WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY-ONE

December 5, 2011     Senate Democrats offered a new proposal to extend the payroll tax holiday, a strategy designed to attract Republicans who have been cool to continuing a tax break for working Americans that expires December 31st:

  • President Obama pressed the case December 5th after Senate Republicans revolted against earlier plans last week, and House Republicans panned the tax-cut propoal--the new proposal from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, would pay for the cost of the tax break with a combination of GOP-backed proposals to increase the fees that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge mortgage lenders, as well as a surtax on those earning beyond $1 million a year: those revenue streams would generate almost $185 billion and replenish the Social Security trust fund.

December 6, 2011

1.     Venturing into the heartland, President Obama delivered his most pointed appeal yet from Kansas, using taxes and regulations to level the economic playing field:

  • Infusing his speech with the type of populist language that has emerged in the Occupy protests around the nation, Obama warned that growing income inequality meant the U.S. was undermining its middle class--he said it "gives lie to the promise that is at the very heart of America, that this is the place where you can make it if you try."

2.     Obama administration officials said that the U.S. will begin using U.S. foreign aid to promote gay rights abroad:

  • President Obama issued a memorandum directing U.S. agencies to look for ways to combat efforts by foreign governments to criminalize homosexuality--the new initiative holds the potential to irritate relations with some close U.S. allies that ban homosexuality, including Saudi Arabia.

December 7, 2011

1.     For the first time ever, the Health and Human Services secretary publically overruled the Food and Drug Administration, refusing to allow emergency contraceptives to be sold over the counter, including to young teenagers--the decision avoided what could have been a bruising battle over parental control and contraception during a presidential election season:

  • Although Kathleen Sebelius had the legal authority to overrule the FDA, no health secretary has ever done so, an FDA spokeswoman said--with Sebelius' decision, the Obama administration is taking a more socially conservative stance on the contraceptive, known as Plan B One-Step, one closer to that of the Bush administration than to any of its own liberal supporters.

2.     Top U.S. and Chinese military officials began an annual review of major issues, pledging to seek greater cooperation and trust in a relationship that, to many, more resembles a burgeoning rivalry:

  • The Defense Consultative Talks, now in their 12th year, opened on the heels of President Obama's pledge last month to bolster the U.S. military presence in the Pacific, a move seen by many in China as aimed at countering China's rise--the U.S. and China are seeking to stabilize their usually rocky relationship at a time of domestic political uncertainty, since 2012 will see a new Chinese leadership and a U.S. political election.

3.     Americans stepped up their borrowing in October to buy cars and attend college, and they charged a little more to their credit cards--the second straight monthly gain in overall borrowing suggests consumers are growing more confident in the economy ahead of the crucial holiday buying season:

  • Total consumer borrowing increased by $7.6 billion, the Federal Reserve said--September's and October's gain reversed a steep drop in August, when borrowing fell the most it had in 16 months.

December 8, 2011

1.     House Republican leaders unveiled their plan to extend a payroll-tax holiday and expiring unemployment benefits and pay for them through changes in social spending programs while adding contentious provisions opposed by Democrats:

  • In a sharp answer to a bill produced by Senate Democrats that would have cut an employee's share of the payroll tax and imposed a new surcharge on incomes above $1 million, the House Republican bill would pay for the extension through a mix of changes to entitlement programs and a pay freeze for federal workers--the Senate rejected both plans with the vote on the Democratic plan 50-48 (Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican in favor), and the Republican measure was turned aside 22-76 (a majority of Republicans opposed it, reflecting the party's internal divisions).

2.     Americans' wealth suffered its biggest quarterly loss in more than two years as stocks, pension funds, and home values all dipped--at the same time, corporations raised their cash stockpiles to record levels:

  • According to a Federal Reserve report, the four percent drop in household net worth was the sharpest drop since the tumultuous period after the September 2008 bankruptcy of investment bank Lehman Brothers--it was the second straight quarterly fall.

3.     Financial markets slumped after the head of Europe's central bank dashed hopes that the bank was prepared to help extinguish the region's debt crisis:

  • The Dow Jones industrial average dropped nearly 200 points on a day when investors around the world reacted to every word spoken and every rumor spread at a summit of European Union leaders--investors overlooked good news on the U.S. economy: claims for unemployment benefits dropped, and wholesale companies increased their inventories in expectation of stronger sales.

December 9, 2011

1.     The Obama admiistration proposed a new rule that would end a practice in which some endangered species were classified differently in neighboring states:

  • The new policy would clarify that a plant or animal could be listed as threatened or endangered if threats occur in a "significant portion of its range," even if the threat crosses state lines and does not apply in the species' entire range--the draft rule would replace a Bush-era 2007 policy that was withdrawn last spring after two federal courts rejected it.

2.     Americans' hostility toward members of Congress is at a record high, a new Gallup Poll found:

  • Seventy-six percent of those surveyed said that most representatives do not deserve to be re-elected, the highest number in the 19 years Gallup has asked the question and six points higher than in August, just after the contentious debate over raising the debt ceiling--only 20 percent said that most members should be re-elected, a record low.

3.     A deal to forge stronger ties between most of Europe's economies sent stocks sharply higher as hopes grew that the region is close to resolving its debt crisis--the Dow Jones industrial average rose 178 points:

  • All 17 nations that use the euro agreed to sign a treaty that allows a central European authority closer oversight of their budgets--nine other EU nations are considering it, with Britain as the lone holdout.
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