WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FORTY

September 19, 2011

1.     In a blunt rejoinder to congressional Republicans, President Obama called for $1.5 trillion in new taxes, part of a total ten-year deficit reduction package totaling more than $3 trillion--he vowed to veto any deficit reduction package that cuts benefits to Medicare recipients but does not raise taxes on the wealthy and on big corporations:

  • The president's proposal would predominantly hit upper income taxpayers but would also reduce spending in mandatory benefit programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, by $580 billion--it also counts savings of $1 trillion over ten years from the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

2.     The House Republican Speaker says that they are rejecting President Obama's jobs proposal to rebuild schools and blighted neighborhoods and to help keep state and federal employees on the job:

  • The Ohio Republican also said that he is willing to negotiate on extending payroll tax cuts for both workers and employers--John Boehner and his GOP colleagues say that Obama's move to tax wealthier people claiming itemized deductions will hurt churches and other nonprofits.

3.     President Obama said that the U.S. Postal Service should be allowed to reduce mail delivery to five days a week to help cut its massive losses:

  • While the post office has cut more than 100,000 workers in the last few years, it needs to cut more, close offices, and find other ways to reduce costs so it can keep operating--Obama agreed that nearly $7 billion the post office has overpaid into their federal retirement system should be refunded to the agency, he urged that its payments for advance funding of retiree medical benefits be restructured, and he said that the post office should be allowed to sell non-postal products and to raise postal rates.

September 21, 2011

1.     President Obama proposed higher premiums and deductibles for many Medicare beneficiaries and lower Medicare payments to teaching hospitals and rural hospitals--he would start charging co-payments to frail homebound older people who receive home health services and he would reduce the growth of federal payments to states for treating low-income people under Medicaid:

  • The White House said that Obama's proposal would cut $248 billion from the projected growth of Medicare in the next ten years, while shaving $72 billion from Medicaid and other health programs--the proposals are part of a package to reduce deficits by more than $3 trillion over ten years, beyond the $1 trillion in savings already assumed under the debt limit law that Obama signed in early April.

2.     Seeking to bolster a nation in transition, President Obama promised the Libyan people that the world will stand with them as they reshape their country following the fall of Moammar Gadhafi's regime:

  • Speaking at a high-level U.N. meeting, the president warned that there would still be difficult days ahead in Libya as Gadhafi loyalists make a final stand and the country's provisional leadership grapples with the complex task of setting up a new government, but Obama said that it was clear that Libya was now in the hands of the people--the U.S. now recognizes the National Transitional Council as Libya's legitimate government, and Obama announced that the U.S. ambassador was heading back to Tripoli to lead a newly reopened American embassy there.

September 22, 2011

1.     The potential of a government shutdown at the end of the month loomed slightly larger after a crucial measure to fund the government through mid-November was defeated in the House:

  • Republican leaders were unable to overcome objections from Democrats who said the bill did not do enough for disaster victims and from conservative Republicans who wanted to use the bill to cut spending more deeply--the vote was a significant defeat for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders, who had been confident they could muscle the bill over to the Senate despite protests from both sides of the aisle;
  • All Oregon representatives, except Oregon's lone Republican, voted no.

2.     Digging deep into its bank of leftover economic spark plugs, the Federal Reserve launched an unorthodox operation aimed at lowering long-term lending rates and thus sparking more spending and investment in an economy flirting with recession:

  • Specifically, the Fed announced it would sell $400 billion in short-term government bonds and replace them with longer-term bonds of equal value--the controversial action is dubbed Operation Twist II because it's patterned after a similar move in the 60s named after the then-popular dance craze.

3.     Sales of previously owned U.S. homes were up sharply in August, a ray of light for the nation's bitten-down housing market, but economists are sceptical the gains will last:

  • The number of homes sold rose 7.7% from July and were up 18.6% from August 2010, according to the National Association of Realtors--although economists had expected an increase in sales last month, many were surprised they rose as much as they did, but most economists doubt that last month's gain signals a turnaround.

4.     The nation's top military official said that Pakistan's spy agency played a direct role in supporting the insurgents who carried out the deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul last week--it was the most serious charge that the U.S. has leveled against Pakistan in the decade that the U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan:

  • In comments that were the first to directly link the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, with an assault on the U.S., Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went further than any other U.S. official in blaming the ISI for undermining the U.S. effort in Afghanistan--his remarks were certain to further fray the U.S.' shaky relationship with Pakistan, a nominal ally.

5.     President Obama was back on the road to sell his jobs plan--at an aging and overtaxed bridge connecting the home states of chief Republican antagonists in Congress, Speaker John Boehner and the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky:

  • The event was Obama's fourth trip outside Washington since announcing his $447 billion stimulus package of tax cuts, state aid, and infrastructure financing two weeks ago--while administration officials have taken issue with Republicans' criticism that Obama is waging "class warfare" by proposing to raise taxes on the wealthy, the president virtually embraced the term.

5.     Confirmation of a $5.8 billion package of weapon sales by the U.S. to Taiwan drew a angry reaction from China, with newspaper editorials accusing the Obama administration of betrayal and the Foreign Affairs Ministry warning of serious harm to relations:

  • But news of the deal, confirmed by White House officials, appears to have set in motion a familiar slate of responses by Beijing, which has long considered arms sales to the self-governing island a affront to its sovereignty and a slight to its dignity--diplomats and analysts say that the Chinese government recognizes the deal could have been worse since Taiwain had asked for a new batch of five dozen F-16s and, instead, got $5.3 billion worth of upgrades to improve the capabilities of an aging fleet bought in 1992.

September 23, 2011

1.     American diplomats led a walkout at the U.N. General Assembly as Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fiercely attacked the U.S. and major European nations as "arrogant powers" ruled by greed and eager for military advancement:

  • The two U.S. diplomats, who specialize in the Middle East, were followed out of the chamber by diplomats from more than 30 countries and included the 27 European Union members, Australia, New Zealand, Somalia, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, and Macedonia, a U.N. diplomat said--Israel boycotted the speech.

2.     Decrying the state of American education, President Obama said that states will get unprecedented freedom to waive basic elements of the sweeping Bush-era No Child Left Behind law, calling it an admirable but flawed effort that has hurt students instead of helping them:

  • Obama's announcement could fundamentally affect the education of tens of millions of children, allowing states to scrap the requirements that all children must show they are proficient in reading and math by 2014 (a cornerstone of the law) if states meet conditions designed to better prepare and test students--"Congress hasn't been able to do it, so I will," Obama said, "our kids only get one shot at a decent education."

3.     A dispute over disaster aid has quickly grown into another partisan standoff that threatens to shut down the federal government, with no clear indication of how Congress will end the stalemate:

  • The Senate overwhelmingly rejected a House-passed bill to temporarily fund the government and provide emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Irene and other recent disasters, but also cut green energy programs supported by Democrats--the Senate voted 59-36 against the measure.
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