Wednesday, June 30, 2010
FINANCIAL REGULATION: Moments ago, the House passed the conference report accompanying the Wall Street reform legislation by, the most sweeping rewrite of our financial system since the Great Depression. The final vote was a healthy 237-192. The bill surprisingly got the support of three Republicans, Reps. Cao (LA), Castle (DE) and Jones (NC). The following Democrats opposed the bill. Call their offices and complain accordingly: Berry (AR), Boren (OK), Boucher (VA), Bright (AL), Chandler (KY), Childers (MS), Copper (TN), Critz (PA), Cuellar (TX), Davis (TN), Edwards (TX), Kaptur (OH) (perhaps the lone opposition from the left), Kirkpatrick (AZ), McIntyre (NC), Mitchell (AZ), Owens (NY), Perriello (VA) (that's sad, he's taken some other courageous votes during his freshman term), Ross (AR), and Skelton (MO). Mostly your standard list of Blue Dogs. It's sure real "maverick-y" of them to stand for Wall Street and against the American people.
Prior to a vote on final passage, Democrats beat back a Republican amendment that would send the bill back to the conference committee with instructions to add a stricter audit of the Federal Reserve. The motion failed 198-229, with all Republicans and 23 Democrats voting yes.
The only stop left before the President's desk is the United States Senate, though it looks like consideration there will be delayed until after the July 4th recess. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), who has been holding negotiations hostage and has one several special carve-outs, says that he "looks forward to reviewing the bill" over the July recess. What a tool, to put it delicately. So here's the math. 56 Democrats are pretty certain to support the bill, and one (Feingold) is certain to oppose it. Republicans Collins and Snowe of Maine are also likely supporters at this point. When West Virginia's new Democratic Senator is sworn in, presumably in the next couple of weeks, they will probably support the bill as well, which puts the magic number at 59. The 60th vote would either have to come from Brown, Democrat Maria Cantwell who opposes the bill from the left, or Chuck Grassley (R-IA) who voted for the bill last time around. Chances are that they'll get one of these Senators to budge.
THE SENATE: Majority Leader Reid (NV) is trying one last time to pass an extension of unemployment benefits, and it appears he is still one vote short. 57 Democrats, as well as Senators Snowe and Collins of Maine, would support the extension, well Democrat Nelson (NE) has voiced his opposition. Either Democrats will have to wait for the new West Virginia Senator to arrive, or they'll have to try to convince another Republican to abandon their party leadership and stand up for struggling families. Because of Republican obstruction over the past month, over 1 million people have lost unemployment benefits. I think Republicans are of the mind that these people are lazy and are just not looking hard enough for a job. Sane people realize that it's tough to find work when hundreds of people are applying to every available job.
The Senate most likely will not vote on this extension until Friday, when they'll also presumably vote on a small business lending bill. The Senate takes a break tomorrow to pay respects to the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV).
The Senate did find time today to unanimously approve the nomination of David Petraeus to be the next commander in Afghanistan. See, the Senate can indeed move quickly when it wants to.
KAGAN: Senators finished questioning Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan today, and the hearings were notable for being, well, entirely uneventful. Kagan faced sharp questions from Republicans about gun rights, Don't Ask Don't Tell, and many other issues. In total, Kagan answerd 500 questions over two days, and didn't give Republicans any real ammunition against her.
I think Kagan is well on her way to gaining confirmation. A vote in the Judiciary Committee will occur in mid-July, with a vote in front of the full Senate slated for just before the August recess.
OBAMA: President Obama held a town hall meeting today in Racine, WI, where he talked about the economy. Obama previewed some fall campaign themes. He attacked Republicans for wanting to move the country backward, and he chastised House Minority Leader Boehner for suggesting that the financial reform bill is "throwing a nuclear weapon at an ant." Obama was sharp and feisty, which is good to see. Because the economy will likely still be in the doldrums through the November elections, the Democrats' only hope is to draw sharp contrasts with the Republicans.
That's it for today, see you tomorrow!
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
FINANCIAL REGULATIONS: The Wall Street reform bill had to go back to a House-Senate conference committee, because Democrats didn't have enough votes to break a GOP filibuster on the previously agreed-to conference report. Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown, who got all sorts of carve outs in the bill to buy off his vote, pulled his support because he didn't approve of a $19 billion fee on big banks. Brown, of course, campaigned against these sort of political shenanigans and backroom deals, but I guess protecting his frich friends on Wall Street comes first and foremost.
If Democrats Russ Feingold (WI) and Maria Cantwell (WA) didn't decide to oppose the bill from the left, the Democrats could tell Brown to you know what. But evidently Cantwell and Feingold are being so stubborn that they're willing to see the bill get made worse. That's exactly what happened today. The House-Senate conference just approved a revised version of the conference report that removes the bank tax, and instead uses leftover money from the TARP bailout program, as well as various FDIC fees. Inexplicably, they seemed to have made this deal without getting the firm support of any of the Republicans they need to get 60 votes. But if all goes well, it is still possible that the bill could pass both chambers by the end of the week. In fact, late word is that the House will take up the conference report tomorrow.
KAGAN: Today Senators asked their first set of questions to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. There wasn't much news out of today's questioning, mostly because Kagan is so polished and isn't going to say anything too controversial. She did admit that her political leanings are progressive/Democratic, and that she still does have moral problems with the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
On Stare Decisis, she said that she almost always is deferential to precedence, but there are some circumstances where settled law should be changed. None of these answers will make the front pages of any newspapers, I can guarantee you that.
One thing I didn't realize about Kagan is that she is extremely funny. Republican Senator Graham (R-SC) asked Kagan where she was this past Christmas, during the failed terrorist plot on the Detroit-bound airliner. Kagan quipped that since she is Jewish, she was probably at a Chinese restaurant. When Senator Specter pressed her on allowing cameras in the courtroom, she said that she would have to do her hair more often. Awesome.
CLIMATE CHANGE: The President held a bipartisan meeting at the White House today to discuss his push for a comprehensive energy bill. The meeting offered no surprises. Republicans insisted that Obama take any price on carbon off the table. Obama, and his Democratic allies, countered that pricing carbon is the whole point! Nothing from this meeting gives me any optimism about a climate bill passing the United States Senate this year, especially since zero Republicans seem willing to play ball.
THE SENATE: The Senate voted 66-33 to move to a bill that will spur lending to small businesses. Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has filled the amendment tree, meaning he is trying to prevent Republicans from delaying the bill with endless amendments. Hopefully, Reid can finish the bill by tomorrow evening so that the Senate can take up the Financial Regulation conference report Thursday and Friday.
All Democrats voted yes on the procedural vote, as did Republicans Bond (MO), Brown (MA), Collins (ME), Grassley (IA), LeMieux (FL), Lugar (IN), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich (OH).
THE HOUSE: The House voted on some suspension bills today. Speaker Pelosi tried to pass a standalone extension of unemployment benefits as a suspension bill, but it failed to received the necessary 2/3rds vote. Democrats will have to bring up the extension under regular order. Democrats in both chambers, having failed to pass a larger package of unemployment insurance and tax extenders, want to get moving on unemployment by the end of the week. 15 Democrats in the House voted against extending benefits, while 30 Republicans voted yes (more than I would have thought).
That's it for today, we'll see you tomorrow!
Monday, June 28, 2010
THE SENATE: The death of Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), combined with the late addition of an $18 billion bank tax has thrown the Wall Street reform compromise, struck last week in a conference committee, into some serious flux. The measure got 61 votes when it passed the Senate in May. 4 Republicans supported the bill, while two Democrats opposed it because it didn't go far enough. In the conference committee, House Banking Chair Barney Frank added a small bank tax at the last minute to offset some of the bill's implementation costs. Inexplicably, he did so without seeing how it would impact the bill's delicate Senate coalition. The Republicans who supported the bill, Senators Brown (MA), Collins (ME), Grassley (IA), and Snowe (ME) know that they have a lot of power, and they're not afraid to abuse. All of these Republicans have now said that this tax provision could cause them to oppose the bill. If any of these Senators defected, and the two Democrats opposed (Feingold and Cantwell) didn't change their minds, the Democrats would be a vote short.
There are a few ways to rectify this problem. West Viriginia Governor Joe Manchin has announced that Byrd's successor will be appointed for the rest of the term, and not just to this year's election. Democrats had been concerned about seating Byrd's replacement before the July 3rd cutoff, because they wanted to avoid protecting another vulnerable seat this year. Apparently, there was some sort of loophole in the West Virginia election law that gives some discretion to the Governor as to when to call the next election. Governor Manchin said that since no candidates would meet the state's filing deadline, no election can be held this year. Therefore, Manchin can appoint the Senator immediately. Presumably, this Senator will support the Wall Street reform measure.
If this Senator is appointed, Democrats would still be about 3 votes short. If the Republicans decide they will bring down the conference report because of the bank tax, Democrats would have to send the bill back to conference to remove that provision, which would be an arduous process. If they could get the support of just one Republican, even with the bank tax, then they could try to convince Senators Feingold and Cantwell to at least vote to invoke cloture on the conference report. Feingold seemed pretty adamantly opposed to that idea when it was presented to him this afternoon. Hopefully the Republican supporters of the bill are just causing some sort of temporary fuss. The issue will eventually work itself out, but it may not happen by the administration's self-imposed July deadline.
Meanwhile, the Senate took just one vote today, confirming the nomination of Gary Feinerman to be a District Judge in Illinois by a unanimous vote. The Senate also unanimously agreed to make Daniel Inouye, the longest tenured Senator in the wake of Byrd's death, the next President Pro Tempore, which puts him behind Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden in the line of Presidential succession. The Senate will begin work on a measure to boost loans to small businesses tomorrow.
KAGAN: The hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan began today, and it was a snooze-fest. Today was just for opening statements, for Senators on the committee, and at the end of the day, for Kagan herself. The most notable part of the hearing in my view was the GOP's sustained attacks on Thurgood Marshall, the Justice that Kagan worked for in the 1980's. They seemed to want to portray Marshall, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, as a judicial activist. Once again, the GOP is making quite a play for minority voters!
The nomination's importance was brought into full focus today after the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, incorporated the 2nd Amendment as a fundamental right under the 14th amendment. Conservatives have been fighting substantive due process and incorporation for decades, but of course, that wouldn't apply to their precious guns. As a result of this ruling, local gun ordinances will likely be ruled unconstitutional. Great.
That's it for today, we'll see you again tomorrow!
THE SENATE: We start with the sad news this morning that Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) has passed away at the age of 92. Byrd was the longest serving member of Congress in our country's history, and he has been West Virginia's Senator since my parents were toddlers. Byrd's legacy in my view is mixed. He started out his career as a segregationist former member of the KKK who filibustered civil rights bills. He later repudiated his past views and said that there is no room for discrimination in our country. By the time he was in his twilight years, he was a strong supporter of President Barack Obama, and a solid Democrat on every major issue. I was particularly moved by Byrd's strong opposition to the Iraq War in 2002, when every Republican and most Democrats were acting as cheerleaders for President Bush. His position wasn't popular at the time, but it was principled.
Byrd will also be known for being a Senate institutionalist. He cared about the Senate's rules and procedures, and knew more about them than anyone else. Byrd served as Majority Leader during the Carter Presidency, and as Minority Leader for much of the Reagan years. From 1989-1995, and 2007 to his death, he served as the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, a position that put him 3rd in line to the Presidency. In one of his last act's, he cast a deciding vote for health reform, uttering "this one's for Teddy" as he voted on the Senate floor. While he can never be forgiven for his past views on race, he made some enormous positive contributions to our country.
Moving from the obituary to the crass political realities, the focus now switches to Byrd's replacement. West Virginia's Governor Joe Manchin, a Democrat, will pick the next Senator, most likely as a placeholder for Manchin himself, who has long been interested in serving in the world's most deliberative body. The question now is when the next election will be. State law says that if a vacancy occurs 2.5 years prior to the scheduled election, then a special election will be held during the upcoming November elections. Byrd's passing came just before that July 3rd cutoff, so it would appear as if Byrd's successor would only serve until the next Senator was elected this year. However, there are some ambiguities in the law. Manchin could decide to wait to declare the vacancy until next Saturday, which would put the next election in 2012. Democratic leaders do not want to have to defend another difficult seat in this fall's elections.
There are two complications here. The first is that Democrats might need another vote this week when the Senate takes up the conference report on the financial regulation bill. The bill got 61 votes when it originally passed in May, though not all of the "yes" votes seem pinned down at this point, especially Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), who is using his swing-vote status to make a fuss over various provisions. If Brown were to switch to the no column, Democrats would either need to seat Byrd's replacement, or convince one of their two holdouts from the left, Senators Feingold and Cantwell, to vote yes. It is also possible that Byrd's death moves consideration of the conference report until after the July 4th recess. The other complication is whether Manchin thinks he has a better chance of winning this fall or in 2012. I frankly don't think even a popular governor like Manchin would be a shoo-in in an increasingly conservative state this election year.
One thing we do know for sure is that Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) is the most senior Democrat in the Senate, and is likely to be the next President Pro Tempore.
As for the Senate's schedule this week, we do still expect to see consideration of the aforementioned conference report before the chamber adjourns on Friday. Today, the Senate will begin consideration of a House-passed bill designed to spur lending to small business.
Overshadowed in all of the news recently is the nomination of Elena Kagan to be a Supreme Court Justice. The hearings for Kagan's nomination will take place starting today, and continuing throughout the week. I don't anticipate Kagan having too tough of a time. She is a very polished orator, and has argued cases before the Supreme Court as Obama's Solicitor General. She shouldn't have any difficulties standing up to Republican misfits, who have yet to find their footing in opposition. We'll have continuing coverage of Kagan's hearings as they progress this week.
THE HOUSE: The House also has a busy schedule as it wraps up before the recess. Today and tomorrow, the House will deal with a large slew of suspension bills. Most likely on Wednesday, the House will take up the financial regulation conference report. I don't anticipate the conference report running into too much trouble in the House. If Nancy Pelosi could pull together 218 votes for a slightly unpopular health care bill, she can surely do so for a far more popular Wall Street reform measure.
The House also will presumably take up the war funding bill, though it's still unclear whether Democrats will try to attach some jobs-related measures. My recommendation would be to attach at least an extension of unemployment benefits to the war funding bill, but we'll see what House leaders have in mind.
THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama has returned to Washington after an eventful G20 summit this weekend in Toronto. Leaders of the G20 struck a deal that calls for significant deficit reduction in member countries by 2013. President Obama seemed alone in making the case that governments should not stifle the economic recovery by premature worries about rising deficits and debt. I wish Obama had made that case more effectively to Congress and the American people this past week, when a modest jobs measure was killed in the Senate due to misguided deficit concerns.
The President has the day off today, but will surely be keeping an eye on the Kagan nomination, and the final push for financial regulation.
Yes, it is quite a week in Washington.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
THE SENATE: Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) tried one more time to pass a package of tax extenders, which included an extension of unemployment benefits. Once again, and perhaps for the final time, he has failed. The vote was 57-41, which in our perverse system of government these days means that the bill failed. Every Republican voted against the bill, and it shouldn't come as any surprise. As many others have pointed out today, Republicans have institutional power to make the majority fail. If they do so, the economy will get worse, and voters will get angry at the governing party. This will immensely benefit Republicans in this fall's elections.
Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the one Democrat complicit in this monstrosity. Despite Nelson's past votes to protect the estates of billionaires, and keep tax breaks to oil companies, he was apparently too concerned about the deficit to vote for emergency recession measures. Majority Leader Reid voted no so he could bring up the bill again, but for now, it's looking likely that Democrats will give up. They might try to pass the bill in separate parts, starting with an extension of unemployment benefits. The Senate will turn next week to the House-passed bill which encourages lending to small businesses (which was coincidentally a measure included in this bill).
There is something fundamentally wrong with a democracy when a minority of 41 can sabotage the agenda of a large majority without facing any recourse. In fact, they'll benefit from the economy's failure in November's elections. President Obama and the Democrats need to make very clear to the American people who is responsible for 1.2 million Americans losing unemployment insurance.
The Senate did find time today to pass the conference report for the Iran sanctions bill, which has enjoyed large bipartisan support. The vote today, in fact, was 99-0. The bill builds on sanctions passed in 1996 designed to stop Iran's development of nuclear weapons.
THE HOUSE: The House had a very productive day, far more so than their Senate counterparts. The House today finally passed a bill that helps undo the damage of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. The bill will put new requirements on corporate and labor campaign contributions. The bill passed by a narrow margin of 219-206. The only Republicans supporting the bill were Castle (DE) (the bill's co-sponsor) and Cao (LA).,
36 Democrats opposed the bill. The opposition was a mixture of Blue Dogs who were scared to vote against the interest of the power brokers at the Chamber of Commerce, and liberal members who were upset that the NRA got a special exemption in the bill. The list of dissenting Democrats is as follows (skip down a paragraph if you don't care!):
Barrow (GA), Bean (IL), Bishop (GA), Boren (OK), Boyd (FL), Bright (AL), Butterfield (NC), Childers (MS), Clarke (NY), Critz (PA), Dahlkemper (PA), Davis (IL), Davis (TN), Donnelly (IN), Edwards (MD), Fudge (OH), Hastings (FL), Herseth Sandlin (SD), Hill (IN), Holden (PA), Kilpatrick (MI), Kratovil (MD), Marshall (GA), McCarthy (NY), McIntyre (NC), Minnick (ID), Mitchell (AZ), Nye (VA), Owens (NY), Payne (NJ), Peterson (MN), Rush (IL), Taylor (MS), Thompson (MS), Waters (CA) and Watt (NC).
The House also put their stamp of approval on two bills headed directly to the President's desk. The Iran sanctions conference report passed the House 408-8, with opposition coming from Republicans Flake (AZ) and Paul (TX) and Democrats Baird (WA), Baldwin (WI), Blumenauer (OR), Conyers (MI), Kucinich (OH) and Stark (CA). President Obama will sign the bill into law this coming week.
The House also passed the so-called "Doc-Fix" bill that fixes reimbursement rates to Medicare providers through November. The Senate had passed a fix when it became clear that the broader extenders bill was headed downhill. The vote on this measure was 417-1, with only Democrat George Miller (CA) voting no (not sure why).
Next week, both chambers are expected to take up the final version of the Wall Street Reform bill, which while weakened significantly, will be a major legislative accomplishment.
Until then, enjoy your weekend!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
MCCHRYSTAL: The President "accepted the resignation" today of General Stanley McChrystal as the lead commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal was in hot water for mocking several administration officials in a Rolling Stone article. Obama, rightly, believed that this act crossed the line. The President can't have a general in world's most difficult conflict who uses poor judgment, nor can he have one who threatens the sacrosanct chain of command. As the President said in an afternoon press event, disagreement is healthy, but disunity is not.
The President chose General David Petraeus, one of America's most popular military figures, to take control of the quagmire in Afghanistan. Petraeus will leave his current post as the head of Central Command. Conservatives and moderates were giddy at the choice, citing Petraeus' supposed surge success in Iraq. But the surge was partly successful due to exogenous factors, such as the Sunni awakening in the summer of 2007. Petraeus seems like a competent general, but he is being handed a war with a flawed strategy and no end in sight. I hope Petraeus is able to turn things around.
Because Petraeus is so widely respected, he is likely to gain Senate confirmation to his post almost immediately. His hearing will most likely be next week, coincidentally at the same time as the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan (talk about a story that's fallen off the map!).
THE SENATE: There seems to be some possible light at the end of the tunnel for the long-stalled tax extenders/unemployment bill in the Senate. Today, Senator Reid (D-NV) filed cloture on a third version of the bill, which inexplicably cuts more funding for Medicaid and rolls back some of the revenue provisions. The changes are designed to win the votes of Maine moderates Snowe and Collins, though the two Republican Senators have yet to voice their support. It remains to be seen whether Reid will be able to corral the votes.
The Democrats beat back an absurd, hypocritical amendment today, offered by Senator DeMint (R-SC) that would permanently extend the low tax rate on Capital Gains. All of the self-proclaimed deficit hawks in the Senate (i.e. every single Republican Senator besides Voinovich of Ohio, plus Ben Nelson of Nebraska) voted to put a major dent in our deficit and debt. And apparently no one will call them out for this blatant hypocrisy! Luckily, the amendment failed 40-57.
THE HOUSE: The House today overwhelmingly passed a bill that gives the newly formed Oil Spill commission full subpoena power. The only dissenting vote was from Ron Paul (R-TX). The House will take up the DISCLOSE Act, which sets new limits on campaign expenditures. We'll have more on that bill tomorrow.
CONFERENCE: House and Senate conferees are trying to finish negotiations on the Wall Street Reform bill, yet they're stuck on a few sticking points. House Democrats, led by the New York delegation and some moderates want to gut the language on derivatives offered by Senator Lincoln (D-AR). Removing this provision would be bad policy, and it also might jeopardize the bill's chances in the Senate. Meanwhile, Democrats have had to tread carefully in order to keep the votes of the four Republicans who supported the bill, Senators Brown (MA), Collins (ME), Grassley (IA) and Snowe (ME). Conferees will try to come to a conclusion by Friday so that final votes can be held in each chamber next week.
That's it for now, see you tomorrow!
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
MCCHRYSTAL: The top General in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, is in hot water, and for good reason. In an ill-advised interview to a freelance reporter with The Rolling Stone, McChrystal made a variety of disparaging comments about those above him in the chain of command. Among the targets of his criticism (some of it conveyed through aides), were President Obama, Vice President Biden, Ambassador to Afghanistan Elkenberry, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones. McChrystal said that Obama was not prepared for their first meeting together, and that he came away from that meeting "unimpressed." He made some not-so-veiled references to his disagreements with Vice President Biden, who opposed the troop buildup. He referred to Jones as a "clown" stuck in the 1980's.
I'm not the type of guy who believes strongly in authority structures. That is, except when it comes to civilian control of the military. Civilian command of the military is fundamental to democracy. Commanders serve at the pleasure of the President, and expected to serve with nothing but honor and loyalty. If the General has a problem with someone, he must convey it privately, lest this sacrosanct chain of command be interrupted. By all measures, McChrystal should be fired. This, in fact, is an offense that can get you in trouble in military courts.
McChrystal has been criticized by pretty much everyone, including members of both parties, Defense Secretary Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, and late this afternoon, the President himself. Obama said that he is very disturbed by this interview, but that he wanted to talk with McChrystal by making any decisions. Rumor has it that McChrystal has put his resignation on the table, and it's up to Obama whether to accept it.
This isn't just about some stupid comments to a magazine. Obama can't let himself be bullied around by the military brass, like previous Democratic Presidents have been. Others have been afraid of standing up to military leaders because they think they'll be accused of being anti-military. McChrystal can't be allowed to get away with undermining the President. The President is counting on him to execute his strategy for Afghanistan, and he needs his full commitment and support. I hope McChrystal is no longer a commander by tomorrow.
OIL MORATORIUM: In more bad news for the White House today, a District Court judge filed an injunction against the administration's deepwater drilling moratorium. This is a horribly bad decision, because we need to figure out what went wrong and how to drill safely before we cause more damage to the environment. The judge who filed the injunction is a Reagan appointee who has a lot of stock invested in oil companies. Go figure. The administration is appealing the decision.
THE SENATE: The Senate is in a holding pattern as Democratic leaders try to figure out how to pass this long-stalled extenders package. I heard rumors this morning that Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) was ready to throw in the towel on this bill, which made me cringe. I read articles this afternoon, though, that indicated that Democrats are still trying to pass the bill, and are looking to negotiate with Maine moderates Snowe and Collins. The most likely concession would be cuts in Medicaid aid to states. Making devastating cuts out of vague concern for the deficit is short-sighted and nihilistic, but if it's the only way we can get unemployment benefits extended and other aid to state governments, then so be it. I'm just hoping they can get something done before the July 4th recess, which begins next Friday.
THE HOUSE: The House just dealt with some suspension bills today. Tomorrow, they will vote on a measure that would give the President's Oil Spill commission full subpoena power. On Thursday, they'll finally take up the DISCLOSE Act, the campaign finance bill we discussed yesterday. Sources say that Democrats should have enough votes to pass the bill when it comes to the floor.
That's it for tonight, see you tomorrow.
Monday, June 21, 2010
THE WHITE HOUSE: The President begins his week not with any of the myriad of issues on his plate, but rather by giving a speech in Ward 8 of Washington, DC on the importance of fatherhood. A similar speech he gave on Father's Day 2008, in Chicago, was one of my favorite of his speeches. At that point, I thought his challenge of deadbeat Dads could really help him break down the cultural divide that has killed Democrats for generations. I guess he's still trying.
Other than that, the President will hold a meeting Wednesday at the White House with members of both parties to discuss comprehensive energy legislation. The President is really trying to push something through by the end of the summer, but I just don't see that happening. For one thing, the Senate only has 30 days left in session before it's August recess, and it still must deal with the current extenders package, war funding, the Financial Regulation conference report, and the Elena Kagan nomination. The way the Senate works these days, I doubt they'll even be able to start consideration of a climate bill. Not to mention the fact that Democrats are nowhere near agreement on how to proceed.The lead negotiators of the bill, Senators Lieberman (CT) and Kerry (MA) both insist that some sort of bill that prices carbon is possible, but I just don't see where the 60 votes are. Republicans no matter what will insist that the bill represents a national energy tax, and coal state Democrats are happy to team up with their Republican rivals on this one.
This weekend, the President will travel to the G20 summit in Toronto, where he will discuss the global economy with world leaders. This will be his first meeting with the new Prime Minister of Great Britain, David Cameron, since Cameron assumed office last month.
THE SENATE: The Senate will start today with votes on three District Court nominees. These nominees are finally starting to move through the Senate after numerous Republican delay tactics. The Senate will then somehow try to finish work on the tax extenders bill, which includes an extension of unemployment insurance. Twice last week, the Senate failed to achieve cloture on two separate versions of the bill, so I guess they'll have to keep negotiating. I fear the fate of struggling Americans falls in the hands of moderate Republicans Snowe (ME), Collins (ME) and Brown (MA), who will be able to extract some serious concessions. I know I covered this extensively last week, but I'll reiterate how much of a shame it is that the Senate can't move this basic package of recession safety net programs. It's very easy to be obsessed with the deficit when you make a secure $150,000 a year, with a pension on the horizon, and you don't even know how to use an ATM card.
It's possible that the Senate will take up the conference report on Financial Regulation if conferees can finish their work this week. More likely, the bill will come up next week, or just after the July recess.
THE HOUSE: The House once again has a busy schedule. After dealing with suspension bills tomorrow and Wednesday, the House will try once again to take up the DISCLOSE Act, which sets new requirements for corporations donating to political campaigns. The bill had to be pulled last week after objections were made to a compromise made with the NRA that exempted the gun organization from the bill's regulations. Hopefully they'll work out this issue by the end of the week.
It's also possible that the House will take up the Senate-passed war funding bill. Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) has been trying to delay the bill until the Senate finishes its extenders package (good for him!). But if the Pentagon says they need money, they'll usually get it. What remains to be seen is whether Obey can succeed in adding funding for state and local governments to prevent layoffs to teachers and public service employees.
We may also see the House take up the conference report on the Iran sanctions bill, which is expected to get broad bipartisan support.
That's it for now, leave some comments!
Thursday, June 17, 2010
BARTON: Yesterday, as we mentioned, President Obama was able to get BP to voluntarily put $20 billion into an escrow fund to compensate victims of the massive oil spill. Today, a key Republican reacted to that news by giving Democrats a major political gift. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. When it came time for Barton to give an opening statement at a hearing with BP CEO Tony Heyward, he condemned yesterday's deal as a "shakedown" and apologized to BP. Barton said, "I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown ."
Both Democrats and Republicans heavily criticized the remark for being extraordinarily tone-deaf and ludicrous. The fact that he is apologizing to the group that screwed up the livelihoods of millions of Americans, and not demanding that THEY apologize is pretty mind boggling. Yet, Barton seems to be reflecting the consensus opinion of many Republicans. Other GOP reps have called yesterday's deal "Chicago-style" deal-making and "redistribution of wealth." Part of it is that Republicans just want to find some way to blame this on President Obama. But a lot of it is that Republicans reflexively defend large corporations no matter how guilty they are.
Republican leaders threatened to remove Barton from his position if he did not retract his statements, and he did so this afternoon. But Democrats seem armed with new ammunition tying Republicans to one of the least popular corporations in the country right now. I'm sure they'll find some way to screw it up.
THE SENATE: This might be one of the worst days in Congress this year. We start in the Senate, where even after leaders paired down the tax extenders/unemployment bill, they failed to gain the 60 votes necessary to cut off debate. The final tally, which just came in a few minutes ago, was 56-40. Democrats had already decreased the unemployment benefits and had shortened an extension of the so-called "doc fix." The bill also had been stripped of COBRA benefits for laid off workers. Even with these revisions, they couldn't pass this bill. All in the midst of 9.7% unemployment. There's not much more to say on this other than that it disgusts me. The vote tally hasn't been published yet, but based on statements it looks like Senator Ben Nelson (NE) is the Democratic holdout. It's possible that there were a couple more. Of course, no Republicans came around to support this legislation, ostensibly because of misguided concerns about adding to the deficit in the short-term. Here's my Kanye moment: The Senate does not care about unemployed people.
I'm not sure what the future holds for this bill. They'll probably have to widdle it down even more to the point that it won't be effective. As of right now, no more votes are scheduled for this week. The general public won't know exactly why this bill got bottled up in Congress, so they'll blame the governing party, and will proceed to elect people who will absolutely never vote to extend unemployment benefits.
The Senate also rejected a Republican substitute that would have cut funding in the bill across the board and offset spending with unused stimulus money. The amendment failed 41-57 along party lines, though Nelson (NE) did vote with the GOP. I can't even talk about the Senate anymore, it makes me too angry.
(Late Edit: Senator Lieberman, one of the most hypocritical deficit hawks, also voted against the bill. I hate him.)
THE HOUSE: The situation in the House isn't much better. The House did finalize a second piece of legislation today designed to spur small business lending. The legislation was approved 241-181. 3 Republicans crossed over to vote yes, while 13 Democrats voted no. No matter what the legislation is these days, a certain group of conservative Democrats pretty much automatically vote against their party.
The House was scheduled to move next to the campaign finance bill sponsored by Reps. Van Hollen (D-MD) and Castle (R-DE). However, Speaker Pelosi was forced to withdraw the bill from the floor due to concerns from both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Blue Dogs. The CBC was upset that the NRA got a special carve out while groups like the NAACP would still be forced into new stringent disclosure requirements. Blue Dogs didn't want to vote for a bill that's opposed by so many key interest groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As a result, this bill will not come up until next week, at the earliest.
To put it mildly, this is not a day to be particularly proud of our democratic institutions.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
ESCROW: The President won a pretty huge victory today when he got BP to agree to a $20 billion escrow fund to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The payments will be administered by Kenneth Feinberg, who was in charge of compensating victims of the September 11th attacks. BP, notably, will also suspend dividends to shareholders this year, and will throw down an additional $100 million to help oil workers hurt by the administration's 6 month moratorium on deep water drilling.
Besides actually stopping the spill, this is probably the best thing the President could have done. I bet he wishes he agreed to this deal yesterday. The only thing I'll say is that BP and the White House should have come to this agreement much sooner.
After announcing the agreement, the chairman of the BP board asserted that the company cares about "the small people." I probably would have phrased it just a bit differently. For his part, the President said that he asked shareholders to keep the victims in mind who have had their livelihoods completely destroyed.
It also seems like President Obama is finally starting outreach to key Senators as he tries to get momentum for some sort of climate bill. Today he met with Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. I think the chances of actually getting a progressive climate bill this year, are unfortunately, very low.
THE SENATE: Oh, the United States Senate. I'm just not sure it could get much worse than this. Today, the Senate failed to cut off debate on the tax extenders bill, which includes unemployment benefits. This time, it wasn't even the filibuster that killed it. The bill only got 45 votes, with 52 voting no. 12 Democrats voted against giving people help during a deep recession, and it wasn't just moderates. Liberals such as Senators Feingold (WI), Kohl (WI) and Menendez (NJ) joined your usual cast of ConservaDems: Bayh (IN), Begich (AK), Landrieu (LA), Lieberman (CT), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), and Webb (VA). In order for the bill to pass, Democratic leaders will be forced to allay misguided concerns about the deficit. This means cutting unemployment benefits and aid to state governments. It is unconscienable that our Senate has become deficit-obsessed when we read stories daily about schools closing and people unable to find work. Ezra KIein writes up a phenomenal summation of the policy implications of this vote, which you can read here. I'll just add that it doesn't complete shock me that so many Senators voted no today. None of them have felt the brunt of this recession. They're all making six figures, and raking in donations from the financial industry. Their friends too are well-connected, as are those they spend most of their day with (staffers, donors etc.). It's becoming crystal clear that most Senators just don't care about bringing down the 9.7% unemployment rate. If it were about the deficit, these same Senators would have voted to eliminate oil subsidies, or would have raised taxes in corporate dividends. What we're seeing is just a fundamental failure of democracy.
The Senate did have time to vote on a couple of amendments to the bill. One by Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) extends the homebuyer's tax credit through the end of this year. A companion amendment from Senator Isakson (R-GA) that would have used stimulus money to pay for this extension narrowly failed.
THE HOUSE: The House continued work on the 2nd part of its Small Business package, which they'll wrap up tomorrow. I'm still not sure whether they'll get to the DISCLOSE Act this week. The Act, as we mentioned, would set new rules on campaign donations in response to this year's Supreme Court decision in Citizens United.
I should also mention that House and Senate conferees continue to work out their differences on the Wall Street reform bill. It seems like things are moving along, and it still looks like we could get a vote in both chambers before the July 4th recess.
One complication, which absolutely amazes me, is that several New York Democrats are threatening to withhold their votes if reform becomes too stringent, especially on derivatives. As Rep. Joe Crowley said, " "Those of us in New York represent not only Main Street, but Wall Street, as well."
I guess that's today's Democratic Party. Fight tooth and nail to protect Wall Street, ignore the plight of the unemployed. Shoot me.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
THE SENATE: The Senate continued work on the extenders bill (the bill that extends expiring tax breaks and unemployment insurance). Yesterday, Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) filed cloture on the bill, though he withdrew the motion today, most likely realizing that he doesn't have 60 votes to give basic safety net protection to millions of Americans during a recession. He will have to give in to the unreasonable demands of moderate Democrats and Republicans, and not surprisingly, he'll be dealing with the usual suspects, like Senators Nelson (D-NE), Snowe (R-ME) and Collins (R-ME). Until Reid can reach some sort of deal, the debate will continue indefinitely. While it continues, Senators will vote on amendments like they did today.
The first couple of amendments dealt with the oil spill issue. Senator Sanders (I-VT) wisely proposed removing millions of dollars in subsidies to oil companies. You'd think with all the deficit hawks in Congress, this would be a no-brainer. But you're forgetting that these self-proclaimed deficit hawks only care about spending when it goes to the poor or middle class! The amendment failed by a vote of 35-61. Every Republican voted against the amendment, as did the following corporate Democrats who have a lot of explaining to do: Akaka (HI), Baucus (MT), Bayh (IN), Begich (AK), Bennet (CO), Bingaman (NM), Conrad (ND), Dodd (CT), Dorgan (ND), Hagan (NC), Inouye (HI), Kerry (MA), Landrieu (LA), Lieberman (CT), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), Tester (MT), Udall (CO), Udall (NM), Warner (VA) and Webb (VA).
Next was an amendment from Senator Vitter (R-LA) that would have sought to ensure that any revenues from the oil trust fund would be used to pay off the deficit and not go into any new spending. The amendment failed by a vote of 48-49, with Vitter getting the support of 9 Democrats.
The final amendment, from Senator Franken (D-MN) establishes a Office of the Homeowner Advocate for the purposes of informing people of their options under the Home Affordable Modification Program. The amendment passed 63-33, with the support of every Democrat besides Conrad (ND) and Nelson (NE). Republicans Brown (MA), Burr (NC), Collins (ME), Graham (SC), Grassley (IA), Murkowski (AK), Snowe (ME) and Vitter (LA).
The Senate also approved three District Court nominees today, which leaves about 30 seats vacant! Don't you just love the Senate?
THE HOUSE: The House today passed an important bill to spur small business lending by a vote of 247-170. 5 Republicans crossed over to support the bill, while 8 Democrats voted no, out of concern that the bill would add to the deficit. This is a pretty unambitious proposal to accelerate lending to business so that they can invest in capital. I'm surprised (sort of) that it faced such opposition.
More interesting, though, was the Republican motion to recommit that preceded the vote on final passage. Republicans used the motion to bring up a vote on whether to overturn the individual mandate in the new health care law. Republicans have been harping about the provision being unconstitutional and evil. Of course, by eliminating the individual mandate, the entire law would be undermined. Insurance prices would go up, because while companies would be required to cover people with preexisting conditions, healthy people would not be getting into the insurance pool. Republicans, though, were mostly interested in scoring a political point. And they did a pretty good job, on first glance. 21 Democrats crossed over to support repeal, all of whom voted against health care in the first place. Rep. Cao (R-LA) was the lone Republican voting no. Let's just hope that the 21 Democrats who voted yes today are the first to be defeated in this November's election. Here's the list in case you're interested: Altmire (PA), Boren (OK), Boucher (VA), Bright (AL), Chandler (KY), Childers (MS), Critz (PA), Davis (TN), Edwards (TX), Holden (PA), Marshall (GA), McIntyre (NC), Minnick (ID), Nye (VA), Peterson (MN), Ross (AR), Shuler (NC), Skelton (MO), Tanner (TN), Taylor (MS) and Teague (NM).
That's it for tonight. Head over to my Twitter account for my reaction to the speech.
Monday, June 14, 2010
THE WHITE HOUSE: After facing complaints that he has been slow to react to the devastating oil spill in the gulf coast, the President this week will take matters into his own hands. Today and tomorrow, he will be traveling to the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana to again tour the devastation. When he returns, he will address the nation from the Oval Office, his first such address as President. There is no setting more Presidential than an Oval Office address, and it seems like President Obama wants to prove to the American people that he is ready to be a true leader in cleaning up this mess.
Along with the change of style, the administration is also pursuing a change in policy. The Obama administration will ask BP executives at a Wednesday meeting to set up an escrow account, worth up to $20 billion, to fully repay victims of the disaster. BP is publicly mum on whether they will accept this plan, but my guess is that they'll be publicly ho-hum, while fighting tooth-and-nail in private. I'm frankly more interested in what comes out of this meeting than I am with the President's speech tomorrow night. This is where we'll learn whether the Obama administration can get sucker-punch a corporation that has been thoroughly discredited in public.
I'm also pleased to see that the President is taking some leadership on the jobs issue. This Saturday night, Obama sent a letter to Congressional leaders asking them to approve $50 billion in emergency funding for states and localities to prevent layoffs to teachers, firefighters and policemen. It's unclear whether Democrats on Capital Hill can move this funding quickly. They'd probably have to include it in the current jobs legislation, now on the Senate floor, or as part of a larger war-funding measure. Nothing could do more immediately to stave off a double-dip recession than emergency spending to protect state employees. It may not make sense to brain-dead conservatives, but it's not exactly a great investment in our future when kids are forced to sit in classes with 100 other students, police forces can't protect neighborhoods, and thousands of workers don't have any money to spend.
This funding will be universally opposed by Republicans, who have taken up the mantle of deficit-peacocks this election season. The big problem, once again, will be Blue Dog Democrats, whose misguided concerns about the debt will lead them to oppose this common-sense jobs measure, which in turn will keep joblessness high and doom their chances for reelection. To win over some Blue Dogs, the best option might be to couple this emergency funding with steps two or three years down the road that reduce the deficit. This way, you can do something about the jobs situation now, but also improve our fiscal balance sheet in the long-term.
THE SENATE: The Senate this week will continue to slog through the bill to extend a variety of tax provisions, as well as long-term unemployment benefits. The bill has been hung up while Democrats seek to find spending offsets and make other changes. There will be no votes on the bill today or tomorrow, so the earliest we could see final action on this bill probably won't be until Thursday or Friday.
The Senate will also take up some District Court nominees tomorrow.
THE HOUSE: The House gavels in today for a busy week of work. After dealing with suspension bills today and tomorrow, the House will take up a measure designed to spur lending to small businesses. This is a bill pushed heavily by the White House in recent weeks. I expect the bill to pass, with little to no Republican support. I would love to see how they explain away this one!
The House also might take action on a couple of other key pieces of legislation. It's possible we could see consideration of the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would require corporations to stand by their advertisements of political candidates. This bill is in response to the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case. It's possible we could see the House take up the war-funding bill by the end of the week as well.
That's it for now, see you tonight!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
THE SENATE: By a vote of 47-53, the Senate failed to pass a GOP-sponsored resolution that would seek to prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, as it is now required to do under law. Ostensibly, the GOP (and their dirty Democratic allies) said that Congress should be in charge of regulating greenhouse gases, not EPA "bureaucrats." The problem is that no GOP Senator so far has signed on to any such piece of legislation. What they really want is for greenhouse gases NOT to be regulated at all. Essentially, this resolution is doing the bidding of the oil and coal industries.
Every single Republican voted for the resolution, which is discouraging, because we would need at least one of their votes to get a comprehensive energy bill that sets a price on carbon. Perhaps more encouraging were the "Dirty Half-Dozen" Democrats who voted yes, mostly to protect dirty industries in their home states. Here is the list of Democrats, so you can call and harass them: Bayh (IN), Landrieu (LA), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), and Rockefeller (WV).
While I'm glad this resolution was defeated, the close vote shows that there simply isn't the will in Congress, even despite the oil spill. I don't know what kind of disaster will force our political leaders to address this dire problem, but I hope they do so before it is too late.
If Congress doesn't act by the end of this year, the Obama administration should take the political hit and regulate greenhouse gases through the EPA.
The Senate will move back to the tax extenders/unemployment bill next Tuesday. After all the extremely hard work they've done creating jobs, they deserve a four day weekend (I hope you know what I'm being sarcastic).
THE HOUSE: The House today passed a bill that reforms the Federal Housing Administration. The bill is designed, according to the Majority Whip's office: (a) to minimize the default risk to the MMIF and to homeowners; and (b) to meet the housing needs of the borrowers that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) single family program is designed to serve. The bill passed by an overwhelming margin of 406-4. No votes came from Republicans Broun (GA), Flake (AZ) and Paul (TX), as well as (somewhat questionably) Democrat Mike Honda (CA).
The House has adjourned for the week, and will take up a small business loan program and a separate small business tax credit bill when it returns next Tuesday.
THE WHITE HOUSE: For some reason, there has been a lot of conservative clamor recently about how President Obama hasn't met with BP CEO Tony Heyward to discuss the oil spill cleanup. Apparently, Obama has taken these complaints to heart. He will meet with Heyward at the White House next week, though I'm not quite sure exactly what the meeting will accomplish.
The President did meet today with families of those who died when the oil rig exploded in April. He offered his condolences and promised to do all he could to prevent such a disaster in the future.
That's it for today. We'll see you on Monday morning!
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
ELECTION: Last night, primary elections were held across the country, and there were more than a few notable races. The biggest disappointment of the night came in Arkansas, where incumbent Centrist Democrat Blanche Lincoln held off a challenge from the labor-backed Lt. Governor Bill Halter. I was rooting for Halter mostly because I think we should hold Democrats accountable who do the bidding of corporations. Lincoln has been a major thorn in the side of Democrats on almost every issue since President Obama took office (with the exception of her recent work on financial regulation). Truth be told, the election last night doesn't matter very much, because both candidates would lose big to Republican nominee Rep. John Boozman. I would be shocked of Boozman is not the next Senator from Arkansas.
In Nevada, Democrats have seemingly caught a pretty nice break. Republicans have nominated tea-party candidate Sharron Angle, who has all kinds of interesting views (she's against putting fluoride in our water supply) to run against Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV). Reid is very unpopular, and would lose to a decent Republican this year, but he may be saved by Angle's nuttiness. I have upgraded Reid's chances in our Senate Rankings to "Toss Up."
In California, two female former executives won big. Carly Fiorina, who left Hewlett Packard in disgrace and recently said that concerns about global warming are akin to "concerns about the weather" will face Senator Barbara Boxer. I think Boxer is a favorite against Fiorina, even though she's not rating very highly in the polls these days. Meg Whitman, formerly of EBAY, will run against Democratic Attorney General, and former Governor, Jerry Brown in the race for the statehouse. I believe Brown to be a slight favorite due to his name recognition, but Whitman is certainly capable of pouring millions of her own money into the race.
Out in South Carolina, there will be a runoff in the Republican race for Governor between Congressman Gresham Barrett (who voted for Tarp! Gasp!) and tea-party favorite Nikki Haley, who seems to have withstood a potential sex scandal. Haley was close to winning the race outright last night, and I would suspect that she'll route Barrett in the runoff.
In the night's only general election race, Republican Tom Graves won a House seat in Georgia, replacing Nathan Deal, who quit Congress to run for Governor. Graves was up against another Republican, as no Democrats were able to qualify for the runoff. Graves will take his seat this week, which will give Republicans 178 House seats (vs. 255 for the Democrats, with 2 vacancies).
I changed some election rankings on the right side of the screen after last night's results. Let me know what you think!
THE SENATE: The Senate, shockingly, is making progress on the long forestalled jobs bill that we've covered extensively on this blog. The bill would extend expiring tax breaks and unemployment benefits. The Senate version includes a reduction in a proposed tax on financial transactions, supplemented by a tax increase on oil companies. Today, the Senate voted on a several amendments to the bill.
The first amendment, offered by Senator Cardin (D-MD) would have allowed the children of those who work for the federal government to get access to their parents' health care until they are 26 (similar to the provision in the health care law). Apparently, Senators are wealthy enough that this benefit doesn't matter to them as much as it would say, to a janitor in some federal building. The amendment got 57 votes, three short of what it would have needed to overcome budget restrictions. All Republicans, as well as Senator Feingold (WI), voted no.
Senators killed two Republican amendments, one from Senator Roberts (KS) that would have exempted pediatric medical devices from the new tax on medical equipment, and another from Senator Cornyn that would have required more transparency into the holders of U.S. debt.
The most crucial amendment was offered by Senators Sessions (R-AL) and McCaskill (D-MO). It would freeze non-defense discretionary spending for three years, which goes beyond the proposed freeze offered by President Obama. The amendment failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance. The final tally was 57-41, with all Republicans and Democrats Bayh (IN), Begich (AK), Bennet (CO), Cantwell (WA), Carper (DE), Casey (PA), Klobuchar (MN), Lieberman (CT), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO), Nelson (NE), Nelson (FL), Shaheen (NH), Udall (CO), Warner (VA) and Webb (VA) voted yes.
The Senate will take an unfortunate break from this bill tomorrow while they consider an ill-advised resolution stripping the EPA from the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. We'll have more on that tomorrow. I hope President Obama takes a more active role in seeing this jobs bill through to its conclusion as soon as possible.
THE HOUSE: The House took a couple of procedural votes today relating to the upcoming House-Senate conference on the Wall Street reform legislation. Republicans offered a non-binding motion to instruct conferees that recommends the removal of a few Senate provisions, and asks that the bill be made available online 72 hours prior to a vote. The motion was rejected 198-217.
The House moves tomorrow to a bill reforming the Federal Housing Administration.
That's it for tonight. See you tomorrow!
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
THE WHITE HOUSE: The President's marquee event today was a town hall with Senior Citizens near The Strike's old home in Wheaton, MD. The President tested out a new pitch today, arguing that if Republicans win this November, they will try and roll back the most popular elements, like ending the donut hole for prescription drugs for seniors, and tax breaks for small businesses. This strategy I think is a good one, because I still think people aren't aware of the immediate benefits of health reform. It also sets up a good contrast between Obama and the Republican alternative. It creates tangible consequences in voters' minds.
I wish President Obama would use these good political skills to help spur job creation. After last week's disappointing jobs numbers, it has become even more imperative that President Obama and Congressional Democrats beat back the conventional wisdom that we can't spend money to create jobs right now. The Big Picture and I had a long conversation about this yesterday, and we agreed that it's a major stain on Obama's Presidency. He has not made a single push for a stalled bill in Congress that would extend expiring tax breaks and unemployment insurance. He hasn't been out front about securing money to avoid layoffs to teachers. He hasn't talked at all recently either about near-term strategies for creating jobs (beyond small business tax cuts), nor on long-term strategies, like massive investments in clean energy. Luckily, left-wing activists have begun to put pressure on the administration on this issue. I think we all realize that Obama's presidency is doomed if the jobs picture doesn't improve markedly. The job situation is still dire, and we can't have a President who is willing to accept 10% of employment.
THE SENATE: The Senate today began consideration of the aforementioned tax extender/unemployment bill. The Senate will take up the House version of the bill (passed two weeks ago), but they will modify it significantly. Among the modifications are more money to states for Medicaid (Good), watering down the tax on financial transactions (Bad), and higher taxes on oil companies (Good). The Senate will start voting on amendments to the bill tomorrow.
THE HOUSE: It was just suspension bills in the House today, they'll get going on serious legislative business tomorrow.
That's it for us. See you tomorrow night! Leave comments!
Monday, June 7, 2010
Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. We apologize for the delay in getting this posted, but there seems to have been a problem with Blogger this morning. Now, on to the week in politics.
THE WHITE HOUSE: Congress is back in session this week, but the political world’s collective minds will be focused on two things: how the President continues dealing with the oil spill and other crises, and some very important primary elections tomorrow night. Let’s start with the former. The President continues to put himself out there on the oil spill. Today, he holds a high profile meeting with his cabinet and Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen to discuss the latest efforts to mitigate the spill. I’ve tried to ignore the media obsession about whether President Obama is sufficiently angry about the spill, but I’m glad to see that he’s become more directly involved in the last week or so in coordinating cleanup efforts. It looks like the latest effort to cap the well has been partially successful, though stopping the spill completely probably won’t take place until August.
The President goes to
The President will also be closely involved this week in trying to speed up conference negotiations on the Wall Street reform bill. The House is expected to name negotiators this week, and the conference is slated to start next week. President Obama wants to finish the bill before the G20 summit in
ELECTIONS: Tomorrow night is election night, and there are some very interesting races happening all over the country. The most important, perhaps, is an
THE HOUSE: The House will deal with suspension bills starting tomorrow, with substantive legislation to come up later in the week. The House will vote on a bill to reform the Federal Housing Administration. That bill would increase the maximum premium to be paid by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to support troubled mortgages. The House also might take up a bill that would authorize new loans to small businesses. I expect both bills to face unanimous Republican opposition. The House still must consider a Senate-passed war funding bill in the next couple of weeks, but it is not yet on the floor schedule.
THE SENATE: The Senate will vote today on a few District Court nominees. Starting tomorrow, they will consider a Republican-sponsored resolution that would strip the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouse gases. The Supreme Court has mandated that the EPA must establish rules to regulate these gases, but they have been hesitant to do so while Congress considers a comprehensive energy bill. The bill is being brought to the floor under the “Congressional Review Act,” meaning it can not be filibustered. Republicans, though, should not have enough votes to pass this misguided measure. I wish they would focus instead on passing a comprehensive energy bill, instead of actively trying to make things worse.
That’s it for today, we’ll see you for a brief entry tonight!
Thursday, June 3, 2010
SCANDAL: There has been an alarming amount of DC chatter about two "scandals" that actually are nothing at all. President Obama floated potential job offers to both Rep. Joe Sestak (PA) and State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (CO) to get them to avoid challenging incumbent Democrats in this year's Senate primaries. Even if this was something Bush did, I would never have thought of it as a big deal. It seems perfectly normal, if somewhat unethical, that a President would try to make a deal to avoid a divisive primary. The top Republican on the House Government Reform committee, who would become chairman if the GOP retakes the House this November, is repeatedly calling for investigations and special prosecutors, and the press is eating it up. It's pretty difficult to watch.
I will say this though: the President's strategy absolutely worked. He pledged loyalty to current Senators in exchange for their support for key pieces of legislation. I'm not sure that Senators Specter (PA) and Bennet (CO) would have been such staunch Obama supporters if they weren't depending on White House support. Thankfully, the President wasn't able to knock any of these primary challengers out of their races. This forced the current Senators to court their base, and thus pushed them leftward. Put simply, loyalty is a good political strategy, and so is pressure from the base!
THE WHITE HOUSE: The President today met with one of his political adversaries, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona. The two of them reportedly did not spend much time discussing Arizona's new immigration law, though President Obama did pledge to send troops to protect the Arizona border. Brewer described the meeting as cordial.
The President also went to two separate events today at each of his daugther's schools. Isn't he such a good Dad?
That's it for now. On a personal note, we are very proud here of Mother Strike, who will be hosting and introducing the House Speaker at an event tomorrow in San Francisco.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
SPEECH: President Obama gave what amounted to his first speech of the 2010 midterm election campaign. The speech was a robust defense of his accomplishments, and a sharp critique of the Republican party. He noted that change can be scary, but it is necessary given the magnitude of the problems we face. He talked about how Republicans have reflexively opposed everything he's done in the last year, even things they should be supporting like small business tax breaks. It comes from, Obama said, a worldview that government should have little or no role in our lives. He mentioned all of the government programs that give the American people more "prosperity and security" like Social Security, Medicare and the FDIC. He also used the oil spill as a rally call for a comprehensive energy plan.
This is more like it! The President finally is explaining his governing philosophy, and what his ultimate goal is: giving families security to allow them to pursue their dreams. I'm just afraid that he's been too caught up in the mire of other issues recently (not completely his fault) like the oil spill, and recent international conflicts for this speech to gain any immediate attention among the electorate. He will have to sustain this message through November, and he has to get every Democrat on board. Only by making a sustained, persuasive case for why we need government to help solve our most pressing problems will the Obama truly be a transformative President.
PRIMARY OBSERVATIONS: I was particularly pleased with the results of two primary elections last night in Alabama. In the Governor's race, Rep. Artur Davis, an African American Congressman got trounced in the Democratic primary by Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks (who is white). Davis ran a positively stupid campaign. He blew off Alabama's African American leaders because he wanted to appeal to white voters, but in doing so, he alienated his potential base. He also came out strongly against President Obama's health care plan. It was a position against not only the popular opinion of his poor, black Congressional district, but also the district's interests. It was a shallow political calculation. Sparks, on the other hand, came out strongly in support of not only the health care bill, but the public option. He also won the endorsement of the state's African American groups. Sparks ended up carrying all of the majority-black counties in the state. This is a great lesson that you can't abandon your base, and you can't start campaigning for a general election until you make it through the primary. It's also a strong rebuke to Davis' anti-health care stance among the Democratic electorate of Alabama. His position was particularly irritating, because it forced Democrats to pry away other votes from more conservative members.
In Alabama's 5th Congressional District, party-switching Republican Rep. Parker Griffith lost by a wide margin in his primary election. He wasn't even able to force the leading candidate into a runoff. Switching parties can get you the support of the Washington political establishment, but it doesn't reflect well to voters, who are good at spotting political opportunists.
That's it for tonight, we'll see you tomorrow!
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
THE WHITE HOUSE: All of the action this week will be at the White House, where President Obama is dealing with quite a myriad of problems. First and foremost is the continuing devastation of the oil spill in the Gulf. After this week's "Top Kill" operation failed, BP and the administration are looking for answers. I think it's about time President Obama take on a larger role. Today, he meets with the head of the newly formed oil spill commission at the White House. Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder is headed down to the Gulf Coast to survey the scene. There are reports that the administration could be considering law suits against BP for malfeasance. I hope, if only for political reasons, that the administration goes down this path.
The tragedy about this situation is that BP has been an utter failure at stopping the spill, yet they are the only ones who have the access and machinery to fix the problem. I think the government needs to come in and take over the operation. This is a great lesson, though, in our economic system. BP gets all the rewards of massive profits by drilling in the gulf, yet the risk is socialized, with the after effects wreaking havoc on a large part of the country. Even if BP accepts full liability, which so far doesn't seem too likely, the economic and environmental damage will be with us for years to come.
The President also must deal with another crisis in the Middle East. This weekend, Israeli forces stopped a Flotilla, which was bringing supplies to Gaza. The Flotilla was full of Turkish and European activists, who apparently set up the high profile confrontation to gain some publicity for their cause. This does NOT excuse the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces, which reacted to a minor provocation with violence, reportedly killing 11 people in the process. President Obama wants to patch up our somewhat strained relationship with Israel, but he needs to come out against this abhorrent behavior forcefully.
RECESS: I'll also be looking this week to see how the Congressional recess goes for members traveling back home. I don't expect any town hall style outbursts, mostly because the health care issue is settled. I do expect some tough questioning for Democratic members, especially from older, white constituents. Democrats have been instructed to highlight the instant benefits of the health care law to seniors. They've also been told to highlight contrasts with their Republican opponents, especially on the economy. If Democrats are to have any success this year (success is defined as not losing a catastrophic number of seats), they will need the help of all candidates in crafting a narrative. The narrative has to highlight how the Democrats brought the economy back from the brink, while the Republicans who drove us into the ditch just want to sit back and blame others. If Democrats try to throw each other on the bus by saying "I stood up to my party and voted against" this or that, they'll fall as one.
That's it for now. See you tonight!