to defend ourselves against an unexpected attack. But it starts the slow, arduous process of getting us to a nuclear-free world.

The agreement represents a significant foreign policy agreement for the Obama administration for a number of reasons. First, it accomplishes a goal he outlined on the campaign trail and in a speech last year. Second, it could help us establish a stronger relationship with Russia. We will desperately need Russian assistance if we want to impose strong sanctions on Iran.

The treaty will have to be ratified by a 2/3rds majority vote in the United States Senate. The GOP may try to make the pact an election year issue, but I don't anticipate the treaty actually failing to pass.

ON THE RADAR: The President is also paying close attention to a couple of other issues. When he gets back the U.S., he will hold a meeting with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and the Mine Safety Administrator Joe Main to talk about this week's coal mine explosion in West Virginia. The President will also be keeping an eye on the situation in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan, where the opposition party has overthrown the government, and the President is hiding somewhere near the capital. The situation has implications for the strategic interests of the United States because we operate a military base there. It also has implications for yours truly, since a friend of mine is doing the Peace Corps there. Let's all hope she's doing ok.

That's it for tonight, we'll be off tomorrow and back on the air Monday morning.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/7/10-Budget Preview

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Again, it is a very slow news day. I'm just itching for Congress to get back in session. So naturally, I'll be talking about what Congress will be doing when they get back in session. If you want to read about death threats to members of Congress who supported health care, or an idiotic Virginia governor who wrote a proclamation celebrating Confederate history without mentioning slavery, you'll have to look elsewhere.

BUDGET BATTLE: When Congress reconvenes next week, they'll most likely begin consideration of the FY 2011 Budget Resolution. The resolution, as we explained last year, sets non-binding targets for discretionary spending, and also projects the overall budget picture for the next five years. The budget resolution represents the totality of goals for the party in power, basically, so it's only natural that it becomes a bitter partisan fight. President Obama's proposed budget, which will likely be similar to the one proposed by Democrats in Congress, projects trillion dollar deficits for the foreseeable future. It's basically handing the Republicans an opportunity to hammer home their "Democrats are big spenders!" talking points.

The reality, of course, is that at least a third of the deficit is due to the continuing effects of the recession. During a recession, spending increases on safety-net programs (like food stamps and unemployment), and tax revenues decline sharply. The rest of the deficit is largely the result of the Bush tax cuts, wars that weren't paid for, and a $500 billion Republican prescription drug program. All of the spending in the last year, including the bailouts and the stimulus package, account for a very small portion of the deficit.

Democrats have never been good about explaining the causes of the deficit. People seem to think the deficit is caused by amorphous "government spending," and the media reinforces these perceptions. If the Democrats are smart, they will use this budget battle as an opportunity to hammer home the root causes, and needed solutions, to the deficit problem. Democrats should hammer home that the way to decrease deficits in the long-run is to create jobs. A government that spending money temporarily to put people back to work, will save money in the long-run. This is counter-intuitive to voters, but it is worth the time and effort to explain. It would be nice if every speech a Democrat gives on the budget talks about how we need to invest now to save later.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that won't happen. For one, President Obama has lent credence to deficit myths by proposing to freeze discretionary spending (which will have a minuscule effect on the deficit). Also, the Blue Dog Democrats, who have the power to shape the Budget Resolution, will want to show off their deficit-cutting credentials ahead of this fall's elections. These factors will make it easier for Republicans to pound home their message and exploit Democratic divisions.

Of course, Democrats could save themselves a political fight and not pass a Budget Resolution at all. Republicans didn't pass one in their last year in power, 2006. The problem is that they wouldn't be able to use the reconciliation process later in the year if they don't pass a budget resolution with "reconciliation instructions." Since Republicans will filibuster anything and everything before the November elections, Democrats would be wise to pass some key bills under reconciliation. For example, they could use the reconciliation process to enact a jobs measure that funnels money to state and local governments.

To sum up, it will be an interesting legislative fight that will be coming up over the next couple of months. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/6/10-Going Nuclear (-less)

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. For the most part, the Obama presidency has been dominated by domestic issues like the economy and health care. But with Congress in recess, international affairs have come to the forefront.

NUCLEAR PACT: This morning, the President announced a new policy on nuclear weapons that would have made our liberal ancestors during the Cold War pretty happy (though they would have wanted him to go further). The plan basically calls for a halt in the production of new weapons, and a small reduction in our current stockpiles. Another key part of the initiative is a new agreement to never use nuclear weapons on non-nuclear states given that they comply with non-proliferation agreements. This seems like a no-brainer to me, but I guess it's good that it is now official U.S. policy.

Surprisingly, I didn't see many rabid right-wing reactions to this announcement. Rudy Giuliani attacked Obama for being "naive" on nuclear weapons, but nobody really listens to him anymore.

The key now will be for Obama to close a nuclear weapons agreement with Dimitry Medvedev of Russia, and get that treaty ratified by the United States Senate, which will be no easy task given the current Republican party.

Otherwise, the President had a relatively quiet day today, though he was closely monitoring the tragic situation with the coal miners in West Virginia.

But yes, it was a slow news day. We'll be back with more tomorrow.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Weekly Strike-4/5-4/11

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. Congress is out of session for another weeks, so things will remain relatively quiet around. But there is still SOME stuff to talk about. Let's get to it.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The week starts out on a very light note for President Obama. This morning, the President hosts the traditional White House Easter Egg hunt. Following that, the President travels to Nationals Park to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. I think the fans at Nationals Park are likely to give the President a warm welcome. He remains very popular around here, even if his popularity has waned elsewhere.

The President hasn't released his schedule for the rest of the week, but you can be sure he'll start turning his attention to a couple of looming battles. Obama has told Congressional leaders that he wants a financial reform package on his desk by Memorial Day. Democrats would be very smart to get this done as soon as possible. The politics of the issue is very favorable if it can be framed correctly: you're either on the side of the consumers or the banks.

Key to this bill will be the scope of the newly formed Consumer Protection Agency. The House-passed bill contains an independent CPA, while the Senate proposal would house the CPA within the Federal Reserve. President Obama should campaign hard to make the agency independent, so it can conduct proper oversight of the financial sector and prevent a collapse similar to the one that happened in late 2008.

The Big Picture and I have talked about this extensively, and we've agreed that President Obama should translate his momentum from the health care victory into a full on campaign for financial regulation reform. Not only is the policy badly needed, but it would set up a perfect narrative for the midterm elections. The problem, of course, will be facing united Republican opposition, combined with many Democrats who are fully owned subsidiaries of the industry.

The other looming battle is the possibility of another Supreme Court vacancy. Justice John Paul Stevens, a Gerald Ford appointee who has become a stalwart liberal, is contemplating whether to retire. If I were a betting man, I would guess that he'll leave this year. He has said openly that he wants President Obama to choose his successor. It would make sense to let Obama nominate a successor while he still has 59 seats in the Senate. Such a battle might be a distraction from other legislative endeavors, but it will still be critically important. President Obama must appoint a strong liberal to protect Stevens' legacy and maintain a delicate balance in a closely-divided court. We'll cross this bridge when we get there, but my early choice would be Appellate Judge Diane Wood of Illinois. She is a friend of Obama's, and a liberal intellectual heavyweight.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: If you have been collecting unemployment benefits during this painful recession, you may be losing your benefits today, thanks to a Republican filibuster led by Senator Tom Coburn (OK). Coburn insisted that an extension in benefits be paid for, and refused to allow a vote before the Spring recess. Majority Leader Reid (NV) plans to bring up and pass an extension next Monday when the Senate resumes its work, but for now, millions of people will suffer because Republicans have chosen to make an ideological point. Yet another opportunity for Democrats to ask voters "which side are the Republicans on?"

That's it for now. Because it's a slow week, and it's baseball's opening day, and Mother Strike is in town, we'll be skipping tonight's entry. We'll see you tomorrow.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Daily Strike-4/1/10-April Fools

Good morning and welcome to the Daily Strike. I apologize for no entry last night. Chalk it up to an April Fool's joke. Today's entry will cover for yesterday and today. Our next entry will be Monday morning, as we adopt a slower schedule during Congressional recesses.

FUEL ECONOMY: The President, with the EPA, made an announcement yesterday regarding fuel economy standards. Starting in the 2016 model year, cars will have to run at 35.5 miles an hour. This will result in a 34% reduction in car emissions. Initially, the increase in fuel economy will cost consumers about $950 additional, but over time, drivers would save upwards of $3000. I'm very pleased with this announcement. This is the first concrete step the Obama administration has taken to curb greenhouse gases. It should have done far more at this point, but the inability of the Senate to take any action on climate change has forced the administration to make regulatory changes.

It is interesting that this announcement was made the day after Obama announced plans for increased offshore drilling. This seems to me to be a Clinton-esque strategy of triangulation. Obama is trying to please those to his right and those to his left, and in doing so, he's not making anyone particularly happy. It remains to be seen whether these moves help him achieve a comprehensive climate bill by the end of the year.

MAINE: The President also gave a great speech in Maine yesterday touting the benefits of the health care bill. Obama got into his "rolled up sleeves" mode by attacking Washington pundits for drawing premature conclusions on the political consequences of the legislation. He also issued another dare to his Republican rivals: go ahead and run on repealing the health care bill. If they want to reinstitute abusive insurance practices, go ahead. If they want to do away with tax cuts for small businesses to cover employees, be our guest. I think this will be a helpful line of attack as the midterms get closer. People need to understand the tangible benefits of reform.

JOBS: The President got some good news today. 162,000 jobs were added in March, though the unemployment rate stayed at an unacceptably high level of 9.7%. 48,000 new jobs were added because the Federal Government started hiring people to do the 2010 census, but even despite this caveat, this is the highest job growth since 2007. The jobs number has become a political football on the first Friday of every month. Give the Democrats the win in April.

That's it for now, see you on Monday!