Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Daily Strike-7/21/10-Overshadowed

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike. Today was supposed to be a day of great pomp and circumstance for the President, but it didn't quite turn out that way. Let's get to the day in politics.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The White House was consumed today with the unfortunate story of Shirley Sherrod, which we addressed yesterday. After right-wing media nut Andrew Breitbart posted an out-of-context video of her at an NAACP conference, she was promptly let go by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The mainstream media, nor the administration, even considered vetting Breitbart's claim. Thankfully, the administration admitted its mistake today. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs apologized on behalf of the administration, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack offered Sherrod her job back. Understandably, after this display, Sherrod needs time to figure out whether she wants to return to her old job. I hope, for the country's sake, that she does. Sherrod is actually a hero. Her speech actually indicated a realization 24 years ago that the plight of the poor in this country was confined to one race, and this has guided her work as a public servant. CNN reports that Sherrod's father was killed by a member of the KKK, and was not prosecuted. Sherrod used that experience as an impetus to stay in the Deep South and work for social change, and that's exactly what she's done. It was truly a shameful display by Breitbart, the mainstream media, and the administration, and I hope it never happens again.

This news overshadowed what was supposed to be a rather historic day. President Obama signed the sweeping financial reform legislation into law today at a ceremony in Washington DC (ironically at the Ronald Reagan building). Obama was surrounded by the authors of the bill, Barney Frank (MA) and Chris Dodd (CT) as well as the Congressional leadership. The bill's signing is just the beginning, especially since the bill success depends on successful implementation. Hopefully, Obama will begin this implementation process by appointing Elizabeth Warren, who led the TARP investigation committee, as head of the new Consumer Protection Agency housed within the Federal Reserve.

This bill, in many ways, is an appropriate representation of this administration. A major policy accomplishment marred by disappointing compromises, and overshadowed by the still struggling economy.

THE SENATE: The Senate finally finished work on the unemployment insurance extension bill today. Republicans refused to hold an immediate vote, and instead insisted on voting on some political "gotcha" amendments. Let's run through them, because they give a good sense of where each Senator's priorities are.

1. The first amendment, offered by Senator Brown (MA), would have paid for the extension with unspent stimulus funds. Brown may not be smart enough to think about this, but we're pretty limited in the stimulus fund we have now. There is no good reason to take money away from job investment. The amendment failed 42-56. Democrats Lincoln (AR) and Nelson (NE) joined every Republican in support.

2. Next was an amendment from Senator Coburn (R-OK), that would have required all spending that violates PAYGO budgeting rules to be posted on a special website. I don't really have a problem with this, but like the 49 Democratic Senators who voted no on this amendment, I just don't trust Tom Coburn. Democratic Senators Feingold (WI), Hagan (NC), Klobuchar (MN), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Nelson (FL), Pryor (AR), Tester (MT) and Webb (VA) voted with the GOP.

3. A similar amendment that would require the federal government to post information on the federal debt, also from Senator Coburn, got 54 votes, but was 6 votes shy of the 67 needed to suspend the rules and consider the amendment.

4. The most important amendment, in my view, was offered by Senator DeMint (R-SC). His amendment would have permanently ended the estate tax, which only affects heirs to millionaires (2% of all estates), thus adding billions to the deficit. Amazingly, these self-proclaimed "deficit hawks" absolutely don't care about the deficit at all. They just don't want to spend money helping average Americans. They're perfectly ok protecting the country's richest families and passing the debt onto our children and grandchildren. Faux fiscal conservative Democrats Lincoln (AR) and Nelson (NE) voted for this abominable amendment along with 37 Republicans. Republicans Collins (ME), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich (OH) voted with 56 Democrats against the amendment. I hope the media takes notice whenever any of these Senators proclaim to be deficit hawks.

5. DeMint also sought to include an amendment that would bar the U.S. from challenging the Arizona immigration law in federal court. Thankfully, the amendment was defeated 43-55. Democratic immigration hawks Baucus (MT), Lincoln (AR), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), and Tester (MT) voted yes with most of the GOP. Republicans Johanns (NE...didn't see this one coming!) and Voinovich voted with the Democrats.

The bill finally passed this evening 59-39. Once again, Republicans Collins and Snowe (ME) joined the Democrats in voting yes, while Ben Nelson voted no with the Republicans. Senators Bayh (IN) and Vitter (LA) did not vote. The bill goes back to the House tomorrow, where it will be rubber stamped and sent to President Obama for his signature later this week. When the bill is signed, it should take about two weeks for retroactive benefit checks to be sent to the unemployed.

THE HOUSE: The House passed a series of bills today under suspension of the rules as it waited the Senate to finish its work. One of the bills was to prevent interstate transport of animal crush videos, and yes, three Republicans voted against it.

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

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