Unemployment Jumps To 8.1%
Bureau of Labor Statistics this AM reports big jump in unemployment: “The sharp and widespread contraction in the labor market continued in February. Nonfarm payroll employment fell by 651,000, following declines of 681,000 in December and 655,000 in January. Since the recession began in December 2007, job losses have totaled 4.4 million, well more than half of which occurred in the past 4 months. In February, the unemployment rate climbed from 7.6 to 8.1 percent, the highest rate in over 25 years.”
Obama Commits to Health Care Reform This Year
Richard Kirsch from Health Care for America NOW!, and WH health care summit attendee, tells OurFuture.org’s Isaiah Poole what happened inside, what comes next, and how President Obama handled GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley’s opposition to a public health insurance plan option.
Grassley [raised a] sore spot: The public insurance option. “The only thing,” he pleaded, “that I would throw out for your consideration — and please don’t respond to this now, because I’m asking you just to think about it — there’s a lot of us that feel that the public option that the government is an unfair competitor and that we’re going to get an awful lot of crowd out, and we have to keep what we have now strong, and make it stronger.”
The question was no surprise: In recent Finance hearings, Grassley has clearly signaled his anxiety on this issue. What was a surprise was that Obama rejected Grassley’s plea to think it over and instead replied on the spot with a strong articulation of the case for a public plan. “The thinking on the public option has been that it gives consumers more choices, and it helps give — keep the private sector honest, because there’s some competition out there. That’s been the thinking.”
“I recognize, though, the fear that if a public option is run through Washington, and there are incentives to try to tamp down costs and — or at least what shows up on the books, and you’ve got the ability in Washington, apparently, to print money — that private insurance plans might end up feeling overwhelmed. So I recognize that there’s that concern. I think it’s a serious one and a real one. And we’ll make sure that it gets addressed.”
Brian Beutler still worries the public plan is not in the president’s stated set of “principles.”
LA Times on 300,000-strong petition from MoveOn.org: “Even before Obama’s White House forum began, a coalition of groups on Thursday brought to the White House more than 300,000 signatures gathered by MoveOn.org, the liberal grass-roots organization that helped elect Obama and scores of congressional Democrats. ‘Don’t let the insurance lobbyists delay health care any longer. In this economic crisis, we can’t afford NOT to pass quality, affordable health care for all this year,’ the petition read.”
MyDD’s Todd Beeton sees Obama learning lessons from the stimulus: “Obama here seems to be drawing a line in the sand that he did not draw during the stimulus debate. He’s insisting on an open and inclusive process but is also putting his opponents on notice that obstruction for obstruction’s sake will not be tolerated and, presumably, that he will not sacrifice substance for process.”
Time’s Michael Scherer’s assessed the President’s role: “Even as he offered himself up as a head referee more than a star player, Obama left no doubt about who was in charge. Congress and the trade groups, he said, could haggle over the terms. But they could not obstruct the project, and they would walk away at their own peril. ‘The status quo is the one option that’s not on the table, and those who seek to block any reform at all, any reform at any costs, will not prevail this time around,’ he told the group.”
W. Post plays up the initial support from business lobbies: “Surrounded by men and women who made their careers killing health-care reform, President Obama yesterday reiterated his pledge to enact comprehensive legislation this year…”
The Treatment’s Jonathan Cohn cautions: “Don’t be fooled by the pleasantries on Thursday. There’s going to be a big fight. And liberals will lose it if they don’t prepare now.”
Wonk Room assess insurance lobby stance: “According to [Time's Karen] Tumulty and pool accounts from the session, [chief insurance lobbyist Karen] Ignagi proposed to outsource health care reform to an independent commission … With Democrats running the major health reform committees — Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) at Senate Finance, Henry Waxman (D-CA) at Committee on Energy and Commerce — the insurance industry probably believes that it can get a better deal out of (and have more influence over) some kind of commission.”
Media Matters: “Limbaugh conservatives continue 75-year-old ‘socialized medicine’ smear.”
Politifact debunks “golden oldie” conservative attack that “all the health care in this country is eventually going to be run by the government.”
Wonk Room’s Lee Fang on the scandal-tarred conservative front man on health care: “Rick Scott, the front man and funder of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR), talked up his agenda with Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review. After being asked about his view of health care reform, Scott touted his experience as a hospital executive as a model … Carefully omitted from his official profile is the fact that under Scott’s leadership, Columbia/HCA plead guilty to a massive array of fraud charges…”
The Reaction’s Michael Stickings on the “craziest Republican of the Day, Zach Wamp” who expressed the actual conservative view on health care: “For saying, in an interview on MSNBC, that health care is a ‘privilege.’ When pressed further, he said that ‘for some people it’s a right’ but that ‘for everyone, frankly, it’s not necessarily a right.’ Apparently Rep. Wamp of Tennessee believes in feudalism. Otherwise, what the hell did he mean? That health care is a right for people who can afford it, for society’s “elect,” while for everyone else it’s just a privilege?”
HealthReform.gov is launched by White House.
House Passes Mortgage Bill
Bloomberg reports on House vote: “At least 1 million Americans would be able to use bankruptcy to reduce mortgage payments under legislation approved by the House yesterday, part of Democratic efforts to stem a crisis that has erased more than $2.4 trillion in home values. The so-called cram-down bill would allow federal judges to lengthen terms, cut interest rates and reduce mortgage balances of bankrupt homeowners … passed the House 234-191, now goes to the Senate … The Senate may vote on a companion bill as early as next week…”
LA Times on Senate prospects: “The legislation faces a tougher road in the Senate, although supporters there expressed optimism that the nationwide surge in foreclosures would help them pass it as early as next week.”
Record foreclosure highs because of job losses, reports W. Post: “About 7.88 percent of mortgage loans were delinquent during the [4th] quarter, according to the survey by the Mortgage Bankers Association, an industry group. It is up from 5.82 percent during the same period a year earlier. Another 3.3 percent were in the foreclosure process, up from 2.04 percent a year ago. Both figures set records. Taken together, they mean that more than 11 percent of home mortgages are now in some form of distress … Increasingly, homeowners are becoming delinquent after losing a job rather than because they are struggling with a risky loan, the Mortgage Bankers Association and analysts said. Falling home prices are exacerbating the problem, they said.”
FY09 Funding Bill Stalls in Senate
Senate Republicans, aided by penny-wise pound-foolish Dems, hold up bill to keep government funded this year and add additional stimulus. NYT:
Senate Republicans blocked a $410 billion omnibus spending measure on Thursday night, forcing Congressional Democrats to prepare a stopgap budget resolution to keep the federal government from shutting down.
The ability of the diminished minority to delay the bill signaled growing unease in Congress, among Democrats and Republicans, over the levels of government spending in recent months and the staggering increase in the federal deficit. The delay of the bill was an embarrassment for Democrats and a striking, if temporary, victory for critics of so-called earmark spending initiatives, who had criticized the bill as bloated with wasteful expenditures.
Among those critics were Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and two Democrats who opposed the measure, Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. But there were other reasons that Democrats came up short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill. Two Hispanic senators — one Democrat, one Republican — opposed it over provisions that would have eased some travel and trade restrictions on Cuba.
Senate Republican aides said they expected the bill to be approved next week after Republican lawmakers were allowed to offer additional amendments.
Beat The Press’ Dean Baker: “The sight of the Republicans in Congress suddenly prepared to shut down the government over excessive deficits could lead some readers to believe that they were doing some serious grandstanding. After all, the Bush era deficits didn’t seem to trouble them too much. But, the New York Times assures us that they are acting from pure motives. It told readers that the delay in passing a continuing resolution that will keep the government funded ‘signaled growing unease in Congress, among Democrats and Republicans, over the levels of government spending in recent months and the staggering increase in the federal deficit.’”
Biden Affirms Support for EFCA
Miami Herald reports from AFL-CIO winter meeting: “Biden received a rousing ovation when he mentioned the Employee Free Choice Act that the Obama administration has proposed and took a swipe at corporate executives. ‘It’s just not right when the average CEO makes $10,000 more every day than what the average worker makes every year,’ Biden said. ‘We’re not asking for anything we don’t deserve. We just want to level the playing field again. I have a simple, basic belief: If a union is what you want, a union you’re entitled to have.’”
D-Day approves: “He’s obviously preaching to the choir, but there’s nothing in there to suggest the Administration is backing off of Employee Free Choice. Nor should they. All it would do is end the criminal enterprise that management has gotten away with for 30 years.”
TPMDC’s Matt Cooper: “Does not sound like any backing down.”
Despite some in Washington echoing conservative-fed downbeat political speculation and talking points about the pro-union Employee Free Choice Act, strong support for the bill from Barack Obama and Joe Biden at this week’s AFL-CIO meeting in Miami spurred opposing reactions that tell a different story…
…Despite Biden’s strong endorsement, the National Association of Manufacturer’s blog, Shopfloor, tried its best to keep the “savvy” insider narrative line going that it was only a brief, lukewarm endorsement that didn’t improve the bill’s chances … But, in fact, the AFL-CIO and other unions aren’t disappointed at all.
TPMDC’s Elana Schor: “Republicans Tout Anti-Employee Free Choice Study — Paid For By Big Business: “what’s scarier still is who paid for the study: the Alliance to Save Main Street Jobs, a front for the business lobby’s heaviest lobbying hitters.”
SEIU: Thank Biden
The Truth About EFCA launches.
Senators Press on Bailout Transparency
CNN/Money.com on demands for more AIG info: “… Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn told the Senate Banking Committee in testimony Thursday [that] publishing a list of the firms that benefited from government support of AIG — as lawmakers have been demanding — could undermine trust in the markets and increase financial instability … The comment was met with incredulity by senators who said the government must do a better job explaining how its actions over the past six months have benefited all Americans, and not simply troubled big companies and their trading partners.”
Regulators admit lax regulation was part of the problem: “During the hearing, state and federal supervisors admitted they could have done more to prevent the failure of AIG, which lost a record $60 billion in just the fourth quarter of 2008. Scott Polakoff, head of the Office of Thrift Supervision, said regulators had not seen in time the huge risk that AIG was taking in deals based on complicated financial derivatives. Eric Dinallo, superintendent of the New York State Insurance Department, noted that AIG’s problems did not flow from its insurance products, but from its huge exposure in its financial products division.”
Rep. Frank is seeking real punishment. Politico: “House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is pressing state and federal authorities to seek criminal and civil penalties on financial actors that helped cause the current crisis. … He announced a hearing March 20 with Attorney General Eric Holder, bank regulators and the Securities and Exchange Commission as witnesses to discover what their plans are to prosecute irresponsible and in some cases criminal behaviors.”
The Atlantic’s Chris Good on the AFL-CIO supporting bank takeovers: “While the federal government has taken great pains to avoid acquiring controlling shares of banks as it seeks to rescue them … the AFL-CIO is calling on the government to cross the threshold. In a resolution passed today by the federation’s executive council at its annual meeting in Miami, the AFL-CIO formally urged the Obama administration to acquire controlling shares in order to force banks to reform their practices[, joining] the ranks of Paul Krugman and Alan Greenspan.”
SEC to improve handling of whistleblower tips, reports USA Today.
Economic Populist: “Bill Introduced to Loan FDIC $500 billion … Why is this significant? At minimum the FDIC is preparing for a lot more bank failures. Currently the loan limit is $30 Billion and the FDIC is primarily funded by fees paid by banks.”
Krugman still unnerved by WH bank strategy: “So why has this zombie idea — it keeps being killed, but it keeps coming back — taken such a powerful grip? The answer, I fear, is that officials still aren’t willing to face the facts. They don’t want to face up to the dire state of major financial institutions because it’s very hard to rescue an essentially insolvent bank without, at least temporarily, taking it over. And temporary nationalization is still, apparently, considered unthinkable … inaction could result in an economy that sputters along, not for months or years, but for a decade or more.”
The Stash’s Noam Scheiber largely concurs: “As Krugman points out, there are only two places to go from here: You either way overpay for the assets by heavily subsidizing the investors who buy them, which doesn’t seem fair. Or you pay the fair price but leave a huge hole on the banks’ balance sheets. Neither option seems especially appealing. I guess where I part company from Krugman is that I’m willing to accept some unfairness if it’ll solve the problem. I just don’t think Treasury can make the subsidy large enough for the overpayment to suffice … So, increasingly, nationalization looks like the only option.”
President Obama, Democratic leaders in Congress, and environmentalists all want to get rolling on a national renewable electricity standard (RES), which would require utilities to increase the amount of power they generate from solar, wind, and other renewable sources. But getting an RES through Congress won’t be a cakewalk.
In the House, the chances are good. The House easily passed an RES in 2007, which would have required 15 percent of electricity in the U.S. to come from renewables by 2020. It’s likely to act soon on a new, tougher version — probably the RES bill from Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Todd Platts (R-Pa.), which calls for 25 percent renewables by 2025.
But the Senate is another story. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, tried to get an RES passed in 2007 as part of a larger energy bill, but the bill failed to muster enough votes until the provision was dropped. Bingaman is planning to introduce a new RES measure within the next month or so. It’s weaker than the Markey/Platts bill, with a top target of 20 percent renewables by 2021, and a provision that would allow a quarter of that target to be met through energy efficiency.
But even though Bingaman’s bill is relatively moderate, its chances in the Senate this year are unclear.
White House Tries to Appease David Brooks
David Brooks has an interesting column this morning in which unnamed White House officials swear up and down to Brooks that President Obama and his advisers really, truly aren’t the crazy lefty radicals that Brooks and other conservatives say they are.
These White House officials, in Brooks’ words, tell him that they “do not see themselves as a group of liberal crusaders” who are “engaged in an ideological project to overturn the Reagan Revolution.” Instead, they see themselves as “pragmatists.” Obama’s budget, they assure Brooks, “isn’t some grand transformation of America.” The Obama administration “will not usher in an era of big government.”
My first reaction to this was to wonder: Why are Obama aides reacting so defensively to criticism from the right? Poll after poll after poll has shown that substantial majorities are comfortable with the Obama administration’s dramatic expansion of government’s role and support the scale of Obama’s ambitious agenda and the speed with which he’s enacting it. Conservatives will call Obama a wild-eyed radical nut-job no matter what he does.
And why the fear of offending Reagan’s ghost? A new poll yesterday found that by a sizable margin the public thinks Obama-nomics, not Reaganomics, is what the country needs right now.
On second thought, though, maybe what we’re seeing here is more of the Obama team’s efforts to redefine the moderate center. What Obama advisers are saying is that they’re undoing the radicalism of the Bush years.
One line from Brooks sure to cause liberals to pause: “[President Obama] is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending. The White House folks didn’t say this, but I got the impression they’d be willing to raise taxes on the bottom 95 percent of earners as part of an overall package.”
Terrance Heath contributed to the making of this Breakfast