Monday, June 28, 2010

The Weekly Strike-6/28-7/4

Good morning and welcome to the Weekly Strike. It is such an extraordinarily action packed week in Washington, that we may not be able to get to everything. But we'll try!

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.

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