WEEK ONE HUNDRED & FIFTY-TWO

December 12, 2011     President Obama heralded the end of the divisive Iraq war and warned Iraq's neighbors that the U.S. would remain a major player in the region, even as it brings its troops home:

  • Speaking after a morning of meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Obama said other nations must not interfere with Iraq's sovereignty--while he stopped short of mentioning any country by name, U.S. officials are closely watching how neighboring Iran may seek to influence Baghdad after U.S. troops withdraw.

December 13, 2011

1.     Defying a veto threat from President Obama, the House passed a bill extending a cut in Social Security payroll taxes for 160 million Americans for another year, but the Democratic majority in the Senate vowed to reject the measure because of objections to other provisions, including one to speed construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast:

  • The 234-193 vote, largely along party lines (all Oregon representatives, except for Walden, Oregon's lone Republican, voted no), set the stage for negotiations between the House and the Senate likely to continue into the weekend--the vote was an important test for Speaker John Boehner.

2.     The Obama administration said that homelessness among the nation's veterans declined by about 12 percent during a one-year period ending January 2011:

  • Officials said that the drop is a sign of progress and that the administration is on track for reaching the president's goal of eliminating homelessness among veterans by 2015--in all, there are nearly 67,500 homeless veterans (according to a survey that thousands of communities help to administer every January), while more than 76,000 homeless veterans were counted in the prior year's survey.

December 14, 2011

1.     President Obama observed the end of the war in Iraq before an audience at Fort Bragg, telling a crowd of returning war veterans that the nearly nine years of conflict in Iraq, a war indelibly imprinted on the national psyche, had come to a close:

  • The speech was the latest in a serious of public appearances orchestrated by the White House to signal the end of the conflict and to drive home the point that Obama fulfilled one of his 2008 presidential campaign promises--Fort Bragg is home to a variety of troops, including the Army's Special Operations, the 18th Airborne Corps, and the 82nd Airborne, and Fort Bragg soldiers have been in the thick of the fighting in Iraq from Day One of the U.S. invasion in 2003.

2.     The White House announced that President Obama will not veto a military authorization bill that contains several disputed provisions about the treatment of terrorism prisoners, signaling a likely end to a political battle over detainees and executive power:

  • The administration had threatened to veto versions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 passed by the House and Senate, arguing those provisions would open the door for the military to perform policing functions inside the U.S. and that they would infringe on executive branch powers--the House approved the bill 283-136 (Oregon representatives Blumenauer (D) and DeFazio (D) voted no; representatives Scrader (D) and Walden (R) voted yes), and it now goes to the Senate.

December 15, 2011

1.     White House spokesman Jay Carney said that a proposal to revamp the government's Medicare program by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is "the wrong way to reform the system:"

  • The proposal would give the elderly a choice between the existing Medicare system and regulated private insurance plans starting in 2022 --Carney said that the proposal would raise premiums and healthcare costs for seniors and undermine Medicare.

2.     The job market is healthier than at any time since the end of the recession:

  • The number of people filing for unemployment fenefits fell last week to the lowest since May 2008, a sign that the waves of corporate layoffs that have defined the past few years are all but over--the last time claims were so low, the nation was six months into the recession but did not know it yet, and the unemployment rate was 5.4%.

3.     Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans--nearly one in two--have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income:

  • The latest census data depict a middle class that is shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net slips--the new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

December 16, 2011     The Obama administration rolled out a benefits framework for millions of people who will get private insurance through the healthcare overhaul, but states will decide the specifics:

  • The new law calls for the federal government to set a basic benefits package for private insurers, but that's tricky territory for the administration as it tries to avoid the "big brother" label on healthcare--this proposal from the Health and Human Services secretary allows states to retain some leeway (private insurers traditionally have been regulated at the state level).

December 17, 2011     The Senate voted to temporarily avert a January 1st payroll tax increase and benefit cutoff for the long-time unemployed, but forced a reluctant President Obama to make an election-year choice between unions and environmentalists over whether to build an oil pipeline through the heart of the country:

  • The Senate's 89-10 vote (both Oregon senators voted yes) belied a torturious battle between Democrats and Republicans that produced the compromise two-month extension of the expiring tax breaks and jobless benefits and forestalled cuts in doctors' Medicare reimbursements.
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