Tales from the Trail

Ho Ho Healthcare

USA-WEATHER/SNOWSTORMNothing says Christmas in Washington like a cloture vote!

Keep those fir trees, ornaments, the city blanketed in white — though of course the U.S. capital has all of those this year too. What real Washingtonians are looking for is a getaway by December 25. And with an early morning vote  today to cut off Senate debate on healthcare reform legislation, it could actually happen.

It’s all about cloture. And don’t feel bad if you’ve never seen that word before. It’s an inside-the-Beltway term that means agreeing to limit legislative debate. Cloture requires a 60-vote majority of the 100-member Senate, rather than a simple majority. It’s going to take three cloture votes to get to the final vote on the bill, expected late on Christmas Eve.

The mere fact that members of Congress are still working during the week leading up to Christmas is pushing the envelope.

Veteran Washington-watchers recall the days when U.S. lawmakers came back for a week or two after Thanksgiving and then headed home to their districts for a long holiday break. That tradition was broken, definitively, in 1998, when they stayed in session until December 19 to impeach President Bill Clinton. This year, the House of Representatives has already left town while senators hang around for a series of healthcare votes.

The first cloture vote was early on Monday, the second was this morning and a third one is expected on Wednesday.

The First Draft: What if Congress turned Republican on Obama?

A Republican-controlled Congress could be a real possibility for the second half of President Barack Obama’s four-year term, according to the latest Gallup poll.
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The poll of 894 registered voters suggests Republicans would win the U.S. House of Representatives by 48 percent to 44 percent if the 2010 congressional election were held today.

The Republican lead is well within the poll’s 4 percentage point margin of error. But the results indicate that Republicans might have some momentum after gaining steadily on Democrats since July.

People who participated in the survey were asked only about their local House districts, so the results mean little for that other congressional chamber, the U.S. Senate. US POLITICS

The First Draft: should Obama embrace new structural reforms?

Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs are two guys who think President Barack Obama better embrace new structural reforms if he wants a growing economy that isn’t hard-wired to go bust.

Dodd, a Democrat fighting for his political life at home, proposed sweeping regulatory legislation this week that would curb the Federal Reserve’s bank oversight powers, strengthen consumer protection and keep a sharp eye out for systemic problems like housing or stock market bubbles.

The 1,136-page measure reflects Obama’s policies in some ways — for example, it supports the White House call for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency — but it also charts new regulatory waters.

“What we have (now) is a hodgepodge that has grown over the last 80 years, some of it dating to the 19th century and early 20th century regulatory structures,” Dodd told MSNBC.

Obama: “Skinny but tough”

obamatoughPresident Barack Obama had a message for his political friends and foes on Monday — “just because I’m skinny doesn’t mean I’m not tough.”

After weeks in which he has been angrily criticized by some on the right, to the point of creating a poster image of him with a Hitler mustache, Obama told a Democratic fund-raising event in Miami that some of his supporters have been expressing concern to him.

“I’ve tried to explain … just because I’m skinny doesn’t mean I’m not tough. I don’t rattle. I’m not going to shrink back, because now is the time for us to continue to push and follow through on those things that we know have to be done but have not been done in decades,” he said.

Poll finds a majority for ‘public option’

Americans are still sharply divided over President Barack Obama’s vision of healthcare overhaul, but they’re starting to come around  — again –  on the so-called public option, so says a new Washington Post/ABC News poll published on Monday.

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Fifty-seven percent of all Americans now favor a government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers while 40 percent are opposed, according to the poll.

That’s up from 52 percent support in mid-August, but still down from 62 percent in June.

Butchers offer financial services? “Completely false,” says Obama

President Barack Obama started his day by learning he had won the Nobel Peace Prize,  but that didn’t stop him from quickly turning downright prickly.

After a meeting with Americans who had been ripped off by the financial system, Obama on Friday said big banks and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were trying to block some of his efforts at financial regulatory reform.

They specifically want to torpedo his plan for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, he said. Legislation creating the agencyOBAMA/ is now working its way through Congress.

from Environment Forum:

Endangered yellow taxi? US climate bill could turn them green

The sweeping legislation unveiled in the U.S. Senate today aims to curb climate change, arguably one of the biggest tasks ever undertaken on this planet. But it's a bill that runs to more than 800 pages, and hidden in its folds is a provision that could turn a noted symbol of New York City -- the yellow taxicab -- green.

And it wouldn't just be in New York. Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and other major U.S. cities would be able to create taxi fleets made up entirely of hybrid vehicles under the proposed Green Taxis Act of 2009.

Offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who now fills Hillary Clinton's former seat in the Senate, the measure aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 296,000 tons in New York City alone, which its sponsors say would be like taking some 35,000 cars off the road and save drivers $4,500 annually in gas costs.

from MacroScope:

Another kind of death panels

U.S. Representative Barney Frank has never been shy about expressing his opinions. His opening remarks at a hearing he chaired with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Wednesday was no exception. Frank poked fun at a political squabble over healthcare reform as he detailed his position on what to do about non-bank financial firms considered "too big to fail."

    "There will be death panels enacted by this Congress, but they will be for non-bank financial institutions that will not be considered too big to die.
    I say that because we have this euphemism that we are going to be 'resolving' these institutions. It has not been my experience that when someone says they are going to resolve something, they kill it. We are talking about dissolution, not resolution. We are talking about making it unpleasant for the entities. This is not a fate people will want."

Republican “You lie!” outburst becomes Democratic fundraising cry

Rarely, if ever, have so few words moved so many people to contribute so much money so quickly.

PHILIPPINES-ECONOMY/RESERVESWithin 15 hours of Republican Representative Joe Wilson yelling “You lie!” at President Barack Obama, Wilson’s Democratic foe in next year’s election received more than 10,000 donations totaling upward of $350,000, according to the House Democratic campaign committee.

“And the numbers are still rising,” a spokesman said.

Wilson’s Democratic challenger, Rob Miller, an ex-Marine turned small businessman, lost a bid last November to unseat the now five-term congressman from South Carolina, 54 percent to 46 percent.

The First Draft: Congressman Wilson’s big moment

USA-HEALTHCARE/OBAMAThe dust is settling — and the political haggling is resuming — after President Barack Obama’s healthcare speech to Congress last night, but the spotlight is still shining, though not very flatteringly, on Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina.

If you watched on TV, you might not have seen him, but you probably heard a catcall from the House chamber when Obama told the audience that illegal aliens would not be covered by the proposed healthcare plan. That was Wilson, a Republican, shouting out, “You lie!”

Problem is, Obama spoke the truth on that point, and other Republicans acknowledged that. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who ran against Obama for the presidency last year, told NBC’s “Today” show that the plan would not cover illegal immigrants. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, one of Obama’s most vocal congressional critics, said the same thing on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Cantor and others noted that Wilson apologized, and Vice President Joe Biden figured that Obama would accept that apology. Still, feathers were ruffled.