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Shining a Light on the Senate

Praise be !!!   In military terms, it is a flanking move.  With the President hardly mentioning ongoing extraordinary unemployment, trillion dollar deficits, and bankrupt entitlement programs while throwing down the gauntlet of his liberal agenda in his second inaugural address, someone in the House (Budget Chair Paul Ryan) has realized that the Democrats’ weak spot is the Senate where for three years Harry Reid has managed to table any financial discussions which might put the president on the spot or cause his Democratic members to make hard choices.

The specific challenge: The House will delay the enforcement of the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling until May 19, allowing the Senate until April 15 to propose a blueprint for taxes and spending. The stick – no blueprint, no pay. (The House has passed such, legally required blueprints since Republicans re-took the House in 2010.) In the meantime, automatic sequestration cuts of $70 billion for discretionary programs and $50 billion for defense are scheduled to kick in on March 2, and the current Continuing Resolution Authority – Congress’ annual approval to “keep on keepin’ on” in the absence of a budget – expires on March 27.

The media may want to talk about guns, immigration, and the rest of Obama’s second term agenda, but the Republicans are betting that the public will agree that you shouldn’t have a long term increase in the debt ceiling without a long term plan to control spending. They’d also like to remind voters that they’ve already given Obama a $65 billion tax increase, but that’s last month’s news.

Whether the Democrats and the media like it or not, the people will see something other than John Boehner caving in in this financial confrontation. Prominently on the stage will be:

-  Harry Reid in his first prime time appearance since the Obamacare sausage making. Perhaps we’ll get a reprise of the Cornhusker Kickback, Louisiana Purchase, and a litany of procedural misconduct.  With Congress’ approval at 7%, it will be good to place Harry at center stage.

-  And his supporting cast:  Barack Obama’s senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, the majority whip who may retire in 2014;  the third ranking Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York; new Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray of Washington who talks of little but tax hikes on trhe rich and protection of entitlements. .

-  The Republicans have their own baggage in Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who seems to have gone to sleep after his October 2010 comment that his primary objective was to see that Obama did not get reelected.  McConnell slides along in the clubby Senate, but a bad performance here will result in a Tea Party supported primary opponent in his 2014 reelection bid.

-  The rest of the Republican cast offers quite a bit of upside. Party leader Jeff Sessions is forceful, if a bit sleepy, but the exposure of members Kelly Ayotte, Ron Johnson, Pat Twomey, Mike Crapo, Rob Portman, and John Thune offer a nice blend of experience and photogenic youth.

In both parties, behavior will be affected by the looming 2014 elections in which the Republicans will defend 10 seats to the Democrats’ 23. One objective of the Republicans in this budget fight, and throughout the term, will be forcing seven mostly mediocre Democratic Senators from states carried by Mitt Romney - Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia; Mark Begich of Alaska; Mary Landrieu of Louisiana; Mark Pryor of Arkansas; Tim Johnson of South Dakota; Kay Hagan of North Carolina; Max Baucus of Montana – to take a position for Obama or for their constituents.

There is a reason that Harry Reid and Barack Obama have kept all matters financial from reaching the Senate floor. No more.

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This week’s video is a snippet from Hillary Clinton’s “What does it matter?” testimony at the Senate hearing. For a discussion of the unanswered questions, see my December 20 post.  

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