December 18, 2007

Lame Duck Crushes Christmas Turkeys

Hatched by Dafydd

I started this post last Thursday; but then I decided to hold it until I saw whether the predictions by the Washington Post and the New York Times would hold. They came through today... so here's the hodgepodge result combining the ancient past (Thursday the 13th of December) and the distant present (Tuesday the 18th). You'll take it, and you'll like it, by God and my right arm!

President George W. Bush -- dubbed irrelevant by congressional Democrats after they won a massive 15-seat majority in the House and an even more massive 2-seat majority in the Senate in 2006 -- has just won his 2,337th confrontation with the hapless Democrats this year. This time, it was on the Democrats' tax and spend and tax bill:

House Democratic leaders yesterday [that is, last Wednesday the 12th] agreed to meet President Bush's bottom-line spending limit on a sprawling, half-trillion-dollar domestic spending bill, dropping their demands for as much as $22 billion in additional spending but vowing to shift funds from the president's priorities to theirs.

The final legislation, still under negotiation, will be shorn of funding for the war in Iraq when it reaches the House floor, possibly on Friday. But Democratic leadership aides concede that the Senate will probably add those funds. A proposal to strip the bill of spending provisions for lawmakers' home districts was shelved after a bipartisan revolt, but Democrats say the number and size of those earmarks will be scaled back....

The agreement signaled that congressional Democrats are ready to give in to many of the White House's demands as they try to finish the session before they break for Christmas -- a political victory for the president, who has refused to compromise on the spending measures.

That bill was passed, but not last Friday as expected; the Democrats had to put out some intramural brush fires first. They passed the same legislation today... minus the Iraq-war funding, as the Post predicted:

Lawmakers then voted 206-201 to add $31 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, but the bill includes no money for the war in Iraq. The Senate, as early as today, is expected to add $40 billion for Iraq. The bill would then return a final time to the House.

But here is my favorite part of the Los Angeles Times story... where Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD, 90%) complains about being whipsawed by the president:

"In the face of an intransigent president and his allies in Congress, this legislation is the best we can do for the American people," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).

Thank God for intransigence!

Strangely, President Bush has more clout today, with a Democratic congress, than he did in 2004-2006 with a Republican one. But there is actually a very good explanation for that oddity.

When the Republicans were running Congress, Bush was constrained against using his most potent weapon, the veto: Bush, far more than congressional Republicans, follows Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment -- "Thou shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans" -- and it would be a terrible insult for a Republican president to veto legislation approved by a GOP Congress.

This was unfortunate and politically catastrophic, because spending under the 109th Congress, and the 108th before them, rose out of control -- though not as fast as if the Democratic proposals had been adopted instead. I believe this was even more the cause of the 2006 defeat than the Iraq war, probably second only to the hot e-mails to pages by former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida.

A threat by a Republican president to veto Republican legislation would have produced a miracle of financial rectitude: As much as Bush did not want to humiliate them, they were even more anxious not to be humiliated. Thus, the mere threat could possibly have reined in the spending... and possibly even saved the GOP majority.

In another example of how the power of the veto can win friends and influence members of Congress, Senate Democrats -- desperate to get out of town before Christmas to do some campaigning, fundraising, and heavy partying -- gave away the store on the energy bill:

The legislation still includes a landmark increase in fuel-economy standards for vehicles and a huge boost for alternative fuels. But a $13 billion tax increase on oil companies and a requirement that utilities nationwide produce 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources were left on the floor to secure Republican votes for the package.

The tax measure and the renewable electricity mandate were included in an energy bill that easily passed the House of Representatives last week. But industry lobbyists focused their attention on Republican members of the Senate and on the White House, which repeatedly threatened to veto the bill if the offending sections were not removed. Earlier in the week, Senate leaders agreed to drop the renewable electricity section.

And on Thursday, after a failed effort to cut off debate on the bill, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, announced that he would reluctantly remove the tax provisions as well, clearing the way for passage by a vote of 86 to 8.

That same bill was also passed by a wide margin (314-100) in the House today, having already been passed by the Senate; and it goes now to the president's desk. (The reason that both majorities are veto proof, of course, is that Bush himself approved the compromise.)

The only disappointment was that the Democrats managed to strip all support for new nuclear power plants from the energy bill:

Nearly half of House Republicans, meanwhile, condemned the legislation as a " No Energy Bill," because it lacked expanded access to new oil and gas exploration and failed to include incentives for development of coal or nuclear energy.

"For all the conventional energy sources that fuel this great nation, this is basically a no-energy bill," said ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.

But even there, Bush beat them like naughty children... because support for the nuclear industry has instead been inserted into the House omnibus spending bill just passed:

But they were not the only ones unhappy with the final product. In their struggle to meet White House demands while preserving some of their priorities, Democratic leaders made changes to their initial spending bills that seemed to anger everyone. Environmentalists were annoyed by a provision allowing the Energy Department to guarantee loans to energy companies for the development of liquid coal and nuclear projects that otherwise could not receive bank financing.

"This is the mother of all gift cards to the nuclear and coal industry," said Anna Aurilio, Washington director of Environment America.

Last, but not least in the least, the Democrats have finally caved on the awful expansion of SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program. SCHIP was originally intended, when enacted in 1997, to offer health insurance to impoverished children; and it was sunsetted to expire in ten years... which means in less than two weeks.

But rather than simply reauthorize it, the Democrats boldly chose to vastly expand it (from $25 billion to $60 billion over the next five years) -- and also to extend the program to middle middle- and upper middle-income kids who already have private insurance, but would likely switch to the cheaper government-subsidized plan; and even to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Plan to upper middle-income adults. This would have been a "great leap forward" to government-run health care, and it will certainly be the cornerstone of a Hillary Clinton campaign, should she win the nomination.

Bush vetoed the legislation; the veto was overridden in the Senate, but the House failed by 13 votes, even though 44 Republicans joined with the Democrats. In response, the Democrats made some cosmetic changes and repassed essentially the same bill (only Yog Sothoth, the Lurker at the Threshold, knows what they were thinking).

But when Bush vetoed the bill for a second time (couldn't see that coming!), House and Senate Democratic leaders chose not to try to override: They knew it would fail by an identical margin, since it was essentially the same bill. Instead, they have dropped their planned expansion and accepted a 15-month extension of the current program:

But Democrats fell just short of a veto override [the first time], and as the end of the session [and Christmas] approaches, they have agreed to an 15 month extension of the existing program, with extra money added only to cover state budget shortfalls, according to House and Senate aides. If the deal holds, the Senate would vote first on the program's extension, followed by the House.

Even with this long-term extension, Democrats aren't letting go of SCHIP as a political issue. They are planning a Jan. 23 veto override vote -- just days before President Bush gives his final State of the Union address.

The Democrats may get a shock on January 23rd. The two primary purposes for Democrats to vote for the SCHIP expansion were first, to push us towards government-run health care, and second, to embarass the president and conservative Republicans by making them appear to vote against healthy kids. Thus, it makes perfect sense to them to try to override the second veto in January ("just days before President Bush gives his final State of the Union address"!)

Contrariwise, the primary reason that many Republicans voted with the Democrats to override the veto was the fear of being painted as anti-child if they allowed SCHIP to die. I doubt that most thought the expansion was a good idea, even while they voted for it.

But in January, when the Democrats try to override again, GOP members of Congress will have no incentive to join them... because a deal will already have been struck to ensure that poor kids continue to get health insurance past the next election.

Contrariwise, Republicans will have every reason to oppose a purely symbolic vote whose only purpose is to embarass their fellow Republicans, whose support will be needed in November. I suspect this veto-override attempt will attract a lot fewer Republicans than the last one did, when the future of the SCHIP program itself was on the line; and it will be the Democrats, not the Republicans, who are humbled: The vote in January will be purely a vote to expand SCHIP, not to continue it; the veto override may well get no Republican votes at all.

So first the Democrats caved two or three hundred times on Iraq; then they caved on the huge spending increases they wanted; now they cave on the draconian tax increases they wanted to slap onto the "excess profits" of the oil industry; and they're just about to fully cave on their latest foray into government-run health care. Bush just ran the table.

As the title says, the "lame duck" president crushed the Democratic Congress so anxious to get the hell out of Dodge in time to raise money, run for reelection, and party like it's (still) 1999 (generally, Democrats manage to combine all three into a single event). The power of the presidency -- and the genius of the Founding Fathers' demand for a strong executive -- is thus reaffirmed.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 18, 2007, at the time of 7:18 PM

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The following hissed in response by: SlimGuy

I am starting to believe the congress is willing to be do nothings for a reason.

They want to be able at the next election paint the picture of obstructionist Republicans and a veto happy guy at the top to plead with their base to give them veto proof majorities to stop the bad bad Republicans in their nasty ways.

Funny but when the situation was reversed the Republicans at least were willing to compromise to get the best bills they could and move things forward at least.

And back then Reid was a complete master of playing all the rules for every bit they were worth to be an "obstructionist" himself.

So in essence to make their plan work, they have to really think their base is to dumb to figure it out. What a way to run a party.

The above hissed in response by: SlimGuy [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 18, 2007 9:34 PM

The following hissed in response by: snochasr

Now if Bush would just make a couple hundred recess appointments to be confirmed by the new Republican Congress, he could be a lame duck for the next several years AFTER leaving office. :-)

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 18, 2007 9:44 PM

The following hissed in response by: Davod

Didn't the bill gut the border fence funding?

The above hissed in response by: Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 19, 2007 3:11 AM

The following hissed in response by: Gary



betting the Kos Konspiracy Kooks are already on the case.

The above hissed in response by: Gary [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 19, 2007 7:24 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Didn't the bill gut the border fence funding?

It cut some but not all. This is exactly what I predicted would happen if the Republicans didn't pass the immigration bill, appropriate the money, and nail this down.

But it's not gone completely; it's just been reduced. Vote GOP next November, or you'll see a lot more of this...


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 19, 2007 7:53 AM

The following hissed in response by: SlimGuy

They also added in a list of 15 pre conditions before the money can be spent which are going to be a major job to meet the way they were structured.

I will have to check but I believe they also reduced it to like 370 miles and no longer have the double fence requirement.

Also a change was made that defines the fence as being built in segments and a segment being defined now as 15 miles of fence and each segment has to get individual approval.

The above hissed in response by: SlimGuy [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 20, 2007 9:58 AM

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