WEEK ONE HUNDRED & THIRTY-NINE

September 11, 2011     Ten years after the nation was struck by the unthinkable, President Obama honored the legacy of September 11th victims by personally tracing the trail of the terrorist attacks, proudly declaring that the decade since has proved "America does not give in to fear:"

  • At ground zero, Obama stood in solidarity with President George W. Bush right where highjacked airplanes smashed into the twin World Trade Center towers in 2001;
  • In a field in western Pennsylvania, Obama strolled along a marbled Wall of Names that stands in tribute to the 40 people who crashed in Shanksville after fighting back against the terrorists;
  • In the rebuilt Pentagon, just outside the nation's capitol, Obama placed a wreath at a memorial where each of 184 victims is remembered;
  • And back in Washington, the president spoke of the pride of a nation--Obama said that the legacy of 9/11 will be that the country took an enormous blow and emerged stronger, and he said that Americans will remember that when they visit the memorials for decades to come.

September 12, 2011

1.     President Obama would pay for his $447 billion jobs package by closing tax loopholes and wiping out deductions for wealthier families and specific industries, White House officials said, drawing immediate resistance from Republican leaders:

  • By focusing solely on tax increases to pay for the jobs package, Obama signaled a change in strategy that should hearten Democrats who have clamored for the president to be a tougher negotiator--they want to establish a clear line between Democrats and Republicans, believing Americans will be on their side.

2.     Obama wants to pay for the jobs package by:

  • Limiting itemized deductions for individuals who make more than $200,000 annually and families that earn more than $250,000;
  • Closing loopholes for oil and gas companies, totaling $40 billion in savings over ten years;
  • Raising taxes on investment fund managers, totaling $18 billion in savings; and
  • Eliminating a tax break on corporate jets, totaling $3 billion in savings.

September 13, 2011     Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the U.S. last year, the Census Bureau reported, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it:

  • And in new signs of distress among the middle class, median household incomes fell last year to levels last seen in 1997--economists seized on a telling statistic: it was the first time since the Great Depression that the median U.S. household had a lower income, adjusted for inflation, than it had 13 years earlier, said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard University.

September 14, 2011     Rep. Peter DeFazio and Senate Democrats defended Social Security and announced a plan to insure the program's long-term survival:

  • Bills that DeFazio introduced in February and eight senators introduced today, would require people earning more than $250,000 to pay greater Social Security taxes--under current law, workers pay 6.2% of their income, up to $106,800, to underwrite Social Security;
  • The change would pay 100 percent of promised benefits through 2086, sponsors said, citing calculations by the Social Security Administration--DeFazio's bill has not moved an inch in the Republican-controlled House since it was introduced, and the fate of the idea is unclear, though having a companion in the Democrat-controlled Senate might help.

September 15, 2011

1.     House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) restated his opposition to any tax increases to solve the nation's deficit problem, signaling a swift return to the trench warfare that characterized the debt and spending debate of early summer:

  • Boehner said that the special committee seeking long-term debt reduction should achieve its mandated $1.5 trillion in savings entirely by cutting federal agency spending and shrinking entitlement programs--the Boehner speech was a rebuttal to the $447 billion plan proposed by President Obama to jump-start the stalled employment sector, but more than that, Boehner's speech established that there has been little change in the fundamental positions or the level of acrimony that gridlocked Washington during the past few months.

2.     Turning a usually routine announcement into a pointed rebuttal of its Republican critics, the Obama administration said that premiums for popular Medicare Advantage insurance plans will drop for 2012, while enrollment is expected to rise:

  • Republicans have accused President Obama of undermining Medicare to finance his healthcare overhaul, and, in fact, during this week's GOP presidential debate, Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann claimed the president "stole" from Medicare to pay for his plan--but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that Medicare Advantage premiums will average four percent less in 2012 and insurers running the plans project enrollment will jump by ten percent.

3.     Consumers are spending more to fill their tanks, feed their families, and pay the rent--at the same time, the number of people applying for unemployment benefits has reached the highest level in three months:

  • The latest government data show that inflationary pressures and a distressed job market are hurting an economy that barely grew in the first half of the year--higher prices could also keep the Federal Reserve from taking major steps to stimulate growth when policy makers meet next week.

September 16, 2011

1.     The Obama administration restructured a half-billion dollar federal loan to a troubled solar energy company in such a way that private investors--including a fund raiser for President Obama--moved ahead of taxpayers for repayment in case of a default, government records show:

  • Administration officials defended the loan restructuring, saying that without an infusion of cash earlier this year, solar panel maker Solyndra Inc. would likely have faced immediate bankruptcy, putting more than 1,000 people out of work--even with the federal help, Solyndra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month and laid off its 1,100 employees.

2.     President Obama's support among elements of his base and a yearlong effort to recapture the political center has failed to attract independent voters, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll:

  • The poll found a 12-point jump since last June, to 43 percent, in the number of Americans who say the economy is getting worse, and, for the first time since he took office, his disapproval rating has reached 50 percent in The Times and CBS News poll--the president's support has fallen to its lowest level across parts of the diverse coalition of voters who elected him, including women, suburbinites, and college graduates, and a persistent effort over the past year to reclaim his appeal to independent voters has shown few sign of bearing fruit, with 50 percent voicing disapproval.

3.     Overhauling the nation's creaky patent system is not a step economists believe will solve the jobs crisis, but in a gridlocked Washington, speeding up patent approval was one of the few areas in which both parties were willing to take action:

  • President Obama marked the rare outbreak of bipartisan agreement by signing into law the "America Invents Act", a measure he pushed repeatedly over the summer as necessary to create jobs--the patent reforms are considered the most sweeping in the past 60 yhears, analysts say, the resolution of an issue Congress has kicked around for eight years.

4.     Americans' wealth declined this spring for the first time in a year, as stocks and home values fell--at the same time, corporations increased their stockpiles of cash:

  • The combination could slow an already weak economy because it suggests families have less to spend and businesses are reluctant to expand at a time when consumers are already struggling with high unemployment and meager pay raises--according to a Federal Reserve report, household net worth dropped 0.3% in the April-June quarter, following three straight quarterly increases, but corporations held a record $2 trillion in cash at the end of June, an increase of 4.5% from the January-March quarter.
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