Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Daily Strike-6/17/10-Apologies

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. There are a lot of serious issues out there right now, most notably the continuing negligence and contempt Congress is showing to the unemployed. But I'll devote tonight's entry to a story that will simply dominate a couple of news cycles.

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.

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