The Week In Review

The Week In Review


This was a very busy week on Capitol Hill. Greg Kaufmann provides the highlights:

Obama’s Big Week: Monday was the President’s “fiscal responsibility summit.” Tuesday was his big speech to the joint chamber of Congress, all of which was paving the way for Thursday’s unveiling of the new budget. In it, Obama makes good on a lot of campaign promises — including raising taxes on people earning more than $250,000, as well as multinationals, hedge funders, oil companies; cutting taxes for low- and middle-income people and businesses; raising revenues for clean energy technologies through a cap-and-trade system; making a $634 billion “downpayment” on healthcare reform over 10 years; and $47 billion towards education that includes $2.5 billion in new grants to help low-income students attend college, and expanding Head Start and Early Head Start…. The document makes some important strides in transparency, using a 10-year horizon instead of 5-year, and including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — which previously were left off the books…other cool random items: no more Yucca Mountain — time to get a new plan; $1 billion for child nutrition programs, including combating obesity which requires spending more money on healthy foods.

Rhetoric Preview: I loved this doozey from Jade West of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, who told CongressDaily, “This budget clearly divides Americans by resurrecting tired old policies based on class envy and warfare, which punish success. This is a path to transforming the United States into Socialist Europe.”

Bernanke’s Rosy Picture: Fed Chair Ben Bernanke told the Senate Banking Committee that “there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery.” Economist James Galbraith testified to the House Financial Services Committee that Bernanke’s deluded and that could be problematic in terms of crafting sufficiently bold policies: “Chairman Bernanke, in his speech at London in January, said ‘the global economy will recover.’ He did not say how he knows. And the truth is, this is merely a statement of faith. In present conditions the most dangerous position is that of the unfounded optimist.”

Foreclosure Relief? HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan seemed to follow Bernanke to economic fantasy land. He told the Senate Banking Committee that the Administration will release its foreclosure plan guidelines next week and that “certainly in April we will see a significant decline in foreclosures.” Let’s hope he’s right, because Congress can’t seem to get its act together on its plan to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages. They were supposed to vote this week, but according to CongressDaily the Blue Dogs and New Democrats got nervous that the Senate wouldn’t act with the same boldness, and so they punted. “We have done everything for the bankers and investment companies and here we do a little something for foreclosure for the homeowner and everybody is ‘oh, let’s be very careful,’ “Conyers said.

A Little Representation With That Taxation? 600,000 DC residents moved a step closer to voting Representation in the House. In the Senate, the bill got the 60 votes it needed to reach the floor where it was ultimately approved — with a hitch. A gun amendment would repeal local gun control laws, including registration requirements and a ban on semiautomatic weapons. A clean bill will in all likelihood pass the House next week and then it will be up to a conference to resolve the dispute. Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, said of the gun amendment: “It’s going to cause problems.”

Military Spending Madness: Rep. Barney Frank convened a forum to discuss ways to restrain excessive military spending. Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, also participated, along with CPC Reps. Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, and Keith Ellison. Dr. Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress cited a study by the Institute for Policy Studies estimating over $100 billion could be saved by cutting waste and eliminating obsolete weapons systems. A senior congressional staffer told me, “The bottom line is that we are once again going to push for about $60 billion in cuts to the DoD budget mainly based around the ‘Cold War’ weapons systems.” Frank emphasized the importance of grassroots pressure if they are going to be successful in taking on entrenched Dems.

Iraq Withdrawal (Sort of): Today, President Obama is expected to announce his plan to withdraw from Iraq by August 2010 — that is, other than 35,000 to 50,000 troops. Those troops would have to stick around through December 2011. Sen. McCain and Rep. Boehner signaled support (yikes). Reid and Pelosi weren’t too thrilled with the “transition force.”

Other News: Rep. Hilda Solis is finally in as Labor Secretary, confirmed 80-17…. Sen. Burris is in a state of denial and sends out mundane press releases daily…. Former Washington Gov. Gary Locke hopes that third time is a charm now that he is the new Commerce Secretary-designate…. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Majority Whip James Clyburn introduced legislation that would provide primary healthcare for all Americans.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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