Wonkbook: The do-something Congress keeps doing things
The 111th Congress refuses to go quietly into that sweet night. Friday, of course, saw the $850 billion tax deal sent to President Obama. On Saturday, the Senate broke the filibuster protecting the Don't Ask, Don't Tell rules. On Sunday, it passed the food safety bill. Those three accomplishments -- all of them significant in their own right -- now join the 111th's other achievements: Health-care reform, the financial-regulation bill, the stimulus, Ted Kennedy's national-service bill, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the expansion of the Children's Health Insurance Program and student-loan reform, just to name a few. And the 111th may not be done: Chuck Schumer wants them to stick around to pass a bill giving health benefits to the Ground Zero responders.
That is not to say it hasn't failed on at least some of what it promised to do. We still don't have a national energy strategy, of course. The House passed a cap-and-trade bill, but it languished in the Senate. Immigration reform has been ignored, and the DREAM Act -- a consolation prize at best -- was choked off by a filibuster. There are dozens of nominees sitting on their hands, and the collapse of the omnibus spending bill means the federal government will only be funded until March -- at which point you can expect a Republican House to use the leverage of a possible government shutdown and a vote on the debt limit to play some serious hardball.
But for now, spare a thought for the 111th, the most productive Congress we've had in decades. The common complaint with politicians is that they make all these promises and then head to Washington and do nothing. Whatever you can say about the 111th, you can't say that. Love their record or hate it, they headed to Washington and did exactly what they said they were going to do.
The Senate will punt on the federal budget until March, report Jessica Holzer and Patrick O'Connor: "The Senate moved ahead Sunday night on a deal to fund the federal government through March 4, setting the stage for a budget fight early next year, when Republicans will wield more power. Congress has failed to pass legislation to fund the government for the full fiscal year that began Oct. 1, relying instead on several short-term measures. The most recent one expires on Tuesday, and a failure by Congress to approve new funding by then could lead to a government shut-down. On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) arranged for a Tuesday vote on a plan to fund the government through early March."
The food safety bill will pass after all, reports Lyndsey Layton: "A bill that would overhaul the nation's food-safety laws for the first time since the Great Depression came roaring back to life Sunday as Senate Democrats struck a deal with Republicans that helped overcome a technical mistake made three weeks ago and a filibuster threat that seemed likely to scuttle the legislation. After a weekend of negotiations, tense strategy sessions and several premature predictions about the bill's demise, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) reached a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that the GOP would not filibuster. Without notice and in a matter of minutes Sunday evening, the Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent, sending it to the House, where passage is expected."
The DREAM Act failed to break a filibuster Saturday, reports Shankar Vendatam: "Deporting almost 800,000 illegal immigrants might antagonize some Democrats and Latino voters, Obama's skeptical supporters said the president told them, but stepped-up enforcement was the only way to buy credibility with Republicans and generate bipartisan support for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. On Saturday, that strategy was in ruins after Senate Democrats could muster only 55 votes in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a measure that would have created a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Under Senate rules, Democrats needed 60 votes to overcome Republican opposition to the bill. The House of Representatives had passed the measure this month, 216 to 198."
Sen. Chuck Schumer wants to keep Congress in session to pass health aid for 9/11 first responders, reports Manu Raju: "New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday that the House should stay in session until the Senate passes a new version of a bill aimed at giving health benefits to Ground Zero workers. Setting up a clash in the final days of the congressional session, Schumer - along with fellow New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand - offered a modified version of a bill Sunday giving compensation to rescue workers who fell ill from the toxic dust stemming from the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001."
Massachusetts shows what a world with an individual mandate can look like, reports, well, me: "It's time to check in on how Massachusetts is doing. And the answer, basically, is pretty well. This week, the state's health and human services agency released the results of a new, independent survey examining coverage in Massachusetts. More than 98 percent - 98 percent! - of the state's residents now have health insurance, as do more than 99 percent of the state's children."
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Self-released rock interlude: Keepaway's "Yellow Wings".
Still to come: EJ Dionne argues that liberals should make peace with big business; states suing Bank of America for foreclosure fraud; a plan to save Medicaid; a plan to save the Post Office; and a baby panda tries and fails to climb up a slide.
Two states are suing Bank of America for fraud, report Andrew Martin and Michael Powell: "In withering complaints filed in state courts in both states, the attorneys general accused Bank of America of assuring customers that they would not be foreclosed upon while they were seeking loan modifications, only to proceed with foreclosures anyway; of falsely telling customers that they must be in default to obtain a modification; of promising that the modifications would be made permanent if they completed a trial period, only to renege on the deal; and of conjuring up bogus reasons for denying modifications."
The charitable deduction should be reformed, writes Richard Thaler: http://nyti.ms/hiS6uq
Obama's housing regulator nominee faces a Senate fight, reports Nick Timiraos: "The White House's pick to head the agency that oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac appears unlikely to win Senate confirmation before Congress adjourns due to a sharp policy disagreement between the White House and Senate Republicans over how to regulate the mortgage-finance giants. Senate Republicans are pressing to delay the confirmation of Joseph A. Smith, the North Carolina banking commissioner, to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. They are concerned he might allow Fannie and Freddie to participate in an Obama administration initiative to write down loan balances, say people familiar with the matter."
Free market fundamentalism is on the rise despite being wrong about everything, writes Paul Krugman: "The free-market fundamentalists have been as wrong about events abroad as they have about events in America -- and suffered equally few consequences. 'Ireland,' declared George Osborne in 2006, 'stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking.' Whoops. But Mr. Osborne is now Britain’s top economic official. And in his new position, he’s setting out to emulate the austerity policies Ireland implemented after its bubble burst. After all, conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic spent much of the past year hailing Irish austerity as a resounding success. 'The Irish approach worked in 1987-89 -- and it’s working now,' declared Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute last June. Whoops, again."
Cash should be abandoned in favor of electronic money storage, writes Jonathan Liptow: http://nyti.ms/eynAML
Progressives should make peace with Big Business, writes E.J. Dionne: "There have been moments in our history when important elements of business were 'progressive' in the sense of recognizing that social reform was in capitalism's long-term interest. In a seminal 1995 article in the American Prospect about business opposition to President Bill Clinton's health-care reform, the political writer John Judis recalled that during the Progressive Era, 'business leaders and organizations played an indispensable role in developing and promoting the social legislation that first blunted the sharp edges of laissez-faire capitalism.' Judis's conclusion still rings true: that 'without a business community moderately supportive of social reform, little is possible in the present era.'"
Adorable animals on playgrounds interlude: A baby panda fails to climb on a slide.
Medical suppliers are beginning to pay surgeons directly, report John Carreyrou and Tom McGinty: "Medtronic and the surgeons say the payments are mostly royalties they earned for helping the company design one of its best-selling spine products. Corporate whistleblowers and congressional critics contend such arrangements--which are common in orthopedic surgery--amount to kickbacks to stoke sales of medical devices. They argue that the overuse of surgical hardware ranging from heart stents to artificial hips is a big factor behind the soaring costs of Medicare, the government medical-insurance system for the elderly and disabled."
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell insists his state's health care lawsuit is "not political": http://politi.co/f17z7X
The way to improve Medicaid is to increase funding, not slash it, writes Jonathan Cohn: "By far, the best way to improve Medicaid would be to give it more money per beneficiary -- so that it pays providers something closer to what Medicare and private insurance pay. Do that and those Medicaid patients in Baton Rouge would get care that looks more like the treatment people with good insurance receive...In general, the people attacking Medicaid want to spend less on the program. And while critics sometimes argue private insurance could deliver coverage more cost effectively, the claim is hard to fathom. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid spends on average $2,500 per year for non-elderly adults -- roughly half what a single person pays today for a private health insurance premium."
Liberals can't protect the individual mandate if they can't limit the Commerce Clause, writes Adam Serwer: http://bit.ly/h4nIsX
The budget compromise will save food stamps, reports David Rogers: "Democrats predicted final approval this week of a year-end budget compromise ceding major leverage to Republicans in future battles but also giving the White House added protection for Pell Grants for low-income college students...After a late-breaking drive, the White House won an exception for the Pell program to avert what could be a one-third cut from the maximum per-student grant authorized for the 2011-12 college year. Those receiving such aid are overwhelmingly students from families earning under $40,000 annually, and as demand has grown with the recession, Pell faces an estimated $5.7 billion shortfall."
Jamelle Bouie interviews an academic defender of earmarks: http://bit.ly/gx4Tvx
We should be using the Postal Service to collect data, writes Michael Ravnitzky: "The service’s thousands of delivery vehicles have only one purpose now: to transport mail. But what if they were fitted with sensors to collect and transmit information about weather or air pollutants? The trucks would go from being bulky tools of industrial-age communication to being on the cutting edge of 21st-century information-gathering and forecasting. After all, the delivery fleet already goes to almost every home and business in America nearly every day, and it travels fixed routes along a majority of the country’s roads to get there. Data collection wouldn’t require much additional staff or resources; all it would take would be a small, cheap and unobtrusive sensor package mounted on each truck."
Great moments in university bands interlude: The University of Hawaii band forms into a person walking.
Renewable energy groups are getting a frosty reception from Republicans, reports Darren Samuelsohn: "Groups like the American Wind Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association must deal with the awkwardness of trying to work with the same Republicans who opposed their efforts to put a lid on greenhouse gases...Republican leaders are critical of giving long-term life to the renewable sector, which is expected to get a short-term boost via the tax-extender package. Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, incoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he’s skeptical of the rationale behind spending $10 billion a year over the past decade on subsidies for wind and solar power."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller is conceding defeat on blocking EPA climate rules: http://bit.ly/eRyQGp
An omnibus lands bill likely will not pass the Senate: http://bit.ly/g82Ydo
A renewable energy standard has a chance of gaining Republican support, reports Ben Geman: "Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Saturday that a 'clean' energy standard for electric utilities could gain traction among Republicans in the next Congress even though it would create a new federal mandate. Murkowski, the top GOP member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the standard should allow wide discretion for states and regions, which would help build support. 'I think there is a level of flexibility that allows you to achieve the goal of reduced [greenhouse gas] emissions, but gives you the ability to determine what it is you are going to do and how you are going to do it. I don’t think that is a mandate that scares people away,' she told The Hill in the Capitol."
The Navy and Marines are going green, writes Tom Friedman: "Their efforts are based in part on a recent study from 2007 data that found that the U.S. military loses one person, killed or wounded, for every 24 fuel convoys it runs in Afghanistan. Today, there are hundreds and hundreds of these convoys needed to truck fuel -- to run air-conditioners and power diesel generators -- to remote bases all over Afghanistan. Mabus’s argument is that if the U.S. Navy and Marines could replace those generators with renewable power and more energy efficient buildings, and run its ships on nuclear energy, biofuels and hybrid engines, and fly its jets with bio-fuels, then it could out-green the Taliban -- the best way to avoid a roadside bomb is to not have vehicles on the roads."
Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews, Mike Shepard, and Michelle Williams. Photo credit: Bill O'leary - The Washington Post.
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