fresh voices from the front lines of change







Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to affect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security.

Jobless Aid Extension Signed Into Law

Bunning backs down. W. Post: "Having demanded three amendment votes on the extensions bill, Bunning settled for one Tuesday and the promise of more later in the week ... Bunning's amendment, which failed with only 43 votes in support, called for ... the end of a lucrative tax credit for paper companies ... senators immediately approved the extensions bill, 78 to 19."

Negative public reaction forces Bunning to accept deal. The Hill: "Bunning was forced to take the same deal he rejected last week — an amendment on how to pay for the bill."

Time's Jay Newton-Small says Bunning played right into Democrats' hands: "While Reid could've filed for cloture and held a vote after 30 hours of debate, Dems said they were sick of allowing Republicans hold crucial legislation that helps the most vulnerable Americans hostage to their whims. It's the closest Senate Dems have
come to forcing the GOP to filibuster a bill."

Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer reporters that Tea Baggers were in full support of Bunning: "If you ever wondered what type of candidate the Tea Party movement would like to see elected to Congress, look no farther than Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning ... 'We're all in support of Sen. Bunning,' says Wendy Caswell, the founder of the Louisville Tea Party."

Digby finds the roots of Bunning's contempt for the jobless in the philosophy of Ayn Rand: "This is simple Randism, which is the real basis of Tea Party anti-government faux populism. They may not 'believe in' Wall Street bailouts, but they don't believe in unemployment insurance either. (And in return for no bailouts, they are ready to lift all regulations and constraints on business, while the average Joe gets the 'freedom' to starve.)"

John A. Powell calls for jobless aid that better targets harder-hit minority communities: "... the jobs bill might set a universal goal, such as reducing unemployment to pre-recession levels, and the unemployment rate in all communities to no more than 30 percent higher than the national average. This would mean greater job creation in communities hurting the most."

Jobs crisis has no end in sight. NYT's David Leonhardt: "Even the optimists are not very optimistic. Morgan Stanley expects average monthly job growth of just 110,000 this year. The great jobs deficit — 10.6 million and counting — will be with us for years. So no matter when the recent run of bad news comes to an end, the economy is still going to need help."

The American Prospect's TIm Fernholz urges Dems to reform Senate rules in wake of Bunning's obstruction: "Maybe desperation will someday set in when the exponential rise in filibusters continues, giving even more weight to Senate reform efforts. If it doesn't, Republicans won't be blamed when their party blocks votes -- voters will see either the attention-grabbing Bunnings of the world, or will become bored with mind-numbing process talk. Then, an anti-incumbent mood will punish the Democrats, who played by bad rules when they should have changed them."

President To Lay Out Final Health Care Strategy Today

President Obama to insist on final up-or-down vote. W. Post: "Obama plans to call on Congress to bring the year-long debate to a swift close, and congressional leaders expect him to signal support for a strategy that includes a special budget maneuver known as reconciliation ... Democratic leaders seemed increasingly confident that they could revive the bill and deliver it to Obama's desk, perhaps before the Easter recess begins March 29 ... Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a crucial swing vote ... said she is comfortable using [Senate budget rules.]"

Obama pledges to add four GOP ideas to the final bill, GOP still dismissive. LAT: "...the president singled out a proposal by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn to use undercover medical professionals to help identify fraud ... appropriating $50 million in federal funding to help states explore alternatives to resolving medical malpractice lawsuits ... language to expand health savings accounts..."

"Big ticket item" is proposal to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates to Medicare levels. Wonk Room's Igor Volsky: " That provision, which was included in the House health care bill, could cost north of $57 billion over 10 years and will certainly catch the eye of the American Medical Association and generate praise from both Democrats and Republicans:"

W. Post's Ezra Klein deems inclusion of health savings accounts to be "most relevant": "...if we were dealing with an actual negotiation in which both sides agreed that we should have a bill ensuring near-universal coverage at no cost to the deficit, it might be enough. But that's not the negotiation we're in."

TNR's Jonathan Cohn reports that House appears willing to pass Senate version first, before changes are made using Senate budget rules: "A senior House aide confirms that [House Maj. Leader Steny] Hoyer's use of the word 'assurance' was intentional--i.e., that House leadership would be willing to hold its vote first as long as it felt confident the Senate would subsequently approve the amendments. ... what might qualify as 'assurance'? The aide suggested the word of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might be enough, although other staff on Capitol Hill still talk about the possibility of collecting the signatures of 51 Senate Democrats..."

Slate's John Dickerson lays out what the WH is saying to secure votes: "First, with this vote, you'll be insuring 30 million people and giving people health security because they know their coverage won't be dropped. Second, once people see the benefits — closing the donut hole and holding on to their medical care — they'll warm to the bill. Third, if you vote no, you'll dispirit our base, which wants us to do something. Fourth, you already voted for health care last year — you can't erase that political downside by voting no now. Fifth, you don't want to hand your Democratic president a defeat on his signature domestic policy proposal."

Some anti-abortion House Dems may withhold support. Bloomberg: "...abortion won’t qualify for reconciliation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters yesterday. Politico adds: "The House is demanding that the Senate pass a second 'cleanup bill,' one to deal with issues like abortion and immigration that can’t be done with reconciliation. Some senators are saying bluntly, No way ... [Rep. Bart] Stupak claims to have 10 to 12 Democrats who will vote against a final bill if they don’t like the language. Supporters of abortion rights say the numbers are inflated."

HuffPost reports that 34 Senators are now backing public option for inclusion in reconciliation: "Sen. Ted Kaufman will vote for a public insurance option as part of a health care reconciliation package..."

Senate Republicans preemptively attack Senate parliamentarian ... that they installed nine years ago. Politico: "several Republican senators and aides cast Parliamentarian Alan Frumin — a 33-year veteran of the Senate — as someone who is predisposed to side with the Democrats if they attempt to use the reconciliation process to pass parts of their bill." Time on parliamentarian's bipartisan history: "[Since 1981, Frumin] he and former parliamentarian Bob Dove have effectively rotated what must be one of the most thankless jobs on Capitol Hill ... because various congressional leaders fired one or the other in frustration ... [Frumin is] the only parliamentarian to be appointed by both parties."

Congress Chews On Granting Fed Additional Consumer Protection Power

NYT suggests Dodd-Corker Fed proposal "potential breakthrough": "Some members of the Senate Banking Committee, who have been locked in negotiations over the reform package, said Tuesday that they had reservations about giving the regulatory powers to the Fed, though they stopped short of rejecting it."

Rep. Barney Frank may seek to prevent proposal from reaching the House. The American Prospect's Tim Fernholz: "Frank said that he would want to try and strengthen a Senate bill rather than vote to weaken the legislation his chamber passed last December. 'If the Senate were to send us what I've seen so far, I wouldn't bring it it to the House [floor],' Frank says. 'I'd insist on some House-Senate conversation ... I would not recommend to the Speaker that we take it up in the House.'"

Top Banking cmte GOPer Sen. Shelby attacks Fed proposal as too strong. CQ quotes: " create an entity in the Federal Reserve or FDIC or any agency and give it autonomy from the agency — that’s nonsense."

W. Post's Harold Meyerson scoffs: "Placing a weakened CFPA within the Fed could be like putting the Food and Drug Administration inside, say, Pfizer."

Baseline Scenario's James Kwak questions WH strategy to add Fed board members that would back Bernanke: "... it’s not clear what Bernanke stands for. He was a Greenspan clone for about two years; then he turned into a pragmatic firefighter; and recently he’s been avoiding taking positions on issues ... even if you wanted to find three mini-Bens, how would you even identify them? For starters, is he an inflation hawk or a dove?"

Mother Jones' Andy Kroll chastises Dodd as a "Wall Street Sellout": "On derivatives regulation, a source with knowledge of the negotiations says Dodd is backing down on this crucial element of financial reform as well ... the banking committee bill could include a so-called end-user loophole in its derivatives regulation."

Disappointment With White House at AFL-CIO Meeting

NYT reports mix of frustration with and sympathy towards Obama among union members, with possible electoral consequences: "...union presidents sharply complained to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. over stubbornly high unemployment, stagnant wages and the administration’s failure to do more to create jobs ... labor’s ambivalence, or worse, toward the Democrats could greatly deepen that party’s woes this fall."

W. Post's Ezra Klein questions WH strategy with unions: "The White House obviously can't pick all its fights at once, but as of yet, it hasn't picked any fights on Labor's behalf ... Some probably take that as Obama being usefully dismissive of a special interest, but in the long-run, letting Labor continue to decline is bad politics for Democrats and bad policy for workers."'s Robert Borosage reports from AFL-CIO meeting on need to bypass White House: "...the union presidents gave [V.P. Biden] a respectful hearing, but they then turned to planning how to move on their own, to mobilize, rally allies and push once more for jobs. Jobs, curbs on the banks, a new trade and industrial strategy, worker empowerment - none of this will happen from today's Washington. It will happen only if workers and progressives organize and make it happen to Washington."

Early Positive Reviews For Tripartisan Climate Proposal

Right-leaning Dems appear intrigued with forthcoming Kerry-Lieberman-Graham climate bill draft. CQ: "While stressing that they need to see more detail, moderate Democrats and Republicans were positive in their initial reviews. 'I am interested in their ideas,' said New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus ... called the proposal 'positive, refreshing and new-thinking.' ... Voinovich and ... seven [swing] Democrats — Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Baucus, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware ... expressed the political will to work together on writing and moving a climate bill."

More positive rhetoric from oil ally Sen. Landrieu. The Hill: "Landrieu said the plan is 'moving in the right direction' ... She praised the effort to pursue 'a more limited cap-and-trade for utilities, which is being contemplated, and then identifying a price for carbon in fuels to encourage us to go to cleaner fuels.' "

Grist's David Roberts concerned new proposal can't bring together all factions: "Graham et al. seem set to explode the fragile consensus formed around ACES [the House cap-and-trade bill] in favor of a piece of legislation that will cost more. They’ll lose the coal utilities but are unlikely to pick up Big Oil. The broad range of recipients of pollution allowances under ACES, who were set to receive a steady, predictable income over decades, now face a future patchwork of subsidies dependent on the whims of legislators—just the kind of meddling and favoritism carbon pricing was supposed to transcend."

Retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan still pushing "energy-only" bill, takes swipe at tripartisan effort. The Hill quotes: "We are not going to do cap-and-trade or a first cousin of cap-and-trade this year, in my judgment..."

Timing for actual release of legislation still unclear. The Hill: "'Hopefully within a week or so we will have at least a detailed narrative to share,' Lieberman told reporters ... Less clear still is when the plan will morph into actual legislation. Kerry, asked if he envisioned introducing a bill by Easter (which is in early April), replied 'that would be nice.'"

President Obama announces $6B "Homestar" green home improvement plan. W. Post: "Obama called on Congress to pass an administration proposal dubbed "Homestar," which would offer rebates of up to $3,000 for energy-saving home renovations."

Sen. Bingaman will champion "Homestar" legislation. The Hill: "Bingaman said he hoped to move quickly to launch “Home Star,” which is aimed at boosting the construction, manufacturing and home-improvement retailing sectors while saving energy. It would provide consumers rebates of $1,000 to $1,500 for specific projects like insulation, duct sealing, installing efficient water heaters, window and door retrofits and others. Consumers who undertake comprehensive home energy retrofits would receive up to $3,000 in rebates for overhauls that provide energy savings of 20 percent – and even more money for higher energy savings levels."

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