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, 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.'"

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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.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Justice Scalia's Textualism on Display

Justice Scalia's commitment to a strict textualist approach to statutory interpretation was on full display in his concurrence in a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision construing the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. Scalia joined Justice Sotomayor's majority opinion in Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz v. United States -- except for one footnote, in which Sotomayor cited a House Report and hearing testimony despite noting that "reliance on legislative history is unnecessary in light of the statute’s unambiguous language." Scalia summarized his oft-repeated objections to the use of committee reports as follows:
Such statements tell us nothing about what the statute means, since (1) we do not know that the members of the Committee read the Report, (2) it is almost certain that they did not vote on the Report (that is not the practice), and (3) even if they did read and vote on it, they were not, after all, those who made this law. . . . Even indulging the extravagant assumption that Members of the House other than members of its Committee on the Judiciary read the Report (and the further extravagant assumption that they agreed with it), the Members of the Senate could not possibly have read it, since it did not exist when the Senate passed the [bill]. And the President surely had more important things to do.

Scalia then invoked the principle that, if the statutory language is clear, there is no reason to go beyond it -- and there may be good reasons for not doing so:
Our cases have said that legislative history is irrelevant when the statutory text is clear. See, e.g., United States v. Gonzales, 520 U. S. 1, 6 (1997); Connecticut Nat. Bank v. Germain, 503 U. S. 249, 254 (1992). The footnote advises conscientious attorneys that this is not true, and that they must spend time and their clients’ treasure combing the annals of legislative history in all cases: To buttress their case where the statutory text is unambiguously in their favor; and to attack an unambiguous text that is against them. If legislative history is relevant to confirm that a clear text means what it says, it is presumably relevant to show that an apparently clear text does not mean what it seems to say.

The Constitutionality of the "Deem and Pass" Approach to Enacting Health Care Reform

There is an interesting debate brewing over the constitutionality of the so-called "deem and pass" mechanism (also known as the "Slaughter solution," after Rep. Louise Slaughter) being considered by congressional Democrats for passing the health care reform bill. Jack Balkin explains the "deem and pass" approach and argues that, if done in the right way, it would meet constitutional requirements. In a later post, Balkin also argues that any challenge would likely be thrown out at the threshold as non-justiciable under the "political question" doctrine. Former Judge Michael McConnell argues the other side of the debate. The House Rules Committee, chaired by Rep. Slaughter, issued a memo yesterday in defense of "deem and pass."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Inside The House Dems' Health Care Persuasion Campaign

With the House aiming for a health care reform vote by the end of this week, TalkingPointsMemo has an inside account:
Democratic leaders and President Obama have mounted a major persuasion campaign, trying to get the party on board with the all-speed-ahead push on health care reform legislation. They are offering wavering members - who voted "No" the first time around or are thinking to switch and oppose health care this time - in-person talks with the president and are walking members through how health care reform would help constituents in each lawmaker's district.
Time Magazine has an estimated schedule of the process that the bill will go through this week. For the latest developments, stay tuned to the New York Times Prescriptions blog. Here is an account (with video) of Obama's pitch for the bill at a rally in Ohio today. Finally, here is Nate Silver's interesting analysis of whether the Democrats are likely to get the necessary 216 votes.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

President Obama's final challenge on healthcare: corralling votes

From The Hill:

President Barack Obama's persuasive skills will be put to the test over the next week.

The commander-in-chief has given hundreds of speeches on healthcare reform, but the difference between a huge legislative success and a catastrophic failure will likely be determined in private conversations with lawmakers in the coming days. Based on the Democratic "no" votes piling up this month, it is clear Obama has a lot of calls to make.

Obama Calls for Sweeping Overhaul in Education Law

From the New York Times:

The Obama administration on Saturday called for a broad overhaul of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law, proposing to eliminate divisive provisions, including those that have encouraged instructors to teach to tests, crowded out subjects other than math and reading, and labeled one in every three American public schools as failing.

The proposals, if approved by Congress, would replace the current law’s pass-fail school grading system with one that would measure schools not only with test scores but also with indicators like pupil attendance and the learning climate in classrooms.

And while the proposals call for vigorous interventions in failing schools, they would also reward top performers and lessen federal interference in tens of thousands of reasonably well-run schools in the middle.

Here is President Obama's argument for the new approach in his weekly address:

Student Loan Overhaul Taking Filibuster-Proof Route To Overcome Corporate Opposition

As Dan Froomkin explains on Huffington Post, the reconciliation bill that congressional Democrats intend to use to pass health care reform may also include an overhaul of the student loan program, in order to overcome the influence of lobbying by private lenders who earn billions of dollars from the existing program:

Having finally decided to use the filibuster-proof budget reconciliation process to push health-care reform over the finish line, Democratic leaders have tentatively agreed to attach a long-sought overhaul of college financial aid to the measure.

That's because health care and federal financial aid have something very significant in common: Hugely powerful corporate interests devoted to preserving the status quo -- and willing to spend vast amounts of money on campaign donations, lobbying and PR to fight change

Will the Final Health Care Legislation Contain Special Deals for States?

To obtain Senate passage of the health care bill in December, Democratic leaders cut special deals for particular states, such as the notorious "Cornhusker kickback" for Nebraska. As the Associated Press reports, some Democratic senators are now fighting White House efforts to delete all of these deals from the final legislation.

F.C.C. Plan to Widen Internet Access in U.S. Sets Up Battle

The New York Times reports:

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing an ambitious 10-year plan that will reimagine the nation’s media and technology priorities by establishing high-speed Internet as the country’s dominant communication network.

The plan, which will be submitted to Congress on Tuesday, is likely to generate debate in Washington and a lobbying battle among the telecommunication giants, which over time may face new competition for customers. Already, the broadcast television industry is resisting a proposal to give back spectrum the government wants to use for future mobile service.

Pelosi Predicts a Health Bill Within 10 Days

From the New York Times:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi mobilized House Democrats on Friday for a final effort to pass an overhaul of health care, predicting approval in the next 10 days with help from President Obama, who delayed a trip abroad to try to win over wavering Democrats.

The White House said Mr. Obama would begin his trip to Indonesia and Australia a week from Sunday, three days later than scheduled, allowing him to be on hand for what is shaping up as the pivotal period for his top domestic initiative. Mr. Obama will travel to Ohio on Monday to push for passage.

But even as the yearlong battle hurtled toward a conclusion, approval of the bill was hardly certain, so lawmakers were preparing for a week of arm-twisting and high drama. Although they have been debating the issue for a year, some House Democrats said Friday that they could not say how they would vote because they had not seen the final text of the legislation or an official estimate of its cost.

Some issues that could swing blocs of votes, like insurance coverage for abortions, remain unresolved. House Democratic leaders said they had suspended their efforts to reach a compromise with party members who oppose abortion and the use of federal money to subsidize insurance that includes coverage of the procedure. That could cost them the votes of some House Democrats who supported the health care bill in the fall after it was amended to impose tight restrictions on abortion coverage.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change

From the New York Times:
After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

The vote was 10 to 5 along party lines, with all the Republicans on the board voting for it.

The board, whose members are elected, has influence beyond Texas because the state is one of the largest buyers of textbooks. In the digital age, however, that influence has diminished as technological advances have made it possible for publishers to tailor books to individual states.

In recent years, board members have been locked in an ideological battle between a bloc of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state.

Democrats More Hopeful on Health Care Vote

From the Washington Post:

Democratic leaders on Friday stoked expectations that the year-long debate in Congress over health care may be coming to an end, after President Obama delayed his upcoming trip to the South Pacific and House leaders indicated they could deliver a final bill for his signature by the end of next week.

The House is preparing to vote, perhaps Friday or next Saturday, on the legislation that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve * * * .

* * * * *

The health-care debate has been marked for months by false hints of resolution. Although House Democrats believe they may finally be on the brink of victory, they lack iron-clad commitments from the needed 216 lawmakers. The biggest worry for the caucus is the Senate, where Republicans are blocking a host of major bills and where action looms once the House completes its work.

Deal Gives New Life to Overhaul of Student Loans

The New York Times reports:
Democratic Congressional leaders struck a tentative agreement on Thursday that breathes new life into President Obama’s proposed overhaul of federal student loan programs.

The deal would bundle the bill into an expedited budget package along with the Democratic health care legislation, which would allow for both measures to be passed by the Senate on a simple majority vote. Without the deal, the student loan bill would have been unlikely to pass because it lacked the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

The bill would end government payments to private, commercial student lenders, leaving the government to lend directly to students. It would also redirect billions of dollars to expand the Pell grant program for low-income students, and to pay for other education initiatives.

Democrats Struggle to Finish Health Bill

From the New York Times:
House and Senate Democratic leaders struggled Thursday to stitch together pieces of a final health care bill as rank-and-file Democrats demanded more information about the contents of the bill and its cost.

Leaving a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, lawmakers said they had received few details about what would be in the legislation, on which they may be asked to vote in the next week or two.

* * * * *

Democratic aides said House leaders wanted the vote to occur before a two-week spring break scheduled to start on March 26. Otherwise, they said, wavering lawmakers might buckle to pressure from critics of the bill, who plan to step up their campaign against it during the recess.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Illinois Governor Quinn Proposes Tax Increase to Cut Deficit

From the New York Times:
Gov. Patrick J. Quinn on Wednesday proposed raising the state income tax rate, just one in a long list of painful measures aimed at closing a budget deficit that some now estimate at $13 billion.

* * * * *

But Mr. Quinn’s proposal to raise the state’s personal income tax to 4 percent from 3 percent — a move he portrayed as a “surcharge for education” — comes at a particularly risky political moment, one that numerous governors find themselves facing in a fiscally grim year: he is seeking election in November. And tax increases rarely make for popular campaign material.

This morning's Chicago Tribune has a front-page story about the proposed tax increase, together with an editorial criticizing it. By contrast, the Chicago Sun-Times says that the tax hike is too small to meet the state's fiscal needs, but reluctantly supports it as better than nothing.

House Leaders Block Earmarks to Corporations

From the New York Times:
House Democratic leaders on Wednesday banned budget earmarks to private industry, ending a practice that has steered billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to companies and set off corruption scandals.

The ban is the most forceful step yet in a three-year effort in Congress to curb abuses in the use of earmarks, which allow individual lawmakers to award financing for pet projects to groups and businesses, many of them campaign donors.

But House Republicans, in a quick round of political one-upmanship, tried to outmaneuver Democrats by calling for a ban on earmarks across the board, not just to for-profit companies. Republicans, who expect an intra-party vote on the issue Thursday, called earmarks “a symbol of a broken Washington.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Can the Democrats Sell the Public on Health Care Reform?

For many months, the polls have shown that more people oppose the Democrats' health care reform proposal than support it. President Obama's effort to persuade wavering Democrats to vote for final passage depends on the notion that if the proposal is adopted, the party will be able to sell it to the public in time to stave off huge losses in the November midterm elections. In The New Republic, John Judis and Jonathan Cohn examine recent polling that indicates that support for the measure may have increased somewhat since the health care summit, and that people are more likely to support it when its provisions are made clear to them.

Senate Committee to Hold Hearings on Filibuster Reform

Politico reports:

With Democrats lacking a filibuster-proof majority, Sen. Chuck Schumer [who chairs the Rules and Administration Committee] plans to begin holding hearings [on March 24] to reform the potent stalling tactic, an issue that has picked up steam among liberal and junior Democratic senators.

* * * * *

With their agenda stalled and Democrats one vote shy of the 60 needed to break filibusters, Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated that Republicans have demanded that many pieces of legislation require a supermajority of senators to advance. Democrats acknowledge they lack the votes to reform the filibuster, but they are eager to argue that the procedural tool has been abused to an unprecedented level in recent years.

Television Ad Wars Resume over Health Care Reform

From TalkingPointsMemo:
After a cooling off period when health care reform legislation seemed nearly dead, television ad spending is now spiking. Interest groups attempting to swap public opinion and votes in Washington on both sides of the debate are funneling cash into health care ads that experts predict won't let up until after the midterm elections.

Parliamentary Hurdle Could Thwart Latest Health Care Overhaul Strategy

From the New York Times:
The White House and Democratic Congressional leaders said Tuesday that they were bracing for a key procedural ruling that could complicate their effort to approve major health care legislation, by requiring President Obama to sign the bill into law before Congress could revise it through an expedited budget process.

An official determination on the matter could come within days from the House and Senate parliamentarians, and could present yet another hurdle for Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders as they try to lock in support from skittish lawmakers in the House.

The article suggests that the ruling will turn on a question of statutory interpretation. The reconciliation instructions contained in last year's budget resolution said that committees should "report changes in laws" that would help reduce the deficit. The question the parliamentarians must now rule on is whether this means that the current health care bill must be enacted and signed into law before any reconciliation bill can be passed -- a step that House lawmakers may be reluctant to take, given the extreme distrust they currently feel toward the Senate and its ability to accomplish anything.

Gov. Quinn Unveils Draconian State Budget Proposal

This morning's Chicago Tribune reports:
Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday unveiled a caustic budget plan that would borrow billions of dollars to stay afloat and push even more debt down the road, hoping to persuade leery lawmakers to instead raise taxes in an election year.

Quinn aides warned the plan would cost some 13,000 teachers and staff their jobs, cut off poor seniors from help in paying for costly prescriptions and shut down some health care programs for the indigent. But even after about $2 billion in cuts, the state would still be $11 billion in the hole.

The administration's warnings served as the precursor for the Democratic governor's Wednesday budget address before a joint session of lawmakers who want to wrap up their business in two months so they can focus on their re-election.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Democrats May Be Closing in on Votes Needed for Passing Health Care Reform

The Huffington Post reports that the White House is claiming that 50 senators now support using reconciliation to ensure the passage of health care reform, and that Democratic leaders say they are now only a handful of votes away from having the necessary majority for House passage of the Senate bill.

John Roberts Says Scene At Obama's State Of Union Was "Very Troubling"

From the Associated Press:
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said Tuesday the scene at President Obama's State of the Union address was "very troubling" and the annual speech has "degenerated to a political pep rally."

Obama chided the court, with the justices seated before him in their black robes, for its decision on a campaign finance case [Citizens United v. FEC].
Update: Pushing back, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs responded:
"What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections - drowning out the voices of average Americans * * * . The President has long been committed to reducing the undue influence of special interests and their lobbyists over government. That is why he spoke out to condemn the decision and is working with Congress on a legislative response."

Left Meets Right

The op-ed page of this morning's New York Times features two critiques of the drive for health care reform: conservative David Brooks argues that the Democrats' passion on this issue leads them to shortchange other interests such as fiscal responsibility and the well-being of small business, while liberal Bob Herbert contends that the focus on health care reform has diverted attention from the crisis stemming from devastating levels of unemployment.

Monday, March 8, 2010

House Liberals Force Vote on Pullout from Afghanistan

From the Washington Post:

Liberals in the House, who have spent much of the past year complaining that other congressional Democrats and the White House are insufficiently progressive, will get a chance this week to vent about one of their biggest concerns: the war in Afghanistan.

House leaders will allow three hours of formal debate, probably Wednesday, on an antiwar resolution written by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), one of the leading antiwar voices in Congress. The resolution, which has 16 co-sponsors, calls for the United States to remove all of its troops from Afghanistan in 30 days -- or by the end of the year, if it is determined that trying to do so in a month would be too dangerous.

Stupak Says Abortion Deal Looks Likely

From the Associated Press:
Prospects are good for resolving a dispute over abortion that has led some House Democrats to threaten to withhold support of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, a key Michigan Democrat said Monday.

Rep. Bart Stupak said he expects to resume talks with House leaders this week in a quest for wording that would impose no new limits on abortion rights but also would not allow use of federal money for the procedure.

House Democrats Mull Earmark Ban

From Roll Call:

As they try to reclaim the ethical high ground during a difficult stretch, House Democratic leaders are considering a dramatic move: declaring a party-wide ban on earmarks this year.

The idea, floated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a leadership huddle Tuesday, is for House Democrats to outflank their Republican counterparts, who have mulled and rejected such a moratorium in recent years.

The discussion was brief and inconclusive, sources with knowledge of the session said. Leaders decided they needed to explore it further with Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.). But if top Democratic brass decides to embrace the ban, it would likely have far-reaching consequences — and meet stiff resistance from some corners of the Democratic Caucus that cherish earmarks as a constitutionally protected legislative prerogative and a political necessity in an increasingly hostile environment for incumbents.

Departing Congressman Assails Democrats

From the New York Times:
Representative Eric J. Massa, a Democrat from upstate New York accused of sexually harassing a male aide, charged in a radio interview over the weekend that Democratic Party leaders were behind an effort to drive him out of office and that the White House chief of staff was the “son of the devil’s spawn.”

Obama Urges Democrats to Pass Health Bill

From the New York Times:
President Obama challenged wavering members of his own party on Monday not to give in to their political fears about supporting health care legislation, asserting that the urgency of getting a bill through Congress should trump any concern about the consequences for Democrats in November.

In a high-octane appearance that harked back to his “Yes we Can” campaign days, Mr. Obama jettisoned the professorial demeanor that has cloaked many of his public pronouncements on the issue, instead making an emotional pitch for public support as he tries to push the legislation through a final series of votes in Congress in the next several weeks.

Video of the speech is here:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

No News on Health Care Reform

For the first time in recent memory, today's New York Times contains no stories about the struggle to enact health care reform. Students of legislation everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Utah to Revise Fetal Homicide Bill

The New York Times reports:
A sweeping anti-abortion statute in Utah that would have allowed up to life in prison for a woman whose fetus died from her intentional or reckless behavior was withdrawn by its sponsor on Thursday and will be revised to be narrower in scope.

The original bill, which was sent to Gov. Gary R. Herbert, a Republican, for his consideration — and set off a firestorm of anxiety and criticism from abortion rights and women’s advocacy groups around the country — now goes back to the Legislature, neither signed nor vetoed.

The sponsor, Representative Carl D. Wimmer, a Republican, said he had removed a key clause that would have allowed prosecution under Utah’s criminal homicide laws for a “reckless act of the woman” that resulted in death to a fetus. Language will remain, he said, that makes a woman’s “intentional” actions, if resulting in the death of her fetus in an illegal abortion, a felony.

An earlier story about the bill can be found here. And here is the text of the original bill and the revised version that is now being considered.

House Passes $35 Billion Jobs and Construction Bill

From the New York Times:
The House on Thursday approved a $15 billion measure intended to spur job creation by granting tax breaks to businesses that hire workers, as Democrats, bracing for new jobless figures, tried to show that Congress was doing something about stubborn unemployment.

Democrats pushed through the measure on a mainly party-line vote of 217 to 201. They characterized the measure, which also funneled an extra $20 billion into road and bridge construction, as just the first step in a broad legislative push to bolster the economy and encourage hiring.

* * * * *

Though the measure attracted bipartisan support when approved by the Senate last week, House Republicans were dismissive, saying it was cobbled together by Democrats for political purposes and would do little to spur new employment. And many Democrats, even though they backed the measure, considered it far too limited in scope.

Obama Takes Health Care Deadline to Democrats

The New York Times reports:
President Obama, beginning a full-court press for his health care overhaul, met Thursday with insurance industry executives and House Democrats as party leaders on Capitol Hill struggled to figure out whether they could meet the president’s timetable for enacting legislation within a few weeks.

Rash of Scandals Tests Democrats at Sensitive Time

From the New York Times:
The ethical woes facing Democrats are piling up, with barely a day passing in recent weeks without headlines from Washington to New York and beyond filled with word of scandal or allegations of wrongdoing.

The troubles of Gov. David A. Paterson of New York, followed by those of two of the state’s congressmen, Charles B. Rangel and Eric J. Massa, have added to the ranks of episodes involving prominent Democrats like Eliot Spitzer, Rod R. Blagojevich and John Edwards.

Taken together, the cases have opened the party to the same lines of criticism that Democrats, led by Representatives Nancy Pelosi, now the House speaker, and Rahm Emanuel, now White House chief of staff, used effectively against Republicans in winning control of the House and Senate four years ago.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Obama Tries to Remain Calm During Political Storm

The Washington Post writes that President Obama's
trademark composure * * * will be tested like never before during the next two weeks. With governance already seemingly in disarray, Obama announced that he wants Democrats to push through his health-care reform legislation by calling for a simple-majority vote within the next few weeks. It is a process sure to further inflame the capital, and it raises a question central to Obama's presidency: Will his evenness help ease the disorder around him? Or will the rising tension undo his signature bill?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Final Push, Obama Urges ‘Up-or-Down’ Vote on Health

This afternoon, President Obama began his final push for passage of a health care reform bill, which he urged Congress to pass "in the next few weeks." Although he did not use the term "reconciliation," he made clear that Democrats intend to use that parliamentary procedure if necessary in order to obtain an "up or down vote" on the proposal. Obama now plans to barnstorm for the bill, beginning in Philadelphia and St. Louis.

A New York Times report on the President's speech can be found here, and the full text of his remarks is here. If you'd like to watch the 20 minute speech, you can find it here on the White House Youtube channel.

As the Times reports, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately rejected the President's call for passage of the bill:
Mr. McConnell said the president was defying the will of the public by pushing forward. “This is not an argument between Democrats and Republicans,” he said. “This is an argument between Democrats and the American people.”
Mr. McConnell said health care could become a “national referendum” in the November elections if Democrats don’t change course.
A report on The Plum Line says that the Republicans intend to unleash a huge wave of robocalls in swing districts warning of a Democratic plot to "ram" the bill through Congress.

For a very useful account of the "bumpy road" that the Democratic proposal still has to travel to become law, see this item from the Times's Prescriptions blog.

Update: That blog has several interesting posts on Thursday that describe Obama's efforts to round up enough votes from House Democrats, including fiscal conservatives and abortion opponents. For an account of his meeting today with progressives, who also have strong concerns about the bill, see this item from The Hill.

The Public vs. the Supreme Court: A Comment on the Citizens United Case

by Prof. Steven J. Heyman

This post is cross-posted at the Chicago-Kent Faculty Blog.

The following is the text of remarks that Professor Heyman made at a forum on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which was held at Chicago-Kent on February 24, 2010, and which was co-sponsored by the Student Bar Association and the Chicago-Kent chapters of the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society. Professor Sheldon Nahmod also spoke at the forum; his discussion of the case can be found here and here.

In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court was sharply divided, with five conservative Justices in the majority and four liberals in dissent. The immediate political reaction also followed predictable lines. President Obama and the congressional Democrats denounced the decision as a fundamental blow to our democracy. On the other hand, Republicans like Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, hailed the decision as a victory for freedom of speech.

All of this might lead one to believe that the issue in Citizens United is just one more area where the country is deeply divided along ideological lines, just as it is on issues like health care reform or government spending or abortion. But there are some indications that this isn’t true. For example, last week the Washington Post and ABC News released a poll that showed that four out of five Americans disagree with the Court’s decision in this case. Still more remarkably, the poll shows very little difference among political groups: 85 percent of Democrats oppose the ruling, but so do 81 percent of Independents and 76 percent of Republicans. And the poll also suggests that this is an issue that people feel deeply about: 65 percent of respondents say that they are strongly opposed to the decision, and 72 percent say they would support congressional action to reinstate the limits on corporate advertising in elections.

So the question that arises is this: What led the Supreme Court to make a decision that is so broadly rejected by the public?

On one level, I think the answer is that the Court’s position rests on a series of assumptions that most people don’t share. The first of these assumptions is the majority’s claim that under the First Amendment, corporations have the same fundamental right to free speech that individuals do. Justice Kennedy doesn’t actually say that a corporation is just like a natural person. But he does say that a corporation is an “association[ ] of citizens,” and that this gives a corporation the same First Amendment rights as anyone else. (Slip op. at 38; see also Scalia con. op. at 8) Justice Thomas recently made this point in a talk to a law school audience like this one. Thomas said: “If 10 of you got together and decided to speak, just as a group, you’d say you have First Amendment rights [to freedom of speech and association]. * * * If you all then formed a partnership to speak, you’d say we still have [these rights]. But what if you put yourself in a corporate form?” According to Justice Thomas, the result should be exactly the same. But I think that most people would say that there’s all the difference in the world between a group of citizens who come together for political or expressive purposes, like the Republican Party or the Sierra Club, and a business corporation that is formed to engage in economic activity.

In Citizens United, the majority bases its decision not only on the inherent right of corporations to speak, but also on the right of the public to hear them. According to Justice Kennedy, the capacity that speech has to inform the public doesn’t depend on the identity of the speaker. McCain-Feingold’s restrictions on election spending “muffle[] the voices" of corporations and so prevent the public from becoming fully informed. (Slip op. at 38 (quoting an earlier opinion by Justice Scalia; see also Scalia con. op. at 9).) In this way, Justice Kennedy says, the restrictions undermine “the integrity of the electoral process.” (Slip op. at 17, 32.)

Once again, I think that most people would regard these assumptions as quite unrealistic. Justice Kennedy talks as though election advertising involved a reasoned presentation of information and argument. But as anyone who’s ever seen these ads knows, that’s simply not the case. It’s true that some election ads contain information. They also contain a great deal of imagery and rhetoric, not to mention distortions and outright lies. And those are the good ads. There’s almost nothing that a reasonable person would enjoy doing less than watching the ads that run just before an election.

Now obviously that doesn’t mean that election ads aren’t protected by the Constitution. The First Amendment isn’t limited to reasoned discourse. As Justice Brennan once wrote, the Amendment is meant to protect speech that is “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that * * * may well include vehement, caustic, and * * * unpleasantly sharp attacks” on political figures. (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270 (1964).) That’s all part of the rough and tumble of politics in a democratic society. But it does matter who’s taking part in this process. It’s one thing to say that politicians may have to mix it up with their political opponents or with ordinary citizens. It’s another thing to say that they have to engage in a cage match with the Chamber of Commerce or the pharmaceutical industry.

It also seems strange for the majority to say that corporations are currently muzzled and unable to get their views out. The McCain-Feingold restrictions only applied to the period of a month or two before an election. They didn’t restrict ads at other times, or even pre-election ads that did something other than to support or oppose candidates for office. Most importantly, the law also allowed corporations to form political actions committees or PACs, through which its employees could pool their resources and take part in election campaigns. So the idea that corporations were unable to get their views out is unfounded. And the same is true of many of the other assertions that the majority makes: for example, the claim that advertising restrictions hurt small corporations more than large ones, since large ones have the resources to engage in lobbying; or the claim that there is no reason to fear that corporations will support one side rather than another in the political arena; or the claim that there is no principled way to distinguish between media companies and other corporations, so that if Congress could restrict election ads by businesses, it could also ban editorials in newspapers.

In all of these ways, the Citizens United case rests on assumptions that most people would find unrealistic. And this helps to explain how the Court reached a decision that is so at odds with public opinion. But I think the source of the disconnect lies deeper, in the vision of politics that animates the Court’s decision. According to Justice Kennedy, there’s nothing wrong with “using ‘resources amassed in the economic marketplace’” to gain an “‘advantage in the political marketplace.’” (Slip op. at 34 (quoting -- and overruling -- Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U.S. 652, 659 (1990).) And by the same token, there is nothing wrong with individuals or corporations using their wealth to gain “influence * * * or access to elected officials.” (Slip op. at 43) As Justice Kennedy puts it:

"'Favoritism and influence are * * * [un]avoidable in representative politics. It is in the nature of an elected representative to favor certain policies, and, by necessary corollary, to favor the voters and contributors who support those policies. It is well understood that a substantial and legitimate reason, if not the only reason, to cast a vote for, or to make a contribution to, one candidate over another is that the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors. Democracy is premised on responsiveness." (Slip op. at 43-44 (quoting his own earlier dissenting opinion in McConnell v.FEC, 540 U.S. 93, 297 (2003).)

To employ a term that we use in the first-year Legislation class, this passage reflects a view called interest-group pluralism – that is, the view that politics essentially involves a conflict between different groups, each of which seeks to promote its own interests through the political process. Many political scientists and others would regard this view as a fairly accurate description of the American political system. But it’s a view that many Americans find deeply troubling. For them, the domination of politics by special interests is precisely what’s wrong with our political system. This public attitude is at its height right now, in the wake of the government bailouts of the banks and the auto industry and other institutions. This is what underlies much of the anger that runs all the way across the political spectrum, from the Tea Party movement on the right to corporate critics on the left. Yet in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court not only endorsed the interest-group pluralist view of politics, but elevated it to the status of constitutional doctrine.

I would suggest that this is what lies at the heart of the public’s reaction to Citizens United. The financial crisis, the recession, and the situation in Washington have left many people feeling deeply anxious and frustrated. They’re worried about their ability to control their own fate as individuals, as well as the fate of the country itself. In this context, the Citizens United decision seems to undermine democracy and to make the government even more captive to special interests. As a result, there’s a good deal of popular support for responding to the decision by imposing new restrictions on corporate involvement in elections.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to take action. The leading proposal in Congress right now is a Democratic bill that’s sponsored by Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. As the New York Times reports, the bill would do the following things:

"[1] [It] would tighten existing bans on spending on political advertising by foreign companies so that it would apply to any company with at least 20 percent foreign ownership, a majority of directors who were not U.S. citizens, or ultimate control of the political decisions by a foreign government or company.

"[2] It would bar government contractors or banks who received bailout money from spending money on political advertising.

"[3] It would require the chief executive of a company buying a political commercial to appear at the end taking responsibility, just as candidates must now do. For commercials bought by advocacy groups, the biggest donor would be required to appear. The bill would also require such commercials to list the names of the five biggest donors.

"[4] It would force corporations, nonprofits, labor unions and trade associations to set up “political accounts” and report details of all their spending through the federal election commission.

"[5] It would require companies or organizations that employ registered lobbyists to report each political expense of $1,000 or more.

"[6] It would require publicly traded corporations to disclose any political activity to their shareholders on their company web sites within 24 hours, then follow up with more comprehensive disclosure in their annual reports.

"[7] It would require television and radio media companies to provide certain rates and advertising opportunities to candidates who face opposition from corporate-funded commercials.

"[8] It would expand prohibitions on coordinating spending with candidates by banning corporations from discussing any planned commercials that mentions a federal one federal candidate with any other candidates."

I don’t think that anyone believes that the Schumer-Van Hollen bill would have a huge impact on corporate electoral spending, though it would probably have some impact. And if the bill passes, then it will be promptly challenged in court. But the immediate question is whether a bill like this is likely to pass. Given the way things are going in Washington these days, you don’t want to hold your breath. As you all know, the obstacles to getting anything through the Senate are very high. But it will be very interesting to see what, if anything, Congress does in response to Citizens United.

Obama Offers to Use Some G.O.P. Health Proposals

From the New York Times:
President Obama offered Tuesday to address some of the concerns expressed by Republicans in the health care debate as the two parties maneuvered for advantage heading into the legislative end game.

In a letter to Congressional leaders of both parties, Mr. Obama said he was open to four specific ideas raised by Republicans at the daylong health care forum last week, including encouraging the use of tax-advantaged medical savings accounts and increasing payments to doctors who treat Medicaid patients.

By signaling that he is open to the opposition’s ideas, Mr. Obama struck a bipartisan tone even as the White House prepared the ground for Democratic efforts to pass comprehensive legislation on a party-line vote. Mr. Obama is scheduled to speak about his strategy for passing the bill in remarks at the White House on Wednesday.

The Washington Post has another good story on the partisan maneuvering on the eve of the Democrat's last major push to enact a health care reform bill.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bunning Relents on Unemployment Bill

From the Associated Press:
A Republican that had been stubbornly blocking a stopgap measure to extend help for the jobless relented on Tuesday under withering assaults from Democrats and dwindling support within his own party.

Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky had been single-handedly blocking the $10 billion measure, causing federal furloughs and threatening the unemployment benefits of hundreds of thousands of people. He was seeking to force Democrats to find ways to finance the bill so that it wouldn't add to the deficit, but his move sparked a political tempest that has subjected Republicans to withering media coverage and cost the party politically.

The bill is now slated to come to a vote Tuesday night. It passed the House last week and is likely to be signed into law as soon as possible by President Barack Obama so that 2,000 furloughed Transportation Department workers can go back to work on Wednesday.

Update: The Senate has passed the bill by a vote of 78 to 19.

Inside the White House: Hotheaded Emanuel May be White House Voice of Reason

From the Washington Post:
Rahm Emanuel is officially a Washington caricature. He's the town's resident leviathan, a bullying, bruising White House chief of staff who is a prime target for the failings of the Obama administration.

But a contrarian narrative is emerging: Emanuel is a force of political reason within the White House and could have helped the administration avoid its current bind if the president had heeded his advice on some of the most sensitive subjects of the year: health-care reform, jobs and trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts.

2,000 Furloughs Linked to Impasse in Congress

The New York Times reports on the consequences of Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY)'s blocking of a bill to extend unemployment benefits and highway construction:
The United States Department of Transportation said it furloughed 2,000 workers on Monday as a politically charged impasse over unemployment benefits interrupted spending on a handful of federal programs and escalated tensions in Congress.

With no quick resolution in sight, Democrats characterized the decision by one Republican to block the jobless aid and highway construction financing as an example of the practical consequences of regular opposition by Senate Republicans.

Obama to Highlight Cost in New Health Bill Push

From the New York Times:
President Obama this week will begin a climactic push to rally restive Congressional Democrats to pass major health care legislation by hammering the argument that the costs of failure will be higher insurance premiums and lost coverage for individuals and businesses.

While Mr. Obama prepared for a speech on Wednesday to outline “the way forward” and to flesh out the substance of his proposed compromise based on the bills passed by the House and Senate, the two parties on Monday stepped up their battle to define the Democrats’ legislative strategy [which is to pass health care reform using the process known as "reconciliation." It was framed as “a divisive trick” in Republicans’ telling and, in Democrats’ view, as a procedure regularly used and honed by Republicans.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Republicans Setting Filibuster Record

According to the Associated Press:

Last year, the first of the 111th Congress, there were a record 112 cloture votes. In the first two months of 2010, the number already exceeds 40.

That means, with 10 months left to run in the 111th Congress, Republicans have turned to the filibuster or threatened its use at a pace that will more than triple the old record. The 104th Congress in 1995-96 — when Republicans held a 53-47 majority — required 50 cloture votes.

For a chart that sets out the number of cloture motions and votes over the years, see the U.S. Senate's web site.

Supreme Court Construes Diversity Jurisdiction Statute

Last week in Hertz Corp. v. Friend, the Supreme Court interpreted 28 U.S.C. §1332(c)(1), which provides that, for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, “a corporation shall be deemed to be a citizen of any State by which it has been incorporated and of the State where it has its principal place of business.” In a unanimous opinion by Justice Breyer, the Court relied on the language and the legislative history of the statute, as well as "administrative and purposive criteria," to rule that "[t]he phrase 'principal place of business' * * * refers to the place where a corporation’s high level officers direct, control, and coordinate the corporation’s activities, i.e., its 'nerve center,' which will typically be found at its corporate headquarters." Interestingly, Justice Scalia joined the majority opinion in spite of its brief discussion of legislative history; one scholar suggests that this can be explained by the fact that, in introducing the legislative history, Justice Breyer wrote it was helpful in this case "for those who accept it" (p. 16).

Can the Democrats Get the Votes to Pass Health Care Reform?

Appearing on ABC's This Week yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was confident she would be able to get the votes necessary to pass health care reform in the House. Recent media coverage, like this article in Politico, have cast doubt on whether she will succeed. But Jonathan Cohn, writing in The New Republic, argues that these accounts may be too skeptical. In an interesting piece in today's New York Times, John Harwood suggests that, ironically, Republican intransigence may lead House Democrats to unite behind the leadership and pass the bill.