Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to affect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security.
Jobs Center Stage in SOTU
President Obama calls on Senate to immediately pass jobs bill and tackle longer-term jobs strategy: “… take $30 billion of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need … a new small business tax credit [to] hire new workers or raise wages … let’s also eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment; and provide a tax incentive for all businesses, large and small, to invest in new plants and equipment … we can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow….we should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities, and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy efficient, which supports clean energy jobs … it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas … The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps … I urge the Senate to do the same … I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay … [But] these steps still won’t make up for the seven million jobs we’ve lost over the last two years. The only way to move to full employment is to lay a new foundation for long-term economic growth, and finally address the problems that America’s families have confronted for years.”
EARLIER In December, House passed $154B jobs bill supporting infrastructure, aiding states, extending unemployment benefits and expanding the child tax credit. Draft Senate bill reportedly half that size and “heavy on tax breaks,” reported W. Post.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praises emphasis on jobs: “He finally gets it. He understands we need jobs, and he’s willing to fight for them.
Politico finds economists wanting more: “…many economists see the overall package as simply an extension of the $787 billion stimulus bill passed last year — and not a robust one, at that.” CEPR’s Dean Baker releases statement laying out bigger vision: “President Obama made several useful proposals on retirement savings, student loans and other areas that will benefit working families. However, this agenda is not bold enough to address the severity of the problems facing the economy and the country’s workers … We know the mechanisms through which we can expand the economy and bring the unemployment rate down: a much larger stimulus, more expansionary monetary policy from the Fed, and a lower dollar to bring down the trade deficit.”
ataxingmatter deems Obama’s tax proposals a “mixed bag”: “I’ve got strong doubts that an accelerated depreciation provision amounting to a 10% tax cut for businesses and costing $38 billion can be considered an effective jobs bill … more preferences for capital gains … goes the wrong way … The proposal for a tax credit for new workers is more promising–although I’d prefer to see stimulus and not tax cuts, this credit is at least directly related to new employment … Ending tax breaks for Big Oil, ending the carried interest preferential taxation of compensation for investment fund managers, and not extending the lower rates for the super-rich are all good ideas.”
OurFuture.org’s Armand Biroonak says worker training critical for jobs agenda to succeed: “[The] job creation initiatives that the President proposed will provide solid growth for middle-skill jobs … [However,] the U.S. has few low-skill jobs for too many low-skill workers. But on the flip side, middle-skill jobs outpace the supply of qualified middle-skill workers … greater investments in Americans are needed to both revive the American economy and compete globally.”
Obama signals support for revitalizing American manufacturing with boost to exports: “…the more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America … we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security.”
Capital Gains and Games’ Andrew Samwick gave an approving nod to Obama’s “mercantilism”: “President Obama sounded like a good old-fashioned mercantilist with his claim that we would double exports in five years and support 2 million more jobs through those exports. I don’t think that’s a reasonable projection, but it does signal a different way of talking about what’s important in economic policy.” (via Economist’s View)
President following-up SOTU with high-speed rail funding announcement at Florida town hall. Tampa Tribune: “President Barack Obama will make a ‘major economic announcement’ Thursday in Tampa of $8 billion in Recovery Act grants, going to 13 potential rail corridors, to build high-speed rail infrastructure across the country, a White House official said” California corridor receiving largest grant. LAT: “California will receive $2.25 billion, the largest amount for any state, in federal economic stimulus funds to develop a high-speed rail line running from Anaheim to San Francisco — a big boost for the long-discussed project aimed at accelerating the state’s economic recovery… ”
The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer noted speech gave “a nod to conservatism,” and made “a case for liberalism”: “The brief apologies the president has offered — even the gimmicky spending freeze — have not changed the leftward trajectory of his agenda: Obama wants to reform the health-care system, restore sanity to financial regulations, turn the economy around, repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and bring the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a close … ultimately the president understands that the case for an effective government cannot be made by rhetoric. It can only be made by government working. The question of whether the Democratic Party can make government work now lies in the hands of Congress … where the preening obstinance and senseless ‘centrism’ of our politicians has ground the agenda the American people voted for in 2008 to a halt.”
Obama Threatens Veto Of Weak Financial Reform
WSJ notes Obama’s veto threat if final financial reform bill is too weak, but doesn’t specify criteria: “Obama did not detail specific issues that would prompt him to veto any financial overhaul bill, but White House officials have pushed back aggressively in recent weeks on efforts by some lawmakers to strip out the consumer protection agency from the broader legislative package. Obama didn’t mention the consumer protection agency in his State of the Union speech.”
Davos conference divided over Obama bank reforms. Bloomberg: “While … European bankers raised concerns, U.S. bank executives in Davos said little. Other experts, including economist Nouriel Roubini and hedge-fund billionaire George Soros, said Obama should go further in revamping the industry. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he supported Obama’s effort to dissuade speculation and wanted to take the debate to the Group of 20 nations.”
Democracy Corps focus group finds Obama successfully regained support by standing up to big banks: “Obama managed to decisively reverse the view that he was too close to Wall Street. In a Democracy Corps survey from just before the Massachusetts election, we found that a 49 to 41 percent plurality said Obama and Democrats were more concerned with bailouts for Wall Street than creating jobs for regular Americans. Entering the evening, swing voters in this group agreed with a 48 to 16 percent plurality saying Obama ‘puts Wall Street ahead of the middle class.’ But after the speech, the number disagreeing with that statement jumped a remarkable 50 points, to 66 percent.”
What’s Next For Health Care?
The Nation’s John Nichols praises continued push on health care: “Say what you will about Barack Obama. But don’t accuse the president of veering from the course he charted at a point when … his popularity ratings were high … Obama used his initial State of the Union address to renew the call for the health care reform initiative … ‘Don’t walk away from reform – not now, not when we are so close.’”
NYT notes lack of specifics for final compromise: “Mr. Obama’s speech did nothing to resolve differences between the House and the Senate or to clarify the way forward.”
The Treatment’s Jonathan Cohn says Obama reassured health advocates in Congress, despite lack of specifics: “…Obama didn’t offer a procedural roadmap. He didn’t give a new deadline or indicate his preference for one bill or the other. So was that enough? I canvassed about ten key sources on Capitol Hill … Every one (literally) seemed relatively pleased and some seemed very pleased, even without the step-by-step instructions … the real test was what comes next–whether … Obama intervenes in the legislative process more strongly than he has been recently.”
TPMDC still finds House and Senate leaders pointing fingers: “‘It’s in the Senate’s court,’ [Rep. James] Clyburn insisted. ‘These things that the President talked about tonight, 90 percent of them have already been done by the House. So I don’t have a job to do. He made that very clear.’ But his colleagues in the other chamber have the exact opposite view. ‘At this point I think the ball is in the House’s court on health care,’ Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) told me. ‘They have to decide whether to accept the Senate bill…’”
Speaker Pelosi backs passing Senate bill followed by modifications through budget process, but Senate resisting. LAT: “House Democrats have demanded elimination of a new tax on high-end … insurance plans … more subsidies to help low- and moderate-income Americans buy health coverage, and more aid to help states expand Medicaid … Altogether, those changes could increase the cost of the healthcare overhaul by $300 billion over the next 10 years, bringing it to a total of nearly $1.2 trillion, according to a senior Senate Democratic aide. Numerous Senate Democrats have labeled that price tag as too high, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has not publicly endorsed the reconciliation approach. Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly disputed the $300-billion figure, saying, ‘There is no set cost.’”
Obama Keeps Climate As Priority, Graham Seeks To Clarify Position
Climate Progress praises President’s reiteration of support for comprehensive climate bill: “The President did not soft-pedal his support for climate action and clean energy jobs, as expected. Quite the reverse. He could have avoided any mention of the science, as I’m sure many of his advisors wanted. He could have given climate and clean energy a cursory mention, but he went out of his way to repeat the core message again and again and again. Indeed, he used the phrase ‘clean energy’ ten times.”
Grist’s David Roberts laments emphasis on dirty energy: “He began well, introducing the eminently sensible notion that the U.S. needs to get cracking on creating clean energy jobs lest we have our lunch eaten by China, Germany, and India … What does that mean? … in order: nukes, offshore oil and gas drilling, biofuels, ‘clean coal,’ and … well, that’s it. That’s right, in listing what ‘clean energy’ means the president did not mention renewable energy. That’s just stunning. It’s 2010 and renewable energy isn’t even an afterthought? Seriously? I suppose it was done to flatter conservative Senators that will have to vote for the bill Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham are working on. But the SOTU is not a policy negotiation. It’s a bully pulpit…”
CQ finds Midwest Senators needed to pass climate bill impressed with Obama’s message: “President Obama’s bid Wednesday to reframe faltering climate legislation as a strategy for competing with China for jobs won positive early reviews from moderate, Rust Belt Democrats … Republican political strategist Frank Luntz, who helped create a message campaign for the George W. Bush administration to fend off global warming legislation, said his recent polling supports Obama’s rebranding effort.”
After NYT implied GOP Sen. Graham believes cap-and-trade is “dead,” Graham seeks to reassure. Climate Progress quotes Graham: “I’m not going to ask the environmental community to accept a compromise that doesn’t, in a serious way, deal with our carbon pollution problem.”
WH adviser and Graham back comprehensive approach, but no predictions on timing. Politico: “The top White House climate adviser pushed back against reports that a climate bill would be scaled back — but shied away from giving an exact time frame for when the Senate should take up the legislation … ‘We know the moving parts and getting the coalitions put together is what we’re working on,’ said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). ‘I’m pretty optimistic, quite frankly.’”
Bernanke Vote Could Come Today, After Geithner Takes Lumps
Even if Bernanke confirmed, strong “No” vote will send message. Politico: “…Bernanke seems assured of at least four more years at the Fed’s helm. It remains unclear when the final vote on confirmation will occur if, as expected, the Senate votes to end debate Thursday. Most senators would like to have the final vote Thursday as well — but that would require unanimous agreement to waive the required 30 hours of debate. Senators who led the filibuster against Bernanke could drag out the debate if they want to make a point. … ‘We will get more votes in opposition than anyone dreamed that we would get,’ Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a leading Bernanke opponent, told reporters Wednesday. ‘Even if we do lose, I think a very strong message has been sent to President Obama, the administration and Wall Street that the status quo is not satisfactory.’”
Several congresspeople “unsatisfied” with Geithner testimony on his bailout role. W. Post: “Geithner … repeatedly said he did not participate in discussions about what details the insurer should disclose regarding payments to its trading partners, saying he recused himself in November 2008 after becoming a candidate for the Treasury post. But he acknowledged supporting the decision to pay the AIG’s trading partners at full value, rather than pressing them to accept discounts. He insisted that regulators had little leverage to negotiate concessions when the firms knew that the government had no intention of allowing AIG to go bankrupt. Geithner’s answers left some lawmakers unsatisfied, leading to a handful of testy exchanges and at least one call for his resignation. Some of the harshest words came from the Democratic side of the aisle.”
Naked Capitalism on Fed’s sullied rep in wake of AIG revelations: “The explanations for its actions can only support one of two interpretations: that the Fed was a chump, taken by the financiers, or a crony, and was fully aware that it was not just rescuing AIG, but doing so in an overly generous way so as to assist financial firms in a way it hoped would not be widely noticed or understood. The problem with this sort of back-door subsidy, aside from its dubious propriety, is that at best, it’s sorta random (who benefits isn’t necessarily who is in most need or more deserving of help, just who happens to be lucky enough to be associated with AIG train wreck), and at worst, it rewards stupidity and duplicity.”
NY Fed worries about public opinion of Goldman Sachs during AIG deliberations may have contributed to withholding of info. Bloomberg: “Goldman Sachs Group Inc., one of the biggest recipients of funds from the U.S. bailout of American International Group Inc., was seen by the public as favored by regulators, according to an internal Federal Reserve Bank of New York e-mail. The public perception was a reason to reject a December 2008 media request for the names of securities purchased from banks during AIG’s rescue, according to the e-mail released yesterday.”
Remembering Howard Zinn
The progressive blogosphere paused last night to honor the life and mourn the passing of progressive historian Howard Zinn: Afro-Netizen, AlterNet, Booman Tribune, Feministe, Jack & Jill Politics, MyDD, The Nation, The Progressive.