Sunday, March 21, 2010

At last, a victory

It's 1:00 am, and I just got home from the Capitol, where I sat in the gallery for over five hours as the House debated and then passed the health care bill. There were moments of soaring rhetoric, there were moments of low comedy. My personal favorite was when one speaker compared the bill to the failed Soviet experiment of a planned economy. Since the result was preordained, and no one's mind was going to be changed, it seemed as though it took an awfully long time for it to get done. Yet there is something majestic about seeing one of the great issues of the day debated publicly, for anyone who is interested to watch, and then seeing the elected representatives of the people vote.

Nancy Pelosi was greeted by a roar from the Democrats when she rose to speak in favor of the bill. She and the rest of the Democratic leadership deserve enormous credit for bridging the differences between the House and Senate bills.

Will the bill do all that its proponents claim it will? Almost certainly not, just as it certainly won't wreak all the havoc its opponents warn against. But it will establish a principle--that everyone is entitled to a way to pay for the health care they need--which I hope will be hard to defeat in the future.

Another roar went up as vote number 216 appeared on the electronic tally. I would have had goose bumps, but they were too tired to raise up.

Student council

If you ever served in student government, you know that there was usually one person who mastered Robert's Rules of Order and knew how to use them to promote his/her goals. Sitting in the office watching CSpan this afternoon, we saw an example of a (failed) attempt to prevent a vote through parliamentary maneuvers by the Republicans. I suppose that there have to be rules, and they can always be used to try to prevent the majority from acting, but the main thing that is being accomplished is that we will be here late this evening.

Jesse Jackson Jr is doing a great job in the Chair.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Drudge work

The phones have been ringing pretty constantly over the past week as we move closer to the vote on the health care bill. A young woman on our staff came close to her 15 minutes of fame when an angry caller submitted a blog that got picked up by the Drudge Report and at least one other right wing site.

The guy called 8 or 10 times, and although his call was handled politely and professionally, he apparently felt that his views were not being heard adequateley. Finally he began to become abusive, and made some profane and insulting remarks. The next time he called, we transferred him to the Capitol police. (He didn't five his name and his number was blocked, ao we couldn't block his calls). Even after all this, one of our staff members spent another 15 minutes hearing him out.

He felt as though his right to express his opinion to the Congressman had been infringed. My view was that we should respect everyone's right to have their say, the staff doesn't have to put up with abuse, and he doesn't have the right to disrupt the work of the office (including by preventing us from answering calls from other constituents).

There were protestors at the Capitol all day today, both outside and roaming the halls, stopping in to ask the Members to vote their way (mostly no). Emotions are running high. we had a women get down on her knees in our office this afternoon, asking us to tell the Congressman that she was begging him to vote against the bill. People seem to sincerely believe that this bill will start the country down the road to ruin, and that it represents a grievous infringement of their liberty. It's strange to me, because of course it's unlikely that their lives will change in any way whether or not it passes. I realize that this has just become the focus of their anger--at Obama, at the Democrats, at life.

The protestors are overwhelmingly, perhaps entirely, white.

Tomorrow will be quite a day.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Today we met with a Brigadier General assigned to the National Nuclear Security Agency, within the Deoartment of Energy. They are responsible for assuring the safety, security and reliability of the nation's nuclear stockpile. In other words, making sure that we're the only ones who get to use it to blow mankind to smithereens, and only if we mean to do it, but if we do, that we actually can pull it off.

I know that you're imagining General Buck Turgidson, the George C Scott character from "Dr Strangelove," who advised the President that we just might be able to "catch the Russkies with their pants down." It actually wasn't like that at all. It's interesting to note that the senior military officers who are responsible for this stuff have spent at least half of their careers since the end of the Cold War.

We were there to talk about the mission of the Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Labs, which are in Congressman Garamendi's district. We went on to meet with Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, who used to run the Lawrence Berkeley lab. There's a guy who knows a thing or two.

Two more days until the vote on health care . . . .

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, Special Orders don't upset us

After the votes are finished for the day, the House frequently remains in session for Special Orders. Which means that the Dems and the Reeps take turns for up to an hour at a time to give speeches on the issues of the day. A member volunteers to organize three or four others who are interested in speaking, and distributes talking points on the topic chosen.

Then, on the House Floor, they have at it. To an empty chamber. No one is listening. True, CSPAN is there, all-seeing, unblinking. I'm not sure what it's viewership is, but I don't imagine that Idol's producers are losing sleep over the competition.

The Congressman has been taking every opportunity to speak in favor of the health care bill, and last night I sat in the House Gallery to watch the boss do his thing. He does a great job--articulate, passionate, persuasive. Once again, it's difficult to be cynical while sitting in that room where so many momentous events have occurred. If only all those seats weren't empty.

It looks as though the House will be voting on the health care bill on Sunday evening. I'm sure that the seats will be filled then.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dear Colleague . . . .

One of the ways business gets done around here is by means of the "Dear Colleague" email. Members send these out seeking support for a bill they've introduced, a resolution they'd like passed, or a letter they'd like to send (most often to the leadership, asking that a particular measure be scheduled for a vote, or to a federal agency, asking that it spend money in a particular way). The idea is that having more supporters, and the right supporters, will make it more likely that the member will be successful in achieving his/her objective.

Fair enough. But we get scores, perhaps hundreds of these a day. (And I only see the ones sent by Democratic members). They all seem worthy; I mean, who doesn't want money to go to America's poison control centers? Who's not for the AANAPISI program? (Oh, you don't know what that is? The Asian American and Native Pacific Islander Serving Institutions program). Who wouldn't like to commend Lance Mackey (a cancer survivor) on mushing his way to a fourth straight victory in the Iditarod?

You get the idea. The first problem we face is not letting the need to look at these and make decisions on whether to sign on to them take up so much time that the staff can do little else. But what sort of criteria to apply to decide what's worth our time and attention?

I guess that's why members have a Chief of Staff ....

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Inside Scoop

I went to a briefing this morning give
by the Speaker's and Majority Leader's staffs on the plans for voting on health care reform next week. I won't repeat any specifics, check out the reports of Speaker Pelosi's press conference today. I can say that once again, I was impressed by the openness, collegiality and cooperation that prevails within the Democratic caucus.

I have also been very pleased by the response I've gotten from staff for other members and for committees when I've offered suggestions or assistance on bills (generally having to do with insurance issues). Everyone has been very welcoming and has offered to help me learn the ropes. What I need most, though, is a guide to keep me from getting lost. I walked through the tunnels between our building, the Capitol, and the other House office building a couple of times today, and I think I'm going to give one of those Peypes avalanche receivers to mt office so that if I disappear for more than a couple hours they can track me down.

Next week will be a big week for the Congress and the country--let's hope for the best

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Today's Congressional Quarterly

March 10, 2010 – 9:36 p.m.

People on the Move

Gary Cohen has been named chief of staff for Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. Cohen has previously served as general counsel for both the California Department of Insurance and the California Public Utilities Commission.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What a glorious day in Our Nation's Capitol

When I left here a couple of weeks ago, there was still snow everywhere, we were still diggng out from the record-breaking twin blizzards of mid-Feb. Today it's 60 degrees, the snow is gone, and visions of cherry blossoms are dancing in our heads. Along with the change in the weather there has been a change in my role: Congressman Garamendi has made me his Chief of Staff. I'm excited by the opportunity and grateful for the confidence he's placed in me, especially considering how little I know about how the Hill works. But then those of you who have worked with me before know that's never stopped me--or slowed me down, even. So I plan to dive right in.
The next few weeks should be crucial to whether the President's and the Congressional leadership's agenda will get through. Of course we've thought that before, more than once. But clearly time is running out before the mid-terms, and everyone expects (fears) that the Congress will look quite different come January. So it certainly feels as though now is the time for Democrats to pull together and do some big things. We wait with great anticipation.