Monday, January 3, 2011

112th Congress Preview: Time for Democrats to Stand and Fight

Good evening and welcome to the first edition of the Strike after the election season. Gone now are the large majorities voters handed the Democrats in 2008, and in comes a brand new daunting political landscape. On Wednesday at 12pm, Republicans will officially assume control of the House of Representatives under the leadership of John Boehner.

The first week's schedule is, of course, making all of us angry, but it also is an incredibly important opportunity to turn their political fortunes, and the country around. As little as I trust the Democrats' political instincts after what's happened in the past year, I have to say that I have a small measure of confidence that some good things could come out of being in the Minority.

Here are the painful details of how the week will go down. First, the members will elect the new Speaker in a live roll call on the House floor. John Boehner will get all 242 Republicans to vote for him. Minority Leader Pelosi will not get the votes of all 193 members of her caucus. Blue Dog Heath Shuler has declared that he's voting for himself, a pointless exercise in protest of Pelosi's alleged indifference towrd the Blue Dogs (despite the fact that she bent over backwards to accomodate their every need during the last Congress). Shuler and some other conservatives might form a block of around 10-20 members to vote againt their party's nominee for Speaker.

The most painful moment comes after this vote, when Nancy Pelosi will formally hand the gavel to the no doubt tearful Boehner. Boehner will give his inaugural address, and then the House gets down to business. The first item will be a package of rules introduced by the new chairman of the Rules Committee, the insufferable Rep. Dreier of California. The rules package has a bunch of junk in it. For one, it eliminates the Democrats' requirement that all spending or tax cuts has to be offset (PAYGO) with a bogus proposal that only spending be offset, not tax cuts. Second, the rules package will give Budget Chairman Paul Ryan the authority to unilaterally set spending levels for the whole House if House Republicans and the Democratic Senate Majority don't agree on spending levels (which will almost certainly happen). The effect of this will be that Paul Ryan will decide how much the government spends on each department, which isn't good, considering that he has proposed basically eliminating Medicare. The practical effect is less clear, since the real budget will be some sort of grand bargain between President Obama, Harry Reid and John Boehner, but this rule certainly rubs some Democrats the wrong way. I personally don't really care about it. Republicans won the election, and they make rules that favor their policy choices. I wish Democrats had done the same.

The rules package should pass easily. The next vote will be on a bill to cut House office budgets by 5%. This will save a measley $25 million, but Republicans believe that it will be good optics to show how much they're "tightening their belts." I'd be surprised if many Democrats had the nerve to vote against this, even though it's a pointless proposal that will cause House offices to be less effective.

After that, the real battle begins. The Republicans have introduced the "Repealing the Job Killing Health Care Bill Act," which is exactly what it sounds like. A vote on this bill will occur on Wednesday the 12th. The vote on the bill is a foregone conclusion. I expect at least 240 of the 242 Republicans to vote for it, which ensures that it will pass easily. 12 Democrats who voted against the bill last year are still in the House, and most if not all of them will support repeal as well. The rest of the 181 Democrats will vote no. The proposal will die in the Senate, thankfully, and won't even require the President's veto.

The battle, thus, is not the vote itself. It is the chance for Democrats to win a debate on the merits of health reform. They need to make the benefits of the law real, and the GOP is giving them a great opportunity to do so. When the GOP proposes repealing the bill, they are proposing that preventative no longer be required on private plans, that the Medicare donut hole be reopened, that preexisting conditions can once again be a basis for denying coverage. The Democrats need to make these arguments forcefully and turn this GOP political ploy into a chance to sell the public on what they'd be missing if the law were repealed.

I have some confidence that House Democrats will be able to do this, since most of the moderate wing of the party lost in November. The floor will belong to the liberals, who will need to fight hard for what they believe in. Of course, it would help if their President jumped into the fray and made the case as well, but I'm not holding my breath.