Catching UpJanuary 2, 2009 - by Donny Shaw
Between road tripping up the East Coast, weathering a Nor’easter and celebrating 2009, I’ve lost track of the Congress rumor mill a bit. So, rather than try to fall right back into step, here’s a rundown of what’s been happening over the past few days with some of the major themes shaping up as the 111th Congress gets ready to convene on Tuesday.
The Stimulus Package
- The first steps for passing the stimulus package, which is expected to cost about $775 billion over two years, will be a meeting between President-elect Barack Obama and congressional leaders on Monday and a Democrats-only committee hearing on Wednesday.
The Obamas will be officially moving to Washington D.C. on Monday, and as Sasha and Malia start up at their new school, Barack will have his first set of meetings with Congress to begin negotiating the size and scope of the stimulus package he is pushing.
On Wednesday, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee will hear testimony from several economists and begin to nail down the Democatic Caucus’ priorities for inclusion in the legislation. “This hearing will build upon the stimulus package the House passed in September and the numerous hearings held by our other committees, to ensure we make the necessary investments in an innovative and bold way to strengthen the economy,” Nancy Pelosi said in her announcement of the hearing. It’s still unclear whether the stimulus will go through other committees before it is brought to a vote before the full House and passed by the expanded Democratic majority.
Republicans are hoping that they process will be slowed down a bit. “I would ask the Democratic leadership to guarantee that such a bill will not be brought to the floor of the House unless there have been public hearings in the appropriate committees, the entire text has been available online for the American people to review for at least one week, and it includes no special-interest earmarks,” said House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) earlier this week.
- Vice President-elect Joe Biden said last week that the stimulus “will not become a Christmas tree” for lawmakers’ pet projects. But the $73 billion wish list of infrastructure projects that state and local officials have submitted to Obama includes a lot of things that sound like classic pork:
>By all accounts, the $73 billion wish list may be the largest collection of parochial spending projects in American history. Strolling through the 800 pages, we found such beauties as: $1 million to upgrade the Los Angeles County Convention Center elevated “catwalk” for cameras and lighting; $350,000 for an Albuquerque, N.M., fitness center; $94 million for a parking garage at the Orange Bowl in Miami; $4.5 million for Gretna, Florida, to bottle water with recyclable bottles; a $35 million music hall of fame in Florissant, Missouri, and $3.1 million for a swimming pool in Tulsa.
- Patrick Ruffini gives us a hint as to what the Republican stimulus strategy might be:
>As a matter of practical reality, our numbers in the Senate and House are such that no Republican proposal will become law. The opportunity to finesse the Democratic stimulus is not there because the playing field is titled so far in the Democrats’ direction. With hopeless minorities, we are freer to demonstrate what we would do in an ideal governing situation, instead of trying to make the White House’s proposal less bad.
>The best strategy is to create a nucleus of energy around a proposal as diametrically opposed to President Obama’s as humanly possible, thus pulling the eventual Gang of 14 to 20 “compromise” as far to the right as can be mustered.
>If some sort of fiscal expansion is a given, and there is no way to paint a more modest set of permanent tax cuts as unreasonable when compared to an $800 billion stimulus, we might as well take this opportunity to have a public debate about the best way to stimulate the economy: tax cuts or spending hikes. To do that, though, the official Republican position on spending needs to be as clean as the driven snow.
Filling the Senate
- Senate Democrats are prepared to use police force to block Roland Burris:
>The aide familiar with Senate Democratic leaders’ plans said if Burris tries to enter the Senate chamber, the Senate doorkeeper will stop Burris. If Burris were to persist, either trying to force his way onto the Senate floor or refusing to leave and causing a scene, U.S. Capitol Police would stop him, said the aide.
>"They (police) probably won’t arrest him" but they would call the sergeant-at-arms," the aide said.
Some thoughts on the matter from Chris Bowers:
>It is more than a little worrying that the only moment when Senate Democrats decide to take the gloves off is to block a Democrat who was legally appointed to the Senate from being seated. Kind of makes you think that Senate Democrats are more willing to stand up to other Democrats than they are to Republicans.
>Officials say the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy will be the governor’s choice to fill the New York Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton.
>Two people close to Gov. David Paterson tell The Associated Press they believe Caroline Kennedy will be his choice, but the governor cautions he’s still looking.
- And we’ve got a replacement for Ken Salazar in Colorado:
>Denver Public Schools superintendent Michael Bennet will be named Saturday as the future U.S. Senate replacement for Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar, according to two Democratic sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
>Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to name Bennet on Saturday, ending a brief but frenzied period of speculation about who will take the seat of Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar.
>Though he’s never run for office, Bennet, 44, has strong connections to Colorado’s power base: He’s been the school superintendent for 31/2 years and was Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff. He also was managing director of Anschutz Investment Co from 1997-2003.