WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY

Novenber 28, 2011    

1.     Senate Democrats introduced legislation to extend and expand an expiring payroll-tax cut, setting the stage for a showdown with Republicans who are almost certain to reject the Democrats' proposal for paying for the cut:

  • The bill, which could be voted on as early as December 2nd, would reduce Social Security payroll tax paid by employers and the self-employed by half, to 3.1 percent of wages from 6.2 percent for 2012--those taxes were reduced to 4.2 percent of wages this year under a law set to expire at the end of the year.

2.     Ahead of a meeting December 2nd between President Obama and hundreds of Native American leaders, the administration unveiled new rules for tribal lands that officials say will expedite home building and energy development:

  • The proposed changes, the first of their kind in 50 years, would open the door to badly needed housing development on reservations and for wind and solar energy projects that tribes have been eager to launch--Obama has been winning high praise among Native Americans, and the president has appointed Native Americans to high-level positions in his administration, signed laws to improve healthcare and law enforcement for Native Americans, and resolved a long-running lawsuit over royalties for minerals on tribal lands.

3.     Stocks and the euro rose sharply as investors took heart from signs that European leaders were pushing toward new measures to rescue the currency union:

  • The surge in equities ended a seven-day losing streak for the S&P's 500 stock index, pushing it nearly three percent higher--it was a welcome change of direction from last week when Wall Street lost more than four percent as markets reacted to rising borrowing costs for European governments and the failure by a congressional committee in Washington to reach an accord on ways to cut the budget deficit.

November 29, 2011     Defying the Obama administration's threat of a veto, the Senate voted to increase the role of the military in imprisoning suspected members of al-Qaida and its allies--including people arrested inside the U.S.:

  • By a 60-38 vote (both Oregon senators voted yes), the Senate turned back an attempt to strip a major defense bill of a set of disputed provisions affecting the handling of terrorism cases--although the legislation still has several steps to go, the vote makes it likely that Congress will eventually send to President Obama's desk a bill that contains detainee-related provisions his national security team has said are unacceptable.

November 30, 2011

1,     Investors turned exuberant after a series of strong economic snapshots pointed to healthy job creation and more robust business activity nationwide--the strong data sent the Dow Jones industrial average to its best single-day performance since March 2009 and eased lingering concerns about the U.S. falling back into a recession:

  • Action taken by the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank to address the European debt crisis have, for the moment, lessened concerns about a financial system meltdown--Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist with Capitol Economics said that a lot of what has been happening in the U.S. markets has been affected by the European situation, and it looks like we have a bit of relief from that.

2.     The National Labor Relations Board is moving closer to approving rules that would speed the pace of union elections--but the lone Republican member on the board has threatened to resign his post and quash the entire process:

  • Republican lawmakers in the House are also poised to approve a bill aimed at short-circuiting the rules, which could make it more difficult for businesses to resist union organizing--the developments are the latest sign of how intensely business groups oppose any move that could help organized labor make new inroads at companies that have long opposed unions.

3.     The White House refused to say whether President Obama would agree to payroll tax cuts if they add to the nation's deficit, as the top Senate Republican predicted lawmakers eventually would reach an agreement to prevent taxes from increasing on 160 million Americans:

  • The tax cut is set to expire at the end of the year, raising taxes by about $1,000 on the average household unless Congress and Obama act--as the deadline approaches, political support is building for at least continuing the tax cut--and thereby heading off a politically bruising tax hike, but the holdup remains on how to offset the cost.

December 1, 2011

1,     A record one in five U.S. households saw their available household incomes decline by 25 percent or more from one year to the next from 2008 through 2010:

  • According to a study released by the Rockefeller Foundation and Yale University, this was the highest level of "economic insecurity" in the past 25 years--but the blame was not entirely due to the recent recession, for Jacob Hacker, director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale and a co-author of the report, said, "While the great recession led to a sharp increase in income instability, the share of Americans experiencing economic insecurity had already been growing for a quarter of a century."

2.     Ignoring a presidential veto threat, the Democratic-controlled Senate overwhelmingly aproved a massive, $662 billion defense bill that would require the military to hold suspected terrorists linked to al-Qaida or its affiliates, even those captured on U.S. soil, and detain some indefinitely:

  • The vote was 93-7 (with both Oregon senators voting no) for the bill authorizing money for military personnel, weapons systems, national security programs in the Energy Department, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the fiscal year that began October 1st--reflecting a period of austerity and a winding down of decade-old conflicts, the bill is $27 billion less than what President Obama requested and $43 billion less than what Congress gave the Pentagon this year.

3.     With President Obama leading the charge in Washington and political swing states, Senate Democrats have put proudly anti-tax Republicans in the position of opposing a tax cut for more than 160 million mostly middle-income Americans because they object that it includes a tax on about 350,000 people, those with more than $1 million in annual income:

  • The Senate voted 51-49 (both Oregon senators voted yes) for the Democrats' measure to further reduce payroll taxes next year for both workers and employers and to impose the surtax, short of the 60 votes needed--the vote was 78-20 (both Oregon senators voted no) against the Republicans' alternative, extending the current tax cut, paid for by slashing the federal payroll.

4.     Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the U.S. will loosen some restrictions on international financial assistance and development programs in Myanmar, in response to a nascent political and economic opening in the country:

  • The U.S. and Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, also agreed to discuss upgrading diplomatic relations, which were suspended for two decades, and exchanging ambassadors, a step that could transform U.S. diplomacy in Southeast Asia.

December 2, 2011

1.     Small businesses and startups that were skittish about the economy this summer started hiring in bigger numbers this fall, helping to drive the unemployment rate down to 8.6 percent in November, the lowest in 2-1/2 years:

  • The Labor Department said that the country added 120,000 jobs in November; the economy has generated 100,000 or more jobs five months in a row--the first time that has happened since April 2006, well before the Great Recession.

2.     President Obama has won high esteem among Native Americans by breaking through a log jam of inaction on issues that matter to them:

  • The Obama administration unveiled sweeping changes to federal tribal-land leasing rules that had not been touched in 50 years;
  • Obama nominated a Native American to the federal bench;
  • The president signed a law renewing the Indian Healthcare Act; and
  • Obama settled a tribal royalties lawsuit that had dragged on over three administrations.

3.     Facing criticism from industry and lawmakers, the Obama administration is easing rules aimed at reducing toxic air pollution from industrial boilers and incinerators--but administration officials maintain the health benefits of the regulation will not change:

  • In a proposal released by the EPA, limits would be placed on the largest and most polluting boilers, and smaller ones could meet the rule through routine tune-ups--the Republican-controlled House passed a bill in October delaying the boiler regulation, and a bipartisan bill pending in the Senate would give the EPA additional time to rewrite the rule and for industry to comply.

4.     The House passed a bill to end the public financing of presidential campaigns--it would dismantle a system set up after the Watergate scandal of the 1970s that has been overshadowed in recent years by the huge sums of money pouring into elections:

  • The bill would remove from income tax forms the check-off box where taxpayers can voluntarily steer $3 into a fund for presidential primaries and general elections--the Republican-backed measure passed 235-190 on a nearly party-line vote, and it now goes to the Senate where the Democratic majority is unlikely to take it up.

5.     In a gesture to their business allies, House Republicans, on a 253-167 vote (all Oregon representatives except Walden, Oregon's lone Republican, voted no), passed legislation to reduce what the GOP calls "an avalanch" of unneeded, costly regulations--opponents call the bill an attempt to prevent the government from protecting Americans at their workplaces, in their homes, and when they want a breath of fresh air:

  • The vote sent the bill to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it is likely to die--just in case it doesn't, the White House has issued a veto threat.
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