Tuesday, April 27, 2010

G.O.P. Blocks Debate on Financial Oversight Bill

From the New York Times:
Senate Republicans, united in opposition to the Democrats’ legislation to tighten regulation of the financial system, voted on Monday to block the bill from reaching the floor for debate. As both sides dug in, the battle has huge ramifications for the economy and for their political prospects in this year’s midterm elections.

Republicans said they were intent on winning substantive changes to the bill and accused the Democrats of rushing the most far-reaching overhaul of the financial regulatory system since the Great Depression. Both sides say they expect the overhaul eventually will be approved.

Democrats charged that Republicans were leaving the country at risk of another financial calamity and siding with wealthy corporate interests. The chief executive of one such firm, Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street powerhouse accused of fraud by federal regulators, is to testify Tuesday before a Senate committee.

Sensing political momentum at a time of deep public anger at Wall Street, Democratic leaders said they would keep the regulatory bill on the floor — and delay the rest of their busy legislative agenda — to ratchet up the pressure on the Republicans.

For a good roundup of political analysis on the financial reform battle, see this post on the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire. As usual, the latest news bulletins can be found on the TalkingPointsMemo Financial Reform Wire.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Poll Shows Most Americans Support Stricter Financial Regulation

From the Washington Post:

About two-thirds of Americans support stricter regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Majorities also back two main components of legislation congressional Democrats plan to bring to a vote in the Senate this week: greater federal oversight of consumer loans and a company-paid fund that would cover the costs of dismantling failed firms that put the broader economy at risk.

A third pillar of the reform effort draws a more even split: 43 percent support federal regulation of the derivatives market; 41 percent are opposed. Nearly one in five - 17 percent - express no opinion on this complicated topic.

President Obama, who traveled to New York last week to deliver his case for sweeping changes to the financial system gets an even-up review of his performance on the issue, with 48 percent of those polled approving of his handling of financial regulation and 48 percent disapproving.

But compared with congressional Republicans, Obama has a clear advantage. A slim majority - 52 percent - of all Americans says they trust Obama over the GOP on the issue, while 35 percent favor the Republicans in Congress. Independents prefer Obama 47 to 35 percent, with 16 percent trusting neither side on the issue.

An Interview with Senator Dodd

In the Washington Post, Ezra Klein has a fascinating interview with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), in which they discuss the causes of the financial crisis, how close the system came to a total meltdown, and how the Senate bill seeks to reimpose regulation on Wall Street.

Democrats, Pressuring G.O.P., Unite on Finance Bill

From the New York Times:
Senate Democrats said Sunday that they had bridged internal party differences and coalesced around a plan to tighten regulation of derivatives, the complex financial instruments that were a major factor in the 2008 economic crisis.

The proposed derivatives rules are an important part of the effort to strengthen regulation of the nation’s financial system, and seem certain to anger some of Wall Street’s biggest players.

The agreement among Democrats would combine overlapping proposals on derivatives by the banking and agriculture committees, and it raised the pressure on Senate Republicans, who said that they were still fighting for changes to the bill and planned to block the start of floor debate in a first procedural vote on Monday.

For more on this afternoon's showdown over financial reform, see this item from the Times's Caucus blog and this story from The Washington Post. TalkingPointsMemo will be following all of the day's developments on its Financial Reform Wire.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Financial Reform Deal: Close But No Cigar (Yet)

TalkingPointsMemo reports:

Despite round-the-clock talks between Sen. Chris Dodd and Sen. Richard Shelby there's no bipartisan deal on financial regulatory reform, but leaders on both sides said Sunday they are hopeful they can come together.

In a sharp contrast from the rancorous tone on last week's Sunday shows, Republicans and Democrats alike said today there is good momentum to agree on legislation soon, even though everyone agreed they aren't there "yet."

Sens. Schumer and McConnell Go Head-to-Head in Filibuster Reform Fight

From The Hill:
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Thursday launched a high-profile fight in a committee hearing on changing the Senate's filibuster rules.

Schumer opened a scheduled hearing on the 200-year history of the legislative tactic by serving notice that he intends to strongly consider some kind of change to the chamber's rules in order to prevent legislation continuing to be blocked by small numbers of senators.

"The filibuster used to be the exception to the rule. In today’s Senate, it’s becoming a straightjacket," Schumer said. "The truth is, both parties have had a love-hate relationship with the filibuster, depending on if you are in the majority or the minority at the time. But this is not healthy for the Senate as an institution."

McConnell was resistant, saying that Democrats are simply frustrated they cannot amass 60 votes to move legislation, and blaming Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for the situation by blocking Republicans from offering amendments.

“I submit that the effort to change the rules is not about democracy. It is not about doing what a majority of the American people want. It is about power,” McConnell said.
For more on the issue of Senate reform, see this post from Washington Monthly.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Democratic Governor Vetoes Two Oklahoma Abortion Bills

The Associated Press reports:
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry vetoed two abortion bills Friday that he said are an unconstitutional attempt by the Legislature to insert government into the private lives and decisions of citizens.

One measure would have required women to undergo an intrusive ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting abortions. Henry said that legislation is flawed because it does not allow rape and incest victims to be exempted.

Lawmakers who supported the vetoed measures promised an override vote in the House and Senate as early as next week. A national abortion rights group has said the ultrasound bill would have been among the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country if it had been signed into law.

Friday, April 23, 2010

U.S.’s Toughest Immigration Law Is Signed in Arizona, Sparking Bitter Debate

From the New York Times:
Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed the toughest illegal immigration law in the country on Friday, aimed at identifying, prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants. The governor’s move unleashed immediate protests and reignited the divisive battle over immigration reform nationally.

Even before Governor Brewer signed the law at a 4:30 p.m. news conference here, President Obama strongly criticized it.

* * * * *

The law, which opponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in the country in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime. It would also give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have decried it as an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.

The political debate leading up to Governor Brewer’s decision, and Mr. Obama’s criticism of the law — presidents very rarely weigh in on state legislation — underscored the power of the immigration debate in states along the Mexican border. It presaged the polarizing arguments that await the president and Congress as they take up the issue nationally.

Obama Criticizes Wall Street in Push for Reform

From the New York Times:

President Obama took his rhetoric of reform on Thursday to the nation’s financial capital in a high-profile foray to chide Wall Street bankers for their “reckless practices” and to press for tighter regulations meant to avert another financial crisis.

Addressing leaders of New York’s financial giants, including Goldman Sachs, Mr. Obama described himself as a champion of change battling “battalions of financial industry lobbyists” and the “withering forces” of the economic elite. With his poll numbers sagging, the choreographed confrontation seemed aimed at tapping the nation’s antiestablishment mood as well as muscling financial regulation legislation through Congress.

But the president also struck a note of conciliation with an industry that has contributed generously to his party, beseeching bankers to work with him to forge a new regulatory structure. While he spoke, his Democratic allies in Washington moved to force a showdown in the Senate on Monday, scheduling a procedural vote that will test the prospects for bipartisan compromise and Republican resolve to block the president’s plans.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to begin debate on the bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a vote on Monday at 5:15 p.m. on whether to take up the measure. In the meantime, the two sides are negotiating to see whether it is possible to come up with a bipartisan agreement.

Here is video of the President's speech; a transcript can be found here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Financial Reform Bill Advances in Senate

From the New York Times:
Senate Republicans and Democrats predicted on Wednesday that Congress would soon pass a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system, indicating a potentially swift resolution of the latest partisan firefight on Capitol Hill.

But the sides offered starkly different reasons for their optimism. Republicans said that they had forced Democrats back to the bargaining table to negotiate a bipartisan accord, while Democrats said that Republicans were hastily abandoning their opposition in fear of a public outcry.

With President Obama headed to New York City on Thursday to press the case for tougher rules for Wall Street, a first crack appeared in the Republican wall of opposition.

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, voted with Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee in favor of imposing tougher rules for derivatives, the complex securities that were at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis.

The Agriculture Committee, which deals with derivatives because it oversees commodities futures trading, voted 13 to 8 to approve the bill, which was sponsored by Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas, the panel’s chairwoman. The bill is expected to be part of the wider regulatory overhaul put forward by the banking committee, though Democrats are still figuring out how to combine the proposals.

TalkingPointsMemo has an account on what led to the breakthrough and the likelihood of a deal.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is a Breakthrough Close on Financial Reform?

TalkingPointsMemo reports:

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee who's been in financial reform talks with chairman Chris Dodd, tells TPMDC's Brian Beutler that an agreement is close at hand.

"We're very close to a deal and there will be a substantial number of Republicans that go along with it," Shelby said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he expects to bring the bill to the Senate floor at the end of this week or early next week.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), another financial reform negotiator who had dinner last night with Shelby, said today he expects all 100 senators to vote to begin debate on the bill. Corker guessed the final bill would be able to pass with 70 or 80 votes.

Another component to reform, a derivatives regulation bill, was approved by the Agriculture Committee this afternoon [by a vote of 13 to 8, with the support of Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa] and will be integrated into the banking bill.

Similarly, a story in this morning's Washington Post reports that "[k]ey Senate Republicans * * * [have begun] to back away from their sharp criticism of proposed new financial regulations and [have] expressed optimism that a bipartisan deal on a bill that would drastically change the way Wall Street operates could emerge in the coming days."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

White House: Obama Won't Make Cautious Court Pick Because GOP Will Oppose Whoever He Nominates

TalkingPointsMemo reports:

President Obama thinks Republicans will engage in a full battle over his Supreme Court nominee regardless of the person's ideological leanings, and in some ways "that realization is liberating for the president" to choose whomever he pleases, an administration official told TPMDC.

In comments that are at odds with the conventional wisdom about what Obama needs to do to make sure the Senate confirms his nominee to replace John Paul Stevens, a White House official involved in the confirmation process tells TPMDC that the President isn't taking a cautious approach to selecting a nominee. Despite having one less Democrat in the Senate than when Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed last year, the administration isn't limiting itself to reviewing only centrist candidates for the court vacancy, the official said.

"It doesn't matter who he chooses, there is going to be a big 'ol fight over it. So he doesn't have to get sidetracked by those sorts of concerns," the official told me. The GOP has attempted to obstruct "anything of consequence" put forth by the Obama administration since he took office, the official said. "The president is making this decision with a pretty clear view that whoever he chooses is going to provoke a strong reaction on the right," the official added.

According to The Hill, Obama will make his nomination by May 26 (the day that he nominated Sonia Sotomayor last year), and probably "well before that."

Jockeying Continues on Financial Reform

Today's New York Times has two interesting stories about the battle over financial reform. The first discusses the flood of lobbying that is going on over the legislation. The second discusses the jockeying between Democrats and Republicans over the bill, as each seeks to gain the upper hand in a Senate battle that will play out in the coming weeks.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Distrust Of Government Undermines Obama's Support

From National Public Radio:

For a Democratic administration that wants to do big things with government, the severe erosion of trust in government is a real problem -- and President Obama knows it.

"We have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now," he said during this year's State of the Union address. "We face a deficit of trust -- deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years."

What the president calls a deficit of trust has been impossible for him to surmount -- and it's undermining support for him and his policies, says Andrew Kohut, the director of the Pew Research Center that just completed a big survey looking at Americans' growing distrust of government.

Reid Promises Showdown on Judicial Nominees

From the Blog of the Legal Times:

So far, the Obama presidency has lacked the high-profile battles over lower-court judicial nominees that frequently marked the previous eight years. But senators are preparing for a skirmish that could tie up the chamber for days.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today that he plans to stay in session “around the clock” until there are votes on five presidential nominees, including three for judicial vacancies, one for the Justice Department, and one for the Treasury Department. While senators aren’t yet breaking out the cots for late-night votes, the threat signals a renewed effort to push nominees to confirmation.

How to Follow the Battle Over Financial Reform

President Obama and Senate Minority Leader McConnell and their respective parties seem headed for a major showdown over Democratic proposals to regulate Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis. During the health care reform battle, TalkingPointsMemo had live updates on the debate, and now it is doing the same thing for financial reform. You can find the new Financial Reform Wire here or by clinking the link at the left (at the bottom of the Legislative News Sites). Other good sources are the legislation news sites of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, which also have links at left.

Democrats Seize on Financial Oversight After Goldman Suit

The New York Times reports:
With the Senate scheduled to begin debate on a financial overhaul bill this week, the fraud suit against the Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs has emboldened Democrats to ratchet up pressure on Republicans who oppose the Obama administration’s proposal.

In a sign of the Democrats’ increasing confidence that they have the better of the argument in an election year defined by voter anger at big banks and bailouts, White House officials said Sunday that President Obama would take his campaign for a regulatory overhaul on the road in coming weeks.

That campaign will resemble his push that helped the health care bill past its final hurdles.

Mr. Obama in effect has made the measure’s fate a highly personal showdown with the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Over the last 15 months, Mr. McConnell has sought to defeat each of the Democratic president’s domestic priorities in turn.

A companion story explores the message that the SEC's lawsuit against Goldman is sending Wall Street.

Reduction Is Theme Of President’s Next Act

From the New York Times:

As President Obama approaches the end of his administration’s opening chapter, his advisers have begun a backstage debate over Chapter 2, which will be fundamentally different in tone, aspiration and political complexity.

For his first 15 months, Mr. Obama has pounded away at four domestic initiatives. All four — economic stimulus, health care, Wall Street regulations and energy policy — reflected priorities of important Democratic constituencies. The next phase, which Mr. Obama set in motion by appointing a bipartisan panel on reducing the nation’s debt, will not.

Instead of extending government benefits (through federal stimulus aid and health insurance coverage), Chapter 2 will revolve around budget austerity.

Instead of shifting patterns of energy consumption, it will aim to reduce consumption across the economy.

Instead of confronting the unpopular denizens of Wall Street, it will challenge average Americans to accept reduced services or increased taxes — or, probably, both.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Democrats to Forge Ahead on Wall Street Reform Despite GOP Resistance

The Hill reports:
Senate Democrats plan to forge ahead with a Wall Street reform bill this week, despite unified opposition from Senate Republicans.

A Democratic aide predicted that lawmakers could vote on a motion to proceed to the bill as soon as Wednesday and as late as Friday.
The story adds that Democrats believe that as pressure builds, some Republicans will start to defect, but that Democrats also need to deal with some doubts from pro-business members of their own caucus.

Poll Shows Deep Mistrust of Federal Government

The Associated Press reports:

Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they can't [trust Washington] and they have little faith that the massive federal bureaucracy can solve the nation's ills, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center that shows public confidence in the federal government at one of the lowest points in a half-century.

The poll released Sunday illustrates the ominous situation facing President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party as they struggle to maintain their comfortable congressional majorities in this fall's elections. Midterm prospects are typically tough for the party in power. Add a toxic environment like this and lots of incumbent Democrats could be out of work.

* * * * *

Majorities in the survey call Washington too big and too powerful, and say it's interfering too much in state and local matters. The public is split over whether the government should be responsible for dealing with critical problems or scaled back to reduce its power, presumably in favor of personal responsibility.

* * * * *

About half say they want a smaller government with fewer services, compared with roughly 40 percent who want a bigger government providing more. The public was evenly divided on those questions long before Obama was elected. Still, a majority supported the Obama administration exerting greater control over the economy during the recession.

"Trust in government rarely gets this low," said Andrew Kohut, director of the nonpartisan center that conducted the survey. "Some of it's backlash against Obama. But there are a lot of other things going on."

And, he added: "Politics has poisoned the well."

British General Election Briefing

Britons go to the polls on May 10 to elect a new Parliament. The New York Times has an excellent primer on the campaign, as well as a story about the first-ever British debate between the candidates for Prime Minister.

Tea Party Supporters Doing Fine, but Angry Nonetheless

From the New York Times:

It makes sense that people would take to the streets to protest government spending and enormous deficits during the Great Recession, when they are feeling economic pain most acutely.

But the Tea Party supporters now taking to the streets aren’t the ones feeling the pain.

In the results of the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, they are better educated and wealthier than the general public. They are just as likely to be employed, and more likely to describe their economic situation as very or fairly good.

Yet they are disproportionately pessimistic about the economy and the nation. A breathtaking 92 percent said the country is on the wrong track.

What accounts for this gap between how they are faring and how they feel the country is faring? History offers some lessons. The poll reveals a deep conviction among Tea Party supporters that the country is being run by people who do not share their values, for the benefit of people who are not like them. That is a recurring theme of the previous half-century — conservatives in liberal eras declaring the imperative to “Take America Back.”

Obama v. Roberts: Clash of the Titans

From the New York Times:
They are two of the smartest men of their generation, both magna cum laude products of Harvard Law School, both cerebral and charming and ambitious. They vaulted to the highest offices in the land after just short stints at the next level down, and each was seen initially as a conciliator only to lead on the strength of his own majority.

Many years after their campus days in Cambridge, Mass., President Obama and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. have emerged as the intellectual gladiators in a great struggle over the role of government in American society. In this moment of churning uncertainty and ideological ferment, it is a struggle that is already defining the selection of the next Supreme Court justice and could easily help shape the course of the nation for years to come.

Much more so than last year, when he made his first nomination to the court, Mr. Obama has Chief Justice Roberts on his mind as he mulls his second, according to Democrats close to the White House. For an activist president, the chief justice has emerged clearly in recent months as a potentially formidable obstacle, and Mr. Obama has signaled that he plans to use the political arena and his appointment power to counter the direction of the Roberts court.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Battle Over Financial Regulation Heats Up

On Friday, the battle over financial regulation heated up, with President Obama vowing to veto any financial reform bill that did not regulate derivatives (complex financial instruments which were partly responsible for the financial crisis), and all 41 Senate Republicans declaring their opposition to the bill in its current form. Today, the President devoted his weekly address to the reform issue, vowing to press ahead with the legislation and accusing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of making "cynical and deceptive" statements against it in an effort to protect Wall Street from regulation.

Friday, April 16, 2010

GOP Senators Lay into Liu

From the National Law Journal:
In what has become the most contentious lower-court nomination of the Obama presidency, Republican senators on Friday picked apart the academic writings and public statements of law professor Goodwin Liu, nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Liu faces the possibility of united GOP opposition after receiving intense criticism and little sympathy from Republicans during more than three hours of testimony. While he is likely to win the backing of the Senate Judiciary Committee within weeks, possibly along partisan lines, the ideological division could force a showdown in the Senate over a potential filibuster. That might happen at the same time the Senate is considering a successor to Justice John Paul Stevens.

During his confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Liu faced skeptical questioning about whether he supports racial quotas, whether the Constitution guarantees access to welfare, and whether the 10th Amendment is a dead letter. In each of those cases, he answered no.

Goodwin Liu Confirmation Hearing: Liberal Court Pick Ready For Senate GOP Grilling

From the Associated Press:
California law professor Goodwin Liu will be a test case of President Barack Obama's ability to win confirmation for a liberal appeals court nominee.

Round One is Friday, when Liu – nominated for a San Francisco-based appeals court – appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee to face Republicans staunchly opposed to his liberal views.

The nomination also will test Republican muscle to block Obama's court picks, now that Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes.

Republicans have marked Liu as a liberal judicial activist. Democrats describe the former Rhodes Scholar, former Supreme Court clerk and assistant dean at the University of California, Berkeley, as a brilliant law professor.

Depending on Obama's pick to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the nomination could be a forerunner of a partisan fight over the next Supreme Court nominee.

Obama Orders Hospital Visitation Rights For Gay, Lesbian Couples

The Associated Press reports:
In a move hailed as a step toward fairness for same-sex couples, President Barack Obama is ordering that nearly all hospitals allow patients to say who has visitation rights and who can help make medical decisions, including gay and lesbian partners.

The White House on Thursday released a statement by Obama instructing his Health and Human Services secretary to draft rules requiring hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid payments to grant all patients the right to designate people who can visit and consult with them at crucial moments.

The designated visitors should have the same rights that immediate family members now enjoy, Obama's instructions said. It said Medicare-Medicaid hospitals, which include most of the nation's facilities, may not deny visitation and consultation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The move was called a major step toward fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

President Signs Bill to Extend Jobless Aid

From the New York Times:
Congress on Thursday approved legislation that would keep unemployment checks flowing to jobless Americans, and President Obama immediately signed it.

After the Senate resolved a stubborn impasse, deciding the $18 billion cost of the measure could be added to the deficit, the House quickly followed with approval of the measure on a bipartisan vote of 289 to 112.

The measure, which would continue added unemployment benefits and other expired federal programs through May, will restore aid to thousands of Americans who had exhausted their benefits or whose eligibility was expiring. The legislation means that those out of work can receive up to 99 weeks of unemployment pay in some states. It will restore benefits to anyone who may have lost pay during a two-week interruption in the program.

In the Senate, three Republicans joined Democrats in shutting off debate on the legislation that also continues health insurance subsidies for those out of work. In the House, 49 Republicans joined 240 Democrats in backing the measure. Joining Democrats in the vote of 59 to 38 in support of the bill were Republican Senators George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Florida Gov. Crist Vetoes GOP Education Bill, May Run for Senate as an Independent

From TalkingPointsMemo:

Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL), who has been trailing badly in his Republican primary for Senate, has just vetoed a signature Republican-backed education bill in Florida -- a sign that he could potentially break with his party and run for the Senate as an independent.

The legislation, which was passed through the Republican legislature in the face of massive protests from teachers, would have abolished tenure for new teachers and instituted strict merit pay guidelines. It was heavily supported by conservatives both inside and outside the legislature, notably former Gov. Jeb Bush.

There has been much speculation about whether Crist might abandon his GOP primary -- the TPM Poll Average gives Rubio a lead of 59.1%-27.9% -- and run as an independent. And many media reports have pointed to Crist's choice of signing or vetoing this bill as a key indicator. A Quinnipiac poll this morning suggested that Crist could potentially win a three-way race as an independent.

Republicans Preparing a New "Contract With America"

Politico reports:

Republicans are salivating over the prospect of winning back the House in November, and they’re planning to produce a new “Contract With America” in the hopes of sealing the deal.

The catch: They don’t agree yet on what should be in it.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor wants a document, akin to Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract With America, that identifies specific pieces of legislation Republicans could pass if they win back the House. He thinks Republicans should “put up or shut up,” an aide close to the process said.

* * * * *

But Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is leading the effort to craft the document, says that including specific legislation in the contract would smack of the backroom deals the GOP accuses Democrats of making, so “you won’t see it written out.”

There’s peril in both approaches.

Who Makes Up the Tea Party?

From the New York Times:

Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.

They hold more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally. They are also more likely to describe themselves as “very conservative” and President Obama as “very liberal.”

And while most Republicans say they are “dissatisfied” with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as “angry.”

The Tea Party movement burst onto the scene a year ago in protest of the economic stimulus package, and its supporters have vowed to purge the Republican Party of officials they consider not sufficiently conservative and to block the Democratic agenda on the economy, the environment and health care. But the demographics and attitudes of those in the movement have been known largely anecdotally. The Times/CBS poll offers a detailed look at the profile and attitudes of those supporters.

White House and Democrats Join to Press Case on Financial Controls

From the New York Times:
The White House and Democratic Congressional leaders said Wednesday that they would press forward with legislation to tighten regulation of the nation’s financial system. Rebuffing Republican criticism, the Democrats effectively dared the minority party to side with Wall Street by opposing the measure.

After a contentious meeting at the White House between President Obama and Congressional leaders from both parties, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, accused Republicans of once again obstructing every effort by Democrats to govern. He expressed confidence that he could win the 60 votes needed to advance the bill.

“This is the same stall we got on health care,” Mr. Reid said after the meeting, standing on the driveway outside the West Wing.

Senior Democrats said the bill could reach the floor as soon as next week. And while Senate Republicans, if they remain united, could filibuster, Democrats said they were calculating that a number of Republicans — especially those up for re-election — would not cast a vote appearing to favor hedge funds and banks over average Americans.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

D.C. Voting Rights Bill to Be Revived in Congress

From the Washington Post:

Congressional leaders intend to revive a D.C. voting rights bill on the House floor as early as next week, despite opposition from city leaders to an amendment that would strip most of the District's gun-control laws.

The final details of the bill were still being worked out Wednesday, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he expects the legislation to clear the House and to include some version of the pro-gun language that has bogged down the measure since last year.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city's non-voting House member, said she is still negotiating to try to weaken the gun amendment, but that she is unwilling to sacrifice the opportunity to win a long-sought voting seat for the District by insisting on a stand-alone bill.

Nebraska Law Sets Limits on Abortion

The New York Times reports:

Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska signed a law on Tuesday banning most abortions 20 weeks after conception or later on the theory that a fetus, by that stage in pregnancy, has the capacity to feel pain. The law, which appears nearly certain to set off legal and scientific debates, is the first in the nation to restrict abortions on the basis of fetal pain.

Abortion opponents praised the law and said it was justified by medical evidence gained since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Abortion rights advocates said that the measure was unconstitutional, and that the motive behind it was to set off a challenge to legalized abortion before the United States Supreme Court.

Obama Meets Resistance From G.O.P. on Finance Bill

From the New York Times:
In the face of stiff opposition from Senate Republicans, President Obama urged leaders of both parties in Congress to spend the next few weeks coming to terms on a financial regulation bill that would head off the need for bailouts in the future and bring the trading of complex financial instruments out of the shadows.

During a meeting with leaders of Congress from both parties in the Cabinet Room Wednesday morning, the president rejected the contention of Republicans — and notably their leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — that the measure offered by Senate Democrats would only make bailouts of gigantic, risk-laden institutions more likely.

“I am absolutely confident that the bill that emerges is going to be a bill that prevent bailouts — that’s the goal,” Mr. Obama said, with Mr. McConnell sitting impassively nearby.

Mr. Obama is fresh off his big health-care victory, and the financial reform measure will be a test of how much clout he now has on Capitol Hill. But while the president expressed confidence at the outset of the session that the two parties could work together to produce “an effective bipartisan package that assures we never have too-big-to-fail again,” the leaders did not sound nearly as confident after the nearly hour-long session.
For a good analysis of the game of chicken developing between Democrats and Republicans over financial reform, see this piece from TalkingPointsMemo. And for a piece that suggests that Sen. McConnell may not be able to keep moderate members of his caucus on board, see here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Democrats Push to Require Corporate Campaign Disclosure

The New York Times reports:
The White House and leading Democrats in Congress are close to proposing legislation that would force private companies and groups to disclose their behind-the-scenes financial involvement in political campaigns and advertising, officials involved in the discussions said Monday.

One provision would require the chief executive of any company or group that is the main backer of a campaign advertisement to personally appear in television and radio spots to acknowledge the sponsorship, the officials said.

The legislation is being developed in response to a major Supreme Court decision in January that found that the government could not ban corporations from spending in political campaigns.

Senate Advances Jobless Aid Bill

From the New York Times:
The Senate on Monday agreed to consider a temporary extension of unemployment benefits after four Republicans joined Democrats in voting to debate the proposal, which has become the focus of an intensifying fight over deficit spending.

Despite objections from conservative Republicans, the Senate voted 60 to 34 to move ahead with a measure that would keep checks flowing to jobless Americans who are exhausting their benefits and maintain federal subsidies for health insurance for the unemployed. The measure must clear other procedural hurdles, but Democrats hope to win its approval this week.

How Far Will States Go to Fight Health Care Reform?

In recent weeks, a number of states have passed legislation and filed lawsuits seeking to block the federal health care reform legislation. Now the Associated Press is reporting on a new approach that is being considered in Oklahoma:
Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.

Tea party movement leaders say they've discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force. They say the unit would not resemble militia groups that have been raided for allegedly plotting attacks on law enforcement officers.

"Is it scary? It sure is," said tea party leader Al Gerhart of Oklahoma City, who heads an umbrella group of tea party factions called the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance. "But when do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?"

Thus far, the discussions have been exploratory. Even the proponents say they don't know how an armed force would be organized nor how a state-based militia could block federal mandates. Critics also asserted that the force could inflame extremism, and that the National Guard already provides for the state's military needs

Friday, April 9, 2010

Coverage of Justice Stevens's Retirement

SCOTUSblog has a good roundup of stories on the Stevens retirement and the search for a successor.

Picking Replacement for Stevens to Test Obama's Liberal Commitment

From The Hill, an excellent take on the politics that surround President Obama's choice of a nominee to replace Justice Stevens:

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’s retirement will test President Barack Obama’s commitment to his liberal activist base.

Even conservatives groups recognize that Obama is likely to replace Stevens, the leader of the court’s liberal bloc, with another liberal, so the selection would not shift the ideological nature of the high court.

The question is just how far Obama will go to appease liberal legal activists, who were not completely sated by the selection of Sonia Sotomayor, the president’s first choice to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. Obama will have a chance to name a second justice to the court in two years because of Stevens’s retirement.

Obama Nominee for Justice Post Withdraws

From the New York Times:
President Obama’s choice to lead the powerful Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department withdrew from consideration for the post on Friday, ending a troubled but high-profile nomination that had dragged on for more than a year.

In a statement released by the White House in the afternoon, the nominee, Dawn Johnsen, said she had come to realize that the strong Republican opposition to her nomination had undermined her own goal for the office, which was to restore its reputation for providing legal advice “unvarnished by politics or partisan ambition.”

Under Fire for Abortion Deal, Stupak to Retire

From the New York Times:

Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, who played a central role with fellow anti-abortion Democrats in negotiating a compromise in the final hours of debate that allowed the health care overhaul bill to pass, said on Friday that he would not seek re-election.

Mr. Stupak, a nine-term incumbent, has been under intense pressure from anti-abortion groups and others since the health care bill passed last month. At his request, President Obama signed an executive order outlining the prohibitions against the use of federal funds for abortion. But anti-abortion groups dismissed the executive order and pledged to defeat Mr. Stupak, whom they had once championed.

Justice Stevens Announces His Retirement

As the New York Times reports:

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, leader of the liberal wing of the Supreme Court, announced on Friday that he would retire at the end of this term, setting up a confirmation battle over his replacement that is virtually certain to dominate the political scene this summer.

In a brief letter to President Obama, whom he addressed as “my dear Mr. President,” Justice Stevens said he was announcing his retirement now because he had “concluded that it would be in the best interests of the Court to have my successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court’s next term” in October.

* * * * *

The White House has been quietly evaluating potential nominees for months. Among those rumored to be in contention for the nomination are Solicitor General Elena Kagan and several appeals court judges, including Diane Wood and Merrick Garland.

Justice Stevens recently gave interesting interviews to Adam Liptak of the Times and Robert Barnes of the Washington Post. An excellent profile of Stevens by Jeffrey Toobin appears in a recent issue of the New Yorker. For a story on the White House search for a nominee to replace Justice Stevens, see here.

Update: Huffington Post has an interactive feature that describes some of the leading potential nominees and allows you to rate them.

Update 2: Here is video of a statement that Obama made on Justice Stevens's retirement.

Anger over Health-Care Reform Spurs Rise in Threats Against Congress Members

The Washington Post reports:

Anger over the health-care overhaul has led to a nearly threefold increase in recent months in the number of serious threats against members of Congress, federal law enforcement officials said.

The lawmakers reported 42 threats in the first three months of this year, compared with 15 in last three months of 2009, said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, who had information about threats involving both chambers.

"The incidents ranged from very vulgar to serious threats, including death threats," Gainer said. "The ability to carry them out is another question and part of an investigation to determine what, if any, appropriate steps to take."

Nearly all of the recent threats appear to come from opponents of the health-care overhaul, said Gainer, who also served four years as chief of the U.S. Capitol Police. And, he said, there have been "significantly more" threats against House members than against senators.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

D.C. Circuit Holds That FCC Lacks Statutory Authority to Impose "Net Neutrality"

In an important decision yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held the the Federal Communications Commission lacks statutory authority to mandate "net neutrality," a principle that requires Internet service providers to treat all content providers equally. The decision could allow ISPs like Comcast to favor their own content or to charge content providers a fee for high-speed transmission, while relegating less-wealthy providers to the "slow lane." A New York Times report on the decision and its implications can be found here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What is Wrong with the Senate?

New York Magazine has a very interesting piece on how the Senate became such a frustrating and strife-torn institution, and why so few senators are happy there.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

U.S. Government To Save Billions By Cutting Wasteful Senator Program

While it may be a parody, this story from The Onion undoubtedly expresses what many people (especially members of the House of Representatives!) have come to feel about the U.S. Senate:
In an effort to reduce wasteful spending and eliminate non-vital federal services, the U.S. government announced plans this week to cut its long-standing senator program, a move it says will help save more than $300 billion each year.

* * * * *

An analysis conducted last week revealed a number of troubling flaws within the long-running, heavily subsidized program, including a lack of consistent oversight, no clear objectives or goals, the persistent hiring of unqualified and selfishly motivated individuals, and a 100 percent redundancy rate among its employees.

Moreover, the study found that the U.S. government already funds a fully operational legislative body that appears to do the exact same job as the Senate, but which also provides a fair and proportional representation of the nation's citizens and has rules in place to prevent one individual from holding the operations of the entire chamber hostage until he is guaranteed massive federal spending projects for his home state of Alabama.

Republicans Turn Their Ire Toward Pelosi

From the Washington Post:

In the wake of the passage of the health-care overhaul, Republicans have turned their ire toward House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) almost as much as President Obama, looking to rally their supporters against a political figure less popular than the president.

GOP officials, and particularly the Republican National Committee, have repeatedly highlighted Pelosi's role in pushing through the legislation. The RNC has raised more than $1.5 million through a "Fire Pelosi" online petition that features imagery of Pelosi being engulfed in flames and the slogan "No More Madam Speaker." Another RNC appeal to GOP supporters dubs 14 members of the House, most of whom backed the health-care law, as "Pelosi's Puppets."

How Much Momentum Does Obama Have After Health Care Reform?

From Politico:
White House aides told POLITICO earlier this week that an emboldened Barack Obama plans to parlay his win on health care into a crackdown on Wall Street excesses, a rewrite of education and campaign finance laws and possibly a climate change bill — all before the fall's midterms.

But aides and members, Republicans and Democrats alike, said that a Wall Street crackdown was coming — but progress on climate change, immigration and other contentious measures probably wasn't — no matter what happened with the health care bill.

* * * * *

As Democrats approach what is expected to be a tough midterm election cycle, two cross-cutting dynamics are taking hold: Lawmakers who must battle to win reelection are even less inclined to cast tough votes, while some Democratic strategists believe the best bet for party leaders is to use big congressional majorities to enact their agenda, before anticipated November losses set them back.

Obama Signs Overhaul of Student Loan Program

From the New York Times:
President Obama signed legislation on Tuesday to expand college access for millions of young Americans by revamping the federal student loan program in what he called “one of the most significant investments in higher education since the G.I. Bill.”

* * * * *

The new law will eliminate fees paid to private banks to act as intermediaries in providing loans to college students and use much of the nearly $68 billion in savings over 11 years to expand Pell grants and make it easier for students to repay outstanding loans after graduating. The law also invests $2 billion in community colleges over the next four years to provide education and career training programs to workers eligible for trade adjustment aid after dislocation in their industries.

The Health Care Reform Debate Continues

On Tuesday, President Obama signed the health care reconciliation bill into law. But the political debate rages on. A GOP congressman predicts that Americans will engage in widespread civil disobedience to the law. The Chamber of Commerce plans to spend $50 million to oppose the legislation in the fall campaigns. And a recent Washington Post poll finds the public as deeply divided as ever on the subject. However, an interesting analysis in the Post says that opposition to health care reform may be a two-edged sword for the GOP this fall.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Key Moments In Obama's Struggle to Pass Health Reform

The Hill has a recap of the yearlong struggle:
The difference between the passage and failure of health reform arguably came down to the Democrats’ ability to take a punch, a 7-hour White House summit and 312 votes in a Minnesota Senate race.

President Barack Obama and his allies on Capitol Hill overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles and achieved a goal that eluded leaders for nearly a century when they put into law national healthcare reform.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

House Passes Second Version of Fixes to Health Care Bill

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi signed the companion bill that fixed what many Congressional Democrats saw as problems with the first health care bill. President Obama plans to sign the companion bill into law this coming Tuesday. But the health care saga is far from over as Congress breaks for a two-week recess and lawmakers go back to their districts to justify their support, or lack thereof, for the largest piece of health care legislation in decades. For more, see today's New York Times here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

G.O.P. Forces New House Vote on Fixes to Health Bill

The New York Times reports:
With the Senate working through an all-night session on a package of changes to the Democrats’ sweeping health care legislation, Republicans early Thursday morning identified parliamentary problems with at least two provisions that will require the measure to be sent back to the House for yet another vote, once the Senate adopts it.

Senate Democrats had been hoping to defeat all of the amendments proposed by Republicans and to prevail on parliamentary challenges so that they could approve the measure and send it to President Obama for his signature. But the bill must comply with complex budget reconciliation rules, and Republicans identified some flaws.

Under the reconciliation rules, provisions in the bill must directly affect government spending or revenues.

The successful parliamentary challenge did not appear to endanger the eventual adoption of the changes to the health care legislation. And Mr. Obama on Tuesday already signed the main health care bill into law.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Breyer and Scalia Debate Statutory Interpretation

The Blog of the Legal Times has a good account of a debate between Justice Breyer and Justice Scalia that was held last night at the Supreme Court History Society:

Breyer and Scalia challenged each other the most over statutory construction, with Scalia insisting that looking to the words of the law and nothing else is the best way to discern its meaning. That's because members of Congress actually vote for -- and can be held accountable for -- the actual text of the law, unlike committee reports and other documents drafted by "teenagers," to support their own views of the law, as Scalia put it with disdain. The legislators don't read those documents anyway, Scalia said. "Congress passes laws, not conference reports."

By that standard, Breyer replied, the words of the statute don't mean much either, because members of Congress don't read every word of the statute. A onetime Senate staffer, Breyer was far more willing to put his trust in a legislator and his or her staff to know a law's purpose as well as its words. Breyer seeks out evidence of a law's intent and context, he said, as the way to resolve disputes over its meaning. That approach, Breyer added, is more understandable to the public.

Is Repealing Health Care Reform A Winning Political Strategy for Republicans in November?

The conventional wisdom has been that most Americans oppose the Democrats' health care reform legislation, and Republicans have vowed to make this a major issue in this year's congressional campaign. But new polling for Democracy Corps, USA Today/Gallup and CBS News show that public support for the legislation is on the rise, and these political analyses by Adam Nagourney of the New York Times and Mark Helperin of Time magazine suggest that the Republican strategy could backfire.

Congressional Democrats Debate What's Next

From The Hill:

Democrats are debating whether to spend political capital earned by passing healthcare reform or hoard it so it pays dividends in the midterm elections.

Liberals argue the new momentum offers a rare opportunity to pass top priorities, such as immigration reform and climate change legislation, and warn that the party is likely to see its large majorities in the Senate and House diminished next year.

* * * * *

But conservative Democrats, many facing tough reelection fights, say the time has come to rein in the ambitious agenda and focus on creating jobs and spurring the economy.

* * * * *

In the middle are those who say the best approach is for the party to catch its breath and take stock of the situation.

How Obama Revived His Health Care Bill

The Washington Post has a fascinating inside account of the 61 days from Scott Brown's upset win in the Massachusetts special election to the final passage of the health care reform bill.

Obama Signs Health Care Reform Bill Into Law

From the New York Times:
With the strokes of 20 pens, President Obama signed his landmark health care overhaul — the most expansive social legislation enacted in decades — into law on Tuesday, saying it enshrines “the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.”

Mr. Obama signed the measure, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, during a festive and at times raucous ceremony in the East Room of the White House. He spoke to an audience of nearly 300, including more than 200 Democratic lawmakers who rode a yearlong legislative roller coaster that ended with House passage of the bill Sunday night. They interrupted him repeatedly with cheers, applause and standing ovations.

In a companion piece, Dave Leonardt argues that the bill constitutes "the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago." Finally, the Times has a graphic which shows the effect the bill will have on a variety of individuals and families.

For a range of reactions to the bill's passage, see the Daily Kos Abbreviated Pundit Roundup for Tuesday and Wednesday as well as these pieces by Ruth Marcus and Kathleen Parker.

Update: The Washington Post has a good story on the Senate Republicans' last-ditch effort to defeat the legislation by punching holes in the reconciliation bill that is now before the Senate.

If you want to follow the last stages of the congressional debate, the best way is to keep an eye on TalkingPointsMemo's Countdown to Reform Wire.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Next Up: Financial Reform

From the Washington Post:

The Senate banking committee voted along party lines Monday to transform the regulation of financial markets, sending another piece of far-reaching legislation to the full Senate a day after Congress approved an overhaul of the nation's health system.

After Republicans decided to save their objections for the Senate floor, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), the committee chairman, pushed forward with a financial-regulation bill that sheds several compromises reached with opposition lawmakers and instead hews more closely to the blueprint advocated by the Obama administration.

With the landmark vote on health care behind them, administration officials intensified efforts Monday to get the reform of financial regulation adopted before the November midterm elections. President Obama and his senior advisers are planning to focus more on this issue, seeking to tap into the anger among many voters over Wall Street excesses, a senior administration official and congressional Democrats said.

Health Vote Is Done, but Partisan Debate Rages On

From this morning's New York Times:
As jubilant Democrats prepared for President Obama to sign their landmark health care legislation in a big ceremony at the White House, Republicans opened a campaign on Monday to repeal the legislation and to use it as a weapon in this year’s hotly contested midterm elections.

“We will not allow this to stand,” Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, promised Monday afternoon as the House reconvened, a day after the bitterly partisan vote.

In addition to this story, which discusses the continuing battle in Congress, the Times has articles on the constitutional challenges that a number of states have vowed to bring against the health care bill, on the political prospects for additional major legislation in Congress this year, and on whether the GOP runs a political risk in being perceived as "the party of no." Theres is also an interesting story about Rep. Allen Boyd (D-FL), a Blue Dog Democrat who changed his vote from "no" to "yes" on the bill, and the challenges he faces in defending his vote back home in right-leaning district in the Florida Panhandle.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nancy Pelosi's Bill

Several stories over the weekend have highlighted the role that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi played in reviving the health care reform legislation after it seemed dead in the wake of the Massachusetts Senate election. For two interesting pieces from Politico, see here and here.

House Approves Landmark Health Care Bill

Here is the lead from today's New York Times:
House Democrats approved a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s health system on Sunday, voting over unanimous Republican opposition to provide medical coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans after an epic political battle that could define the differences between the parties for years.

With the 219-to-212 vote, the House gave final approval to legislation passed by the Senate on Christmas Eve. Thirty-four Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the bill. The vote sent the measure to President Obama, whose yearlong push for the legislation has been the centerpiece of his agenda and a test of his political power.

After approving the bill, the House adopted a package of changes to it by a vote of 220 to 211. That package — agreed to in negotiations among House and Senate Democrats and the White House — now goes to the Senate for action as soon as this week. It would be the final step in a bitter legislative fight that has highlighted the nation’s deep partisan and ideological divisions.

After the House votes, President Obama addressed the nation.

The Times has full coverage on the bill's passage, including stories about the impact on consumers and the health care industry, the political implications for Obama's presidency, and the political and legal battles that lie ahead.

More coverage can be found at the Washington Post, Politico, TalkingPointsMemo, and the National Review Online. And Daily Kos has a roundup of political reaction from the pundits.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

D-Day for Health Care Reform

Barring any last-minute problems, the House of Representatives is scheduled to meet this afternoon for a final vote on health care reform. As the New York Times reports:
With the stage set for a historic showdown over landmark health legislation in the House on Sunday afternoon, the White House and Democratic Congressional leaders winnowed their hunt for votes to a slim list of lawmakers, including several opponents of abortion who were demanding assurance that no federal money would be used to pay for insurance coverage of the procedure.

Democrats late Saturday night said the 216 votes needed to pass the bill were nearly within their reach, but acknowledged that the margin of victory would likely be razor thin even under their most optimistic scenario. Republicans said they still held out hope of derailing the legislation.

The Times has several accompanying stories, including a report on the House Rules Committee's action proposing the terms of today's debate; an account of how health care reform came back from the brink after the Massachusetts special Senate election; a report on the abuse that some anti-HCR protesters directed at black and gay lawmakers at the Capitol yesterday; and a piece on whether ordinary Americans care about the process by which Congress enacts laws. The Times's vote-tracker can be found here. By the end of Saturday, the Times counted 207 members in favor and 206 opposed, with 18 votes still in play.

The Washington Post also has a good story setting the stage for today's climactic debate, as well as an analysis of the political price that Democrats may pay in the November elections for their support of health care reform. Links to several opinion from across the political spectrum can be found in the Daily Kos Abbreviated Pundit Roundup.

Today's House debate will be broadcast on C-SPAN and cspan.org, with extensive coverage on the cable news channels as well. By the end of the day, we may know whether the Democrats' health care reform efforts will become the law of the land or instead go down to a historic defeat.

Update 1: TalkingPointsMemo has posted a tentative schedule for today's House debate, which shows debate starting on the rule at 2:45 CDT and final votes beginning around 7:00 CDT. Updates throughout the day can be found at the web site's Countdown to Reform Wire.

Update 2: House Democratic leaders this morning claimed that they had -- or at least they would have -- the 216 votes needed. According to MSNBC, the leader of the prolife House Democrats, Bart Stupak, will vote for the bill -- a development that will practically ensure passage, since Stupak may control as many as 8 votes.

Update 3 (12:50 p.m.): It appears that Stupak is still negotiating for a deal on the abortion issue, probably to have the President issue an executive order reaffirming that no federal funds will be used for abortion. So it would be premature at this point to count Stupak as a yes, although two of his prolife allies have indicated today that they will support the bill.

Update 4: At about 3:00 CDT, the White House and the prolife Democrats announced an agreement to end the standoff over abortion. The President has promised to issue an executive order reaffirming current policy that prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion. At a press conference, Rep. Stupak and his allies declared their support for the bill, which they say is prolife in providing health care to the uninsured and also decreasing the number of abortions. This development virtually ensures that the House Democrats have the votes to pass the health care reform package tonight.

Update 5 (5:35 p.m.): The House has just passed the rule setting the terms for the health care debate. The vote was 224-206, with 28 Democrats and all 178 Republicans voting nay. This was a test vote on the health care reform package, which should pass later tonight by a similar margin, after two hours of debate and another test vote.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Obama Rallies House Democrats to Pass Health Care Bill

From a story by the Associated Press/Huffington Post:
Victory within reach, President Barack Obama rallied House Democrats on Saturday for a final health care push, and party leaders appeared confident they had overcome a flare-up over abortion funding restrictions in the legislation.

* * * * *

In what the New York Times called "an extraordinary session," President Obama began his speech by quoting Abraham Lincoln. "I am not bound to win, but I'm bound to be true," he said. "I'm not bound to succeed, but I'm bound to live up to what light I have."

"You have a chance to make good on the promises you made," Obama told the House members. "This is one of those moments. This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself: 'Doggone it, this is exactly why I came here. This is why I got into politics. This is why I got into public service. This is why I made these sacrifices.'"

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The Endgame Continues

This morning's New York Times has an update on the House Democratic leadership's efforts to whip up enough votes to pass the health care bill; a story on the votes that remain in play; and a feature on the debate between different groups within the Catholic church on whether the bill is sufficiently prolife. The Times also has a vote tracker which is periodically updated. As of Friday, the Times counts 203 members in favor, 204 opposed, and 24 undecided.

The biggest unresolved issue continues to be abortion. TalkingPointsMemo has a report on a tense meeting on the subject that was held Friday night in the Speaker's office. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), the leader of the hardline prolife Democrats, will be holding a press conference this morning.

The House Rules Committee will be meeting all day today to formulate the proposal that will be sent to the floor tomorrow. Interest is so great that the committee has opened up an overflow room for those who can't get seats in the committee room.

One of the best ways to follow today's developments is to visit the TalkingPointsMemo home page and its Countdown to Reform Wire.

And, for much needed comic relief, see this column by Gail Collins on the absurdity of the process as it reaches it's end:

As the House prepared for its big, historic, achingly close vote on Sunday, the joys of being undecided seemed so great that legislators kept jumping on the fence, just to feel the love. After all, Representative Dennis Kucinich got four meetings with the president and a trip on Air Force One. Dennis Kucinich!

A congressman from South Boston, who supported the bill but opposed including a public option last time around, announced that he was now voting against the bill because it lacks a public option. Others suddenly discovered that their states had unmet needs. President Obama made yet another postponement of his Asia trip and invited the entire House Democratic caucus to the White House Saturday, which qualifies as possibly the worst way to spend your weekend in the history of the world.

Friday, March 19, 2010

March Madness on Capitol Hill: The Health Care Reform Debate Goes Into the Home Stretch

It's almost unheard of for proceedings in Congress to be as exciting as the NCAA basketball tournament. But this weekend is a notable exception. Yesterday, the House Democratic leadership posted the (almost) final version of the health care reform bill online, and a vote is planned for Sunday afternoon. With just 48 hours to go, the Democrats are working feverishly to lock in the 216 votes required for passage. Current reports say that they still need half a dozen more.

As the struggle over health care reform heads into the home stretch, the New York Times has some excellent coverage: a story on the leadership's efforts to reach 216 votes; a fascinating story on how they decide which members' arms to twist and which to give a pass to; a story about how the Democrats have been able to ensure that the budgetary numbers turn out right, and finally, an interactive chart that shows the undecided members to watch on Sunday's vote.

For blow-by-blow coverage of the endgame, two of the best sources are the Times' Prescriptions blog and the TalkingPointsMemo Countdown to Reform Wire. (You can find links to both sites on the blog roll on the righthand side of this page.)