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.
Senate Jobs Bill May Be Less Than Half of House Bill
Senate moving to further shrink size of House jobs bill, but may later pursue additional legislation. The Hill: “A Senate Democratic aide said that committee chairmen are beginning to coalesce around a proposal that is expected to be significantly smaller than the $80 billion number floated earlier this week … The controversy over paying for the package may be an incentive to move a smaller package … Even an $80 billion package would be significantly smaller than the $154 billion jobs legislation the House passed in December … Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is pushing tax cuts for small businesses and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the tax credit for new hires is still on the table … Reid said he would advance packages to stimulate job growth both in the short term and the long term.”
President will propose today $33B in hiring and wage incentives for small biz as part of jobs bill. Bloomberg: “[The package] would give businesses a $5,000 tax credit for each new hire this year and reimburse the 6.2 percent Social Security tax for wage increases beyond inflation. Obama said the measures will help 1 million small businesses add employees or raise pay.”
Dog bites man. And business lobbies want even more tax breaks, reports W. Post.
Obama seeks to persuade small businessman at Florida town hall that small biz lending will pick up, despite limitations of SBA: “…the SBA does not have the infrastructure to go all across the country in every region and process loans to small businesses directly because they don’t have enough people. Somebody yelled, ‘Why not?’ The SBA doesn’t have the staff to do it … if the SBA were to suddenly take over that entire function we’d have to stand up a massive bureaucracy … to train all those people and it would take too long, and you’d be frustrated — why is it that this big government agency can’t seem to run anything? So what we’ve decided to do instead is to take $30 billion that was repaid by the banks and make that available under criteria that will encourage small banks to give those loans to you. And if we do that effectively, we can potentially get that money out the door more quickly.”
Campaign for America’s Future launches grassroots effort to press the Senate to pass the House jobs bill followed by a real long-term jobs strategy.
5.7% GDP Growth in 4Q 2009, But Keep Champagne On Ice
BREAKING: 5.7% GDP growth in initial estimate for 2009 4th quarter. BEA release: “The increase in real GDP in the fourth quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from private inventory investment, exports, and personal consumption expenditures…”
W. Post reports big GDP number does not mean we’ve fully turned the corner: “Many economists … warn against reading too much into a jump in GDP figures for the last three months of 2009. Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, said that even if there were no change in final sales of goods, the GDP figures would show a 4 percent increase simply because businesses that were emptying their warehouses a year ago are now buying enough goods to keep stockpiles steady.”
Specific stimulus elements wildly popular, despite overall negative numbers, in CNN poll: “… 80 percent of the public favors government spending on roads and bridges, and 83 percent approves of aid to unemployed workers. Seven in 10 support the idea of spending some of that stimulus money on tax cuts, and 62 percent think it’s a good idea to increase spending on mass transit projects.”
Retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan lists ways Dems saved the economy from collapse, in HuffPost: “…the investments we made in the economy pulled it back from the brink of disaster. We’re not out of the woods yet by a long shot, but there are signs the Bush Recession may now be ending.”
Bernanke Nom Approved By Narrowest Margin Ever
LAT on Bernanke’s approval for a second term as Fed chair: “The margin of victory was the narrowest for a Fed chairman’s confirmation in the nearly century-long history of the central bank, reflecting intense public wrath in the wake of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and the resulting bailouts of giant financial institutions.”
W. Post says Bernanke weakened by vote: “‘He’s coming out of this with less political capital,’ said Brian Gardner, a Washington analyst for the investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods … Congress is considering stripping the Fed of its power to regulate banks…”
OurFuture.org’s Isaiah Poole charts the larger fight ahead for Fed accountability: “We still do not have answers to key questions about the commitments made with taxpayer dollars to prop up Wall Street. Taxpayers deserve those answers, and that is why the fight must continue to have the Senate adopt the provision in the already-passed House financial reform bill that would allow for an audit that answers those questions.”
Joe Stiglitz backs Obama bank reform as a “good beginning” in LAT oped: “…these initiatives are just the beginning of what needs to be done. They don’t solve the problem of derivatives … The big banks should not be allowed to trade in these products, and those who participate in the derivatives market should be made to pick up the tab for any losses their trades incur, without the option of turning to the government.”
NYT explores Wall Street ties of New York’s senators, and their hesitancy to back Obama’s reforms: “While Mr. Schumer is said by associates to be troubled by some of the attacks being leveled at Wall Street, he embraced the president’s proposal the day it was offered … Schumer’s position has surprised and frustrated his allies on Wall Street … [Sen. Gillibrand] has yet to say whether she supports or opposes the Obama proposal, even as her potential rival for the Democratic nomination, Harold E. Ford Jr., positions himself as a defender of Wall Street…”
Right-leaning Dems Whine About SOTU, Take No Responsibility
ConservaDems unswayed by SOTU admonition to do their jobs and solve problems. W. Post: “Moderates said the president did not meet their hopes that he would adjust his legislative strategy to consider the Senate’s limitations, including the need for Republican votes on most major bills. ‘I thought he was pointing the finger at the Senate a lot,’ said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). ‘I do not think it was fair.’”
Labor leaders explore financing primary challengers to ConservaDems. National Journal: “Frustrations are so great that union chiefs on the AFL-CIO’s executive committee have discussed backing primary election challenges to Democratic senators cool to their agenda. The idea was kicked around at the executive committee’s January 25 meeting in Washington … no specific proposal was advanced …”
Legislation Forthcoming to Close New Foreign Campaign Cash Loophole
W. Post reports Dems are “rushing” to introduce campaign finance legislation: “…congressional Democrats are rushing to craft legislation to counter a Supreme Court ruling that they fear could lead to a flood of foreign spending on U.S. political campaigns … Lost in the heat of the debate is that hundreds of foreign corporations are already heavily involved in U.S. elections. U.S.-based subsidiaries of overseas firms have contributed more than $20 million to federal campaigns since 2007…”
Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center, says Justice Alito is wrong, in HuffPost: “…Obama’s comment is true. In fact, Obama’s carefully-phrased comment to the justices highlights two critical aspects of the majority’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, both of which constitute dangerous and revolutionary shifts in long-settled law…”
Foreign corporations seem to think the president is right. They’re gearing to make sure their money can influence our elections. Climate Progress: “The Organization for International Investment, a trade group representing foreign banks, oil companies, and other foreign corporations operating in the United States, “lashed out” at Van Hollen’s proposals. “The concern over foreign influence in our political system is a red herring,” said Nancy McLernon, the head of OII. McLernon — who previously worked for Citizens for a Sound Economy, a stealth “grassroots” corporate lobbying group now known as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks — is wrong to assert that the danger of foreign lobbying is simply a distraction. For instance, Saudi Arabia has already signaled that the progressive effort to build a clean energy American economy is its “biggest threat”.
Health Care Path Unclear, Yet Many See Reconciliation
NYT finds optimism but no game plan: “Democratic leaders in Congress voiced resolute optimism on Thursday that they would adopt major health care legislation this year … legislative leaders conceded that they did not have an immediate strategy for advancing a health care measure and described their time frame as open-ended.”
Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky discusses whether taking the focus off may help: “Matt Yglesias [says] ‘The reality is that this is going to have to be worked out behind the scenes, behind the dread closed doors’ … But by moving reform to the back burner … [President Obama] runs a greater chance of seeing any remaining possibility of comprehensive reform evaporate.”
Ezra Klein notes WH is not averse to budget reconciliation. Quote WH aide Axelrod: “Reconciliation is a tool that is there to be used.”
Sen. Durbin suggests reconciliation would need to get going by April: “The authority to execute such a parliamentary maneuver is conferred by the fiscal 2010 budget resolution, which would be superseded when Congress adopts a new budget — likely this spring. While Democrats could try to duplicate the authority in a fiscal 2011 budget document, it would likely prompt more debate among lawmakers increasingly wary of how the health care debate would affect Democrats’ prospects in the November elections. ‘There could be a time constraint there based on a new budget resolution because the authority for reconciliation is under the old budget resolution,’ Durbin said.”
W. Post reports House bill ending subsidies to private student lenders stuck until health care figured out: “… the bill faces unified opposition from the Republican minority and sharp questions from at least some Democrats, according to congressional aides from both parties, and the Democratic majority has put it on hold during the drawn-out health-care deliberations. The assumption on Capitol Hill is that Democrats will attempt to move the student loan bill through a special procedure that requires a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes out of 100 needed to stop a filibuster. That tactic is also under discussion for health-care reform … So the two issues have become intertwined.”
High-Speed Rail Funding Announced, But Is It Enough?
AP reports on major high-speed rail presidential announcement: “High-speed rail projects in California, Florida and Illinois are among the big winners of $8 billion in grants announced Thursday by the White House — the start of what some Democrats tout as a national rail-building program that could rival the interstate highways begun in the Eisenhower era.”
The Vine’s Brad Plumer has restrained reaction: “the money’s getting sprinkled around in a fairly diffuse fashion. The only truly massive high-speed rail project that’s edging close to reality is the Tampa-Orlando line, which could have trains up and running by 2014. The big California project, by contrast, still needs a lot of work—and funding. And the smaller projects, while worthwhile, aren’t going to lay a foundation for a serious high-speed rail network in the country. (Many of the proposed trains will only top out at 90 mph, such as a new line between Cleveland and Cincinnati.) … granted, a vast new HSR network isn’t the only goal of this spending. The administration was also seeking out projects that would create jobs in relatively short order”
GOP rail advocate attacks plan as “political.” CQ: “[Rep. John Mica] took aim Thursday at the rail projects chosen by the Obama administration for stimulus grants, saying they lack the private sector support to make them viable and were more motivated by politics.”
Debt Commission Deal Details
CQ reports on the final deal for a executive branch debt commission: “According to [Sen. Kent] Conrad, the agreement with the White House would establish an 18-member commission made up of lawmakers and administration appointees. Congress would vote by the end of the year on any recommendations that garner the support of 14 of the commissioners. The proposals would not be open to amendment in the Senate — which would vote first. If the Senate approves the commission’s recommendations, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has given assurances that she will put them up for a vote in the House. However, the House could probably consider alternatives, Conrad said, so long as the original recommendations are also voted on.”
What If They Threw A Tea Party And Nobody Showed Up?
The Tea Party convention in Nashville, TN may not have any congressional leaders to speak to those assembled. Concerns about expense and allegation of profiteering, have ballooned into ethical concerns that caused at least two sponsors to bolt: “…some groups have criticized the cost — $549 per ticket and a $9.95 fee, plus hotel and airfare — as out of reach for the average tea partier. And they have balked at Ms. Palin’s speaking fee, which news reports have put at $100,000, a figure that organizers will not confirm or deny.”
Politico’s Ben Smith notes that Rep. Marsha Blackburn will be a no-show at the Tea Baggers’ bash: “After consulting with the Committee on Standards, Congressman Blackburn has decided not to participate in the Tea Party Nation Convention next week. Standards advised Congressman Blackburn not to participate in the event due to uncertainty about how any proceeds from the event may be used. Convention organizers have not been clear about how those funds will be put to use. We have every indication that any profit could be put to work to advance grass roots causes and some of those uses could make the Congressman’s participation improper after the fact.”
Steve Benen notes this brings the total number of lawmakers in attendance to zero: “Former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is still scheduled to be the keynote speaker — and pick up a reported $100,000 check — but the confused former V.P. nominee is under pressure to drop out, too.”