The daily Progressive Breakfast serves up what progressive movement members need to know to start their day. Bill Scher is traveling; he will return Monday.
Thursday’s news that the nation’s gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter comes with a lot of asterisks. A few of them:
*The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House recovery plan will claim responsibility today for creating or saving 650,000 jobs with a bit less than half of the $339 billion in recovery funds spent through September 30. "The White House sees the data as proof that its $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 will meet its goal of creating or saving at least 1 million jobs," the WSJ writes.
*John Authers of the Financial Times critiques what helped drive the GDP increase:
Household disposable incomes actually fell during the quarter, by 3.4 per cent, but consumer spending rose, also by 3.4 per cent. This is not a pattern that can be sustained for long, and it is inconsistent with the need for US families to pay down their debts.
Consumption rose largely because of a huge increase in expenditure on durable items, led by motor cars. Government subsidies through the “cash for clunkers” programme, removed before the quarter had ended, largely explain this.
Meanwhile, tax credits for homebuyers, which helped revive activity in the housing market, are due to be withdrawn later this year. The question now is whether higher consumption can be sustained without government support.
… Thursday’s new data on initial claims for unemployment insurance confirmed that the rate of the rise in joblessness has slowed significantly – but the jobless rolls are still rising faster than at any time this decade, before the financial crisis took hold.
*At BusinessWeek, Michael Mandel sees in the numbers evidence "that companies are robbing the future to pay for short-term profits," and if we measured economic growth to take into account the impact of these business decisions, we’d find GDP growth to be significantly lower:
…[T]he official statistics are not designed to pick up cutbacks in "intangible investments" such as business spending on research and development, product design, and worker training. There’s ample evidence to suggest that companies, to reduce costs and boost short-term profits, are slashing this kind of spending, which is essential for innovation. Without investment in intangibles, the U.S. can’t compete in a knowledge-based global economy. Yet you won’t see that plunge reflected in the GDP and productivity statistics, which are still too focused on more traditional sectors, such as motor vehicles and construction.
… Over the past year, U.S. employment of scientists and engineers—the people who create the next generation of products and make the U.S. more competitive over the long term—has fallen by 6.3%, according to a BusinessWeek tabulation of unpublished data. Yet overall employment has fallen only 4.1%. "There are really bright people who are struggling to find a job," says Josh Albert, managing director at Klein Hersh International, an executive search firm for life scientists.
*Bloomberg News reminds us that the future prognosis is for anemic growth:
The economy will likely grow at a 2.4 percent annual rate from October through December, the median forecast in a survey
earlier this month showed. GDP will also grow 2.4 percent next year and 2.8 percent in 2011, the survey showed, compared with an average of 3.4 percent growth over the past six decades.
*In Olathe, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City, a side effect of the economic downturn is playing out that is happening around the country. From The Olathe News:
The Olathe Salvation Army Food Pantry continues to see an increase in people needing help during these difficult times. The need, however, has changed in recent months.
“We’re seeing people we normally don’t serve,” said Mindia McManness, volunteer coordinator for the Olathe Salvation Army. “They call us not knowing even how to get help because they’ve never needed it before. They don’t know where to begin.”
They’ve lost their jobs or are experiencing other difficulties because of the floundering financial markets.
“They’ve run out savings or maxed out credit cards, something that usually helped them through short-term difficulties in the past,” McManness said.
This recession has gone on much longer than expected, and the impending recovery will take even longer, leading to a new pool of people needing assistance.
Shelves once filled with canned corn, spaghetti noodles, chili, pork and beans or peanut butter and jelly are empty more frequently, and tight food supplies have become the rule, not the exception, all around the metro area.
Health Care: House Moves Ahead
House Democrats unveiled the long-awaited health care reform legislation Thursday that will be up for debate on the House floor, and the best that can be said about it, at least according to a headline this morning on Politico, is that "liberals don’t bolt" from it:
…[T]he bill [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled Thursday includes big pieces of what the most liberal members of her party wanted — most likely setting up a serious battle when negotiators try to merge it with the far more moderate Senate legislation.
The public option stays, even if it’s not the same one the House speaker preferred. So, too, does the so-called millionaire’s tax to help offset the $894 billion price tag. Individuals will be required to own insurance. Most employers will be legally mandated to offer it.
And in return, the House speaker won assent — if not complete agreement — from the liberals in her caucus, as well as a surprising amount of support from Democratic moderates who have long railed against some of these provisions.
Liberals expressed frustration that the speaker bowed to political reality by allowing doctors and hospitals participating in the public option to negotiate payments directly with the Department of Health and Human Services, and some promised to request an amendment that would allow them to scrap the current plan for one tied to Medicare. But few pledged to vote against the bill.
Adele Stan at AlterNet says that at least the House bill is "almost (dare we say it?) progressive" when compared to what's pending in the Senate:
So, okay, it isn't the "robust" public option promised to AlterNet readers by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., this summer, but it doesn't include that silly opt-out plan. Unlike the lonely Harry Reid, who stood alone to face reporters on Monday, Pelosi was surrounded by members of her caucus, all smiles. Implicit in her timing was a message to the Senate: Keep noodling all you want, but here's a bill, a decent bill -- the bill we're gonna pit against yours in a conference committee if you ever get around to passing one. So, you might want to hop to it. And the more yours looks like ours, the easier it's gonna be for all of us.
As for the compromises in the House bill…
The deficit neutrality of the House bill presumably wins the support of the White House, while the less-than-robust public option seems to have passed muster with the big labor unions, who are surely influenced by another important distinction between the House and Senate bills: the House bill helps pay for itself through a new tax on the nation's most well-off citizens, while the yet-to-be-finalized Senate bill will likely pay for part of its cost by taxing high-priced, fully-loaded health-care plans -- like the plans many unions have negotiated in lieu of salary increases (and even as trade-offs for give-backs) by their members. Within hours of Pelosi's unveiling, both the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) released statements praising the House bill.
Some ConservaDems are still refusing to get behind the House bill, reports McClatchy's David Lightman, claiming they need to hear from constituents:
"The plan on the table has some good points and some bad points. I want to look at it," said Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn.
Blue Dogs wanted to hear from constituents, many of whom are more conservative than those represented by most Democrats. "I have both sides of the health care debate well-represented in my district," said Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla.
… Blue Dogs and some party moderates have been concerned about the plan's cost, as well as its impact on small business and expansion of government. Those concerns remain.
But Pelosi thinks that there's already been so much debate on the merits and impact of all aspects of the legislation that she wants the nearly 2,000-page bill to face an up-or-down House vote without a lengthy amendment process. Ryan Grim at The Huffington Post:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that there's been plenty of time for amendments already, so neither her caucus nor members of the minority party should expect a chance to amend the health care bill when it gets to the House floor.
"I've considered all of that input as our amendment process," Pelosi said on a conference call with bloggers, citing "probably 78 caucuses on this subject where we've listened to members [and] 2,000 town meeting on this subject."
A stinging rebuke of one feature of the House health-care bill comes from FireDogLake’s Jane Hamsher, who says as a breast-cancer survivor she felt "tremendous disappointment" that the bill places higher hurdles the marketing of generic versions of biologic anti-cancer drugs:
Nancy Pelosi made a choice with regard to the lifesaving biologic drugs I took when I was in chemotherapy that will cost many of my fellow breast cancer survivors everything they own, and quite possibly their lives. … Thanks to Representatives Anna Eshoo and Joe Barton, there will be no generic versions of these drugs. At least not for 12 years, if the House health care bill announced today passes. And because of an “evergreening” clause that grants drug companies a continued monopoly if they make slight changes to the drug (like creating a once-a-day dose where the original product was three times per day), they will never become generics. Instead of the Waxman-Deal amendment that granted much more reasonable terms to biologic patent holders, Speaker Pelosi chose the Eshoo-Barton amendment. And we could all be paying for that choice for the rest of our lives.
Hamsher is helping to organize with Public Option Please "treat, not trick" Halloween-themed protests at 3 p.m. at the Russell Senate Office Building, the Baltimore office of Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski and the offices of Rep. Sen. Kay Hagan and Rep. Anna Eshoo.
‘Too Big To Fail’ Reform Too Bad To Work?
The Obama administration’s plan to change the rules for so-called too-big-to-fail financial institutions so that taxpayers will not be compelled again to prop them up when they engage in reckless gambles is receiving significant criticism on Capitol Hill. The Washington Post:
Under legislation unveiled this week by the committee chairman, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), in close coordination with the Obama administration, an oversight council of regulators would act as a monitor of systemic risk throughout the financial system and impose tougher regulatory standards on the largest companies. Compared to an earlier draft put forward by President Obama’s team, the current bill expands the role of the council, entrusting it to identify risks to the system. The Fed would be the enforcer of the council’s recommendations.
But that structure came under fire from Sheila C. Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., who argued the new council should be headed by an independent chairman rather than by the Treasury secretary, and that the council should have greater authority.
Bair also joined both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in questioning the government’s plan to pay for the cost of winding down large, failing financial firms. The plan calls for companies with more than $10 billion in assets to be assessed fees only after a large collapse, rather than contributing ahead of time into an insurance-like fund. [Treasury Secretary Timothy F.] Geithner and Frank have said the intent is to shift the burden of such failures from taxpayers to the financial industry itself, but Bair argued for the insurance approach.
The Washington Independent also details the objections that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner faced when he testified before the House Financial Services Committee:
“Mr. Secretary, I’m not a man that fears this administration or you,” Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Penn.) told Geithner. “But I do fear the accumulation of power exercised by someone in the future that can be extraordinary.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) echoed those concerns, arguing that the bill represents “the most unprecedented transfer of power to the executive branch to make decisions about both spending and taxes in history — all without congressional approval.”
… [S]ome lawmakers are attacking the proposed bailout tax on large institutions, arguing that it should be collected beforehand as a type of insurance fund, rather than imposed after a competitor went under.
“No more TARP. No more bailouts,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.). “Let them [the companies] create the fund, the systemic risk fund, that will guarantee that the American taxpayer will no longer have to be involved should they cause such a crisis ever again.”