Wonkbook: A rough Wednesday for Democrats
Democrats did not have a good Wednesday. In Washington, both the Republican-backed bill to cut $60+ billion from the government's funding for 2011 and the Democratic-backed bill to cut $6 billion from the government's funding for 2011 failed. That was expected. What wasn't necessarily expected was that the Democratic bill would get few votes despite a Democratic Senate. But the Republican legislation went down 44-56, while the Democrats' proposal went down 42-58. That doesn't strengthen Harry Reid's hand going into the next set of negotiations.
Then Wisconsin happened (Wonkbook, by the way, has a special Wisconsin section today, so read on and you'll be fully caught up). The quorum requirement that Senate Democrats were denying Gov. Scott Walker only applies to laws that spend money. So Walker, in a move that had been rumored but was not expected to happen yesterday, cut out everything in the legislation that spends money and rammed the bill through the state Senate before most people even realized anything was happening.
The story isn't over in either case. In Washington, Sen. Chuck Schumer is leading the Democrats in an effort to widen the conversation from spending cuts focusing on non-discretionary defense to deficit reduction that looks at entitlement programs, tax expenditures, and more. That's a smart move with the potential to lead to much more deficit reduction than the Republicans are proposing, but over a longer timeframe and using a more balanced mix of policies. Republicans have not reacted positively, but if they would prefer limited spending cuts to actual efforts to reduce the deficit, let them say so. And in Wisconsin, Walker's action has supercharged the recall effort that's ongoing against eight of the state's Republican senators (not to mention interest in recalling the governor next year, when he's eligible for recall). So in both cases, there's a lengthy endgame yet to get through, Still, a bad Wednesday for the Democrats.
Before getting to the links, I want to take a moment to honor David Broder, who died yesterday. I didn't know Broder well, though he was unfailingly kind and gracious in every interaction we had. But to get a sense of what he meant to the profession and the people in it, read through the remembrances written by Robert Kaiser, Dan Balz, Chris Cillizza, Joe Klein, Lou Cannon, the editorial board and the readers of the Washington Post. He will be missed.
The Wisconsin Senate has passed a bill stripping public workers of bargaining rights, reports Michael Fletcher: "Senate Republicans abruptly passed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's plan to sharply curtail collective-bargaining rights for public employees Wednesday night, using a legislative maneuver to approve the measure without 14 Democratic senators who fled the state in an effort to block it. After stripping the bill of fiscal measures that require a 20-member quorum for action, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate passed the collective-bargaining measure. Analysts say the legislation would cripple most of the state's public employee unions. On Thursday, the slimmed-down bill is expected to go to the GOP-run state Assembly, which has already passed another version of it."
Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democrats responds: "Using tactics that trample on the traditions of our Legislature, the Republican leadership has betrayed our state. Republicans have rubber-stamped the desire of the Koch Brothers and their godshead Scott Walker to cripple Wisconsin's middle class and lower benefits and wages for every single wage-earner in our state. The vote does nothing to create jobs, does nothing to strengthen our state, and shows finally and utterly that this never was about anything but raw political power. We now put our total focus on recalling the eligible Republican senators who voted for this heinous bill. And we also begin counting the days remaining before Scott Walker is himself eligible for recall."
The bill threatens the existence of the union-dependent Wisconsin Democratic party, writes Eric Kleefeld: http://bit.ly/e3kZlM
Scott Walker defends his decision: "When Gov. Mitch Daniels repealed collective bargaining in Indiana six years ago, it helped government become more efficient and responsive. The average pay for Indiana state employees has actually increased, and high-performing employees are rewarded with pay increases or bonuses when they do something exceptional. Passing our budget-repair bill will help put similar reforms into place in Wisconsin. This will be good for the Badger State's hard-working taxpayers. It will also be good for state and local government employees who overwhelmingly want to do their jobs well. In Wisconsin, we can avoid the massive teacher layoffs that schools are facing across America. Our budget-repair bill is a commitment to the future so our children won't face even more dire consequences than we face today."
The bill's opponents are preparing their next move, reports David Dayen: "Legal challenges. There are going to be a number of legal challenges to this bill. It will not be implemented right away. There’s the near-term challenge of how the bill got passed tonight. It was done in a way that may have violated open meetings laws, by not allowing 24 hours notice for a public meeting of the conference committee... General strike. Union leaders are reportedly discussing a general strike, and the mood of the protesters, who stormed the Capitol upon word of the bill, echoes that. You could see some kind of near-term labor walkout, at least in Madison and possibly throughout the state. Recalls. This will only energize progressives and labor to get the required signatures for recalls."
Unions won in the court of public opinion, writes Daniel Foster: "Big Labor logic has won the battle for the hearts and minds, not just of liberals, but of 'moderates' too. To hear all the talk of the 'rights' -- even 'civil rights'(!) -- that have been stripped from public sector workers in this bill by the 'far right wing' is to see Stockholm Syndrome on a massive scale. Call it Madison Syndrome -- the completely irrational belief among a large segment of this republic that their interests lie with public sector unions, whose very existence is predicated on decreasing the efficiency with which government services are provided by maximizing labor costs."
Even liberals can admire Scott Walker's tactical maneuvering, writes Matthew Yglesias: "You’ve sort of got to admire the gritty determination of the Wisconsin GOP...When it turned out that the public was actually sided with the unions and the Democrats, the CW quickly became that there would have to be some kind of compromise. But of course there never had to be a compromise...Not to draw an equivalence between a bad bill and a good one, but what it reminds me of is congressional Democrats after Scott Brown’s election. The early CW was that somehow Democrats “had to” back down in the face of their unpopularity. But they didn’t have to do anything. They believed as strongly in universal health care as the Wisconsin GOP believes in crushing labor unions. So they passed the damn bill."
Piano rock interlude: Fiona Apple plays "Oh Well" on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.
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Still to come: The Senate has rejected both parties' spending bills; Grover Norquist says there will be no deficit deal and Republicans should spend time on "cocaine and golf" instead; the White House wants to speed up consideration of an anti-health care reform lawsuit; most of America's schools could be classified as failing; the GOP is pursuing legislation targeting utility companies; and a dog rides a scooter.
The Senate has rejected Democratic and Republican spending bills, report Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane: "The Senate on Wednesday rejected a Republican plan to sharply cut spending this year, as well as a far more modest Democratic proposal, clearing a path for negotiations toward a compromise that could streamline government without damaging critical services. Senate Democratic leaders are pressing to expand the talks beyond the small slice of the budget that funds government agencies, arguing that any serious effort to reduce record deficits must also include cuts in entitlement programs and higher taxes...Senior White House officials joined GOP leaders in questioning the practicality of that approach, however, saying policymakers must break the impasse over funding for domestic agencies through Sept. 30 before tackling broader - and more politically sensitive - budget issues."
Chuck Schumer is trying to widen the conversation -- and he's right to do so, writes Ezra Klein. "In a speech at the Center for American Progress today, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer laid out a strategy that might get those moderates comfortable again. They feel they need to be on the side of deficit reduction, not government spending. The opening Schumer sees is that Republicans have limited their cuts to the 12 percent of the budget that’s non-defense discretionary spending. 'Tax cuts and expanded mandatory programs are a large part of what got us here,' Schumer said, 'and they are going to have to be part of the solution.'...The reality is that the Republican Party isn’t fighting for deficit reduction. It’s fighting for a limited set of spending cuts -- and not a wisely chosen set at that. Democrats could propose legislation that does more to cut the deficit and less to injure job growth; they just have to break out of the cramped confines that the GOP has erected.
Senate Democrats want Obama to jump into budget discussions: http://bit.ly/f67yT9
Grover Norquist says there won't be a 'grand bargain' on the deficit: "The reason it won’t happen is that the Republicans have taken the pledge and made a promise to their constituents that they won’t increases taxes. And I’ve talked to the guys in the House and Senate. They tell me it won’t happen...Every once in awhile, some reporter ekes out a comment from one of them saying everything is on the table, but when they talk to me, they say we’ll talk about anything, but we won’t agree on a tax increase. My position is: Why go into a room and close a door with people who have the history that Conrad and Durbin do? But no, there won’t be a tax increase. That’s not happening. It’s an odd way to spend your time. I think golf and cocaine would more constructive ways to spend one’s free time time than negotiating with Democrats on spending restraint."
The Congressional GOP is attacking the administration's mortgage deal, reports Dina ElBoghdady: "Republican lawmakers on Wednesday accused the Obama administration of trying to make an end run around Congress as it negotiates a large settlement with banks involved in shoddy foreclosure practices. Republicans criticized the scope of a 27-page draft term sheet that was recently submitted to five of the nation's largest banks by state attorneys general and a handful of federal agencies, including the Justice Department and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 'The settlement agreement not only legislates new standards and practices for the servicing industry, it also resuscitates programs and policies that have not worked or that Congress has explicitly rejected,' the letter said."
Congress does not look prepared to pass the South Korea trade deal without passing the Colombia one as well, reports Howard Schneider: "An emerging battle over a proposed free-trade agreement with Colombia is undercutting central pieces of President Obama's trade agenda, with key lawmakers urging swift enactment of a U.S.-Colombia deal even though the administration says the pact needs more work. The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Finance Committee said Wednesday they would withhold approval of another trade agreement - a pact with South Korea that Obama recently completed - unless it is packaged with a Colombia deal and a third, less controversial one being negotiated with Panama."
Higher interest rates at the Fed could prevent the next crisis, writes Raghuram Rajan: "The US Federal Reserve has essentially guaranteed the financial sector that if it gets into trouble, ultra-low interest rates will be maintained (at the expense of savers) until the sector recovers. In the early to mid-1990’s, rates were kept low because of banks’ real-estate problems. They were slashed again in 2001 and kept ultra-low after the dot-com bust. And they have been ultra-low since 2008. Senior Fed policymakers deny that their interest-rate policy bears any responsibility for risk taking, but there is much evidence to the contrary. It would be difficult for the Fed to respond differently if the financial sector gets into trouble again. But it does not have to maintain ultra-low interest rates after the crisis has passed."
Washington Democrats could learn from their friends in Wisconsin, writes E.J. Dionne: "In 2010, working-class whites gave Republicans a 30-point lead over Democrats in House races. That's why the Wisconsin fight is so dangerous to the conservative cause: Many working-class Republicans still have warm feelings toward unions, and Walker has contrived to remind them of this...Thus the importance of a speech on Wednesday by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, intended to 'reset the debate.' As Schumer noted, the current battle, focused on 'one tiny portion of the budget,' evades the real causes of long-term budget deficits. Schumer dared to put new revenue on the table - including some tax increases that are popular among the sorts of blue-collar voters who are turning against Walker."
The Justice Department wants to speed up its appeal of an anti-health reform ruling, reports Jennifer Haberkorn: "The Obama administration has asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to expedite consideration of the health care reform law -- the second step in a process set in motion by U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson. Vinson ruled in January that the entire health care law was unconstitutional. The administration waited until late February to file a motion for clarification - a delay that drew the ire of Vinson, who responded by staying his ruling but ordering the administration to file its appeal within seven days and to request expedited review from the 11th Circuit. The administration filed the appeal Tuesday and later asked for the fast-tracked review."
HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius says the GOP continuing resolution would prevent Medicare checks from going out: http://politi.co/ezPDUu
Maine has gained a waiver from health care reform's premium rules, reports Drew Armstrong: "The state of Maine received a three- year waiver to federal rules in the 2010 health law that require health insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on patient care, the U.S. government said today. Maine’s waiver is the first the government has granted on the premium expenditure rules. Insurers in the state selling policies to individuals will have to spend only 65 percent of premiums on patients, with the rest going toward profits and administrative costs. The exemption will last through 2013, U.S. regulators said today in a letter to the state. The spending requirement 'has a reasonable likelihood of destabilizing the Maine individual health insurance market,' wrote Steve Larsen, deputy administrator of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight."
A House GOP plan would allow individuals to apply for waivers from health care reform: http://on.wsj.com/i0DDqv
The Education Department could label most schools failing, reports Nick Anderson: "More than three-fourths of America's public schools could soon be labeled 'failing' under a federal formula that relies mainly on annual testing to gauge progress, the Obama administration said Wednesday. Last year, a little more than a third of schools fell short of targets under the No Child Left Behind law. The projection from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, which some experts challenged, does not mean schools are headed for an imminent meltdown. But it confirms what educators have long concluded: The typical school will never attain the ideal enshrined in the 2002 law that all students should become proficient in math and reading. The projection also points to a high-stakes battle over how to define school failure and success as Congress seeks to rewrite a law that is showing its age."
A House committee voted to toss out net neutrality rules: http://on.wsj.com/i0CTxz
The White House tried to quiet the National Labor Relations Board on budget issues, reports Ryan Grim: "When House Republicans targeted the budget of the National Labor Relations Board last month, the agency shot back, warning that such cuts would force it to largely cease operations for an extended period of time, creating a backlog of thousands of cases. It was one of the few counterattacks from the Obama administration, which was otherwise busy proposing its own cuts and endorsing the Republican call for slashing spending -- and it didn't last long. The White House demanded that the NLRB scrub the statement defending the agency from its website, an NLRB spokesperson told The Huffington Post...The Office of Management and Budget, an arm of the White House, reached out to the NLRB and told the agency to back off and take down the statement."
Adorable animals using technology interlude: A dog rides a scooter.
The GOP is targeting utility companies, reports Robin Bravender: "GOP lawmakers and industry lobbyists are talking about legislation aimed at reining in power companies after some utilities were seen as being less than friendly to their efforts to block Obama administration climate change rules. Several House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans and industry lobbyists are pushing for a 'Ratepayer Protection Act,' a measure that would limit utilities’ ability to pass along costs to consumers, according to lobbyists close to the committee. The discussions come after POLITICO last week reported that several top utility CEOs weren’t thrilled with a draft bill from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to preempt the EPA on climate change."
A House Democrat is proposing a "compromise" to restrict the EPA's power to issue climate regulations: http://bit.ly/eTASMj
Traditional cars are catching up to hybrids on gas mileage, reports Peter Whoriskey: "The new Chevrolet Cruze Eco can reach eye-popping fuel economy levels of more than 50 miles per gallon on the highway, which even in this era of hybrid-electric cars stands among the best. But here's the real trick: The Cruze Eco is neither a hybrid nor electric. It runs on that 'old' technology, the conventional gasoline engine. Although hydrogen, electric and other alternative cars have garnered more hype and significant federal subsidies, the best immediate hope for restraining the nation's fuel consumption might be some new vehicles that, although powered by conventional engines, run efficiently because they have been stripped of unnecessary weight, streamlined to move smoothly and equipped with gas-sipping engines."
It's too early to talk about tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserves, writes Kathleen Madigan: http://on.wsj.com/g7FtFD
Two Senators want to repeal an ethanol tax credit, reports Tennille Tracy: "A pair of U.S. senators introduced a bill Wednesday to repeal a controversial tax credit given to companies that blend ethanol into gasoline. The lawmakers, Sens. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) and Ben Cardin (D., Md.), say the tax credit should be eliminated because federal law already requires blenders to put ethanol into gasoline, thereby eliminating the need for financial incentives. Ethanol producers, on the other hand, say a repeal of the credit would be poorly timed because the industry can produce transportation fuel at a time when the U.S. is concerned about global oil supplies. The Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit provides a 45-cent-a-gallon tax credit to blenders of ethanol."
Closing credits: Wonkbook is compiled and produced with help from Dylan Matthews and Michelle Williams.
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