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President May Announce Plans For Unused TARP Funds

Before economic speech today, President Obama suggests unused, paid back TARP can go towards deficit reduction and job creation. NYT: "One possibility that he cited: using the money to help small businesses get loans to expand and hire new workers. 'Some of that money can be devoted to deficit reduction,' Mr. Obama told reporters. 'The question is, are there selective approaches that are consistent with the original goals of TARP, for example making sure that small businesses are still getting lending, that would be appropriate in accelerating job growth.'"

W. Post suggests internal WH dispute over TARP funds: "Administration officials also have been debating which cause is a higher priority and how to best divert TARP funds to create jobs. Some senior Treasury Department officials have pushed to constrain spending, while others in the administration, such as left-leaning economist Jared Bernstein, have argued for economic stimulus measures."

Sen. Conrad links support for jobs bill with creating the anti-Social Security/Medicare debt commission. The Hill: "Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said on Monday he would be open to using money from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout to pay for a jobs package. But the Senate Budget Committee chairman said his support is conditioned on securing a promise from leaders to create a deficit reduction task force ... Conrad said he and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) would unveil the details of his proposed task force on Wednesday."

W. Post reports WH looking for a debt commission compromise: " One possible outcome of negotiations between the administration and Conrad's group is that Obama could appoint an advisory panel with no statutory power. Whether that would satisfy the fiscal hawks remains to be seen. The administration has signaled that it believes the economy comes first, deficits second."

House Dems looking to use some TARP funds to help homeowners avert foreclosure, and to renew "cramdown" fight. W. Post: "House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) on Monday signed on to a proposal by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) that would channel $3 billion from the federal Troubled Assets Relief Program toward mortgage relief for jobless Americans ... The proposal is one of more than 100 proposed amendments to a sweeping financial regulatory reform package scheduled for consideration in the full House this week. In addition, Democratic lawmakers are planning to use the regulatory reform bill to revive a provision that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify a homeowner's mortgage, including lowering the interest rate or cutting the principal owed."

Urgent need to extend jobless assistance. NYT: "tate labor officials and worker advocates appealed on Monday for quick Congressional action to extend emergency jobless benefits and to renew health insurance subsidies for the long-term jobless ... Renewal this month of both forms of aid is 'a moral imperative,' Sandi Vito, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, said Monday at a news conference here. Ms. Vito said the extensions were needed 'through at least the end of 2010 as a bridge for people.' ... prospects are uncertain in the Senate ... where there is disagreement over how long any extensions should last."

Time running out on House calendar for jobs bill. The Hill: "...with no more than 10 working days left before adjournment — in which the House will have to complete its work on a financial regulatory reform bill, pass a package of tax extenders, provide a bare-bones extension of unemployment assistance measures and likely pass either a continuing budget resolution or omnibus spending bill — other Democratic leaders were skeptical that anything beyond the immediately necessary could get done this year. 'We’re going to get out on the 18th,' House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on Thursday. 'I think we will take some action on jobs, but I don’t know that we’ll have a complete jobs package [by the end of December] ... I don’t expect to deal with all the problems I’ve discussed, either on healthcare or on jobs, in the next eight days.'"

Expanding Access To Medicare Possible Compromise

Liberal Senators offer proposals in exchange for dropping national public option: "One of the changes being pushed by the liberals would lower the age of eligibility for Medicare to 55, from 65. Another would expand Medicaid to cover people with incomes up to 150 percent of the poverty level (up to $33,075 for a family of four). The Senate bill, as it now stands, would expand Medicaid to cover people up to 133 percent of the poverty level ($29,327 for a family of four) A third liberal proposal would require insurers to spend a specified share of premiums — about 90 percent — on clinical services and activities that improve the quality of care. This would, in effect, limit the profits that insurers could make."

W. Post reports a deal could be reached today: "Reid is urging the negotiators to wrap up their work by Tuesday, and participants said a deal could be announced late in the day. 'It's coming together. We're very close,' Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa), the health committee chairman and a liberal Democrat taking part in the talks, told reporters Monday night. 'Is it something that I like? No. It's not going to be something that the moderates or conservatives like, either. It's one of those things in the middle that doesn't make everyone very happy.'"

The Treatment's Jonathan Cohn sums up the good and the bad: " While [expanding Medicare] wouldn't qualify as creating a new public plan into which anybody could enroll, it would qualify as opening up an existing public plan to a group of people that might appreciate its many virtues. And that's certainly a good thing ... How would such a plan work in practice? That really depends on the parameters ... Who gets to enroll? ... When do people enroll? ... What will people pay? ..."

FireDogLake's Jon Walker raises questions: "Would this Medicare buy in program only be temporary, as a stopgap until 2014 when the exchange starts, or would it be permanent? How much would premiums be for those who buy in, and how would those premiums be calculated? Would it be open to everyone over 55, only on the individual market, or only those who could not find affordable insurance anywhere else? Would people who buy in need to pay a full actuarially sound premium? Would people who qualify for affordability tax credits on the new exchange be able to use them toward the cost of buying into Medicare early? ... It could be a relatively open and useful program that would be a big help to a small segment of the population that has had a lot of trouble finding decent, affordable insurance. It is also possible that due to stringent qualification restrictions and high cost, the program would only be a fig leaf that helps almost no one."

And more questions from Swampland's Kate Pickert: "Here are just three of the monumentally important things to consider ... The age at which people would be allowed to qualify for Medicare ... The affect on providers ... The affect on the Medicare program."

Fight against health insurance tax ramping up. In These Times' Art Levine: "Union groups, including the AFL-CIO and the Communication Workers of America, are fighting back against abandoning the public option with a lobbying blitz and ads, focused on the excise tax on high-cost plans along with preserving some form of a public option."

Swampland's Karen Tumulty notes some supportive economists are grumbling about weakened cost controls in Senate, pen letter to Reid: "...t asks him to put the teeth back into a proposed independent commission to oversee Medicare spending ... hospitals must do better on lowering their rates of readmission ... [and they] expressed concern that the bill is rigged so that some of the most important reforms (and ones that are likely to draw the most opposition from the health care industry) will never make it beyond the 'pilot project' stage."

Swampland's Amy Sullivan reports Sen. Ben Nelson's anti-abortion amendment likely to fail today: "...what happens when the Nelson amendment fails? Last week, Nelson was threatening to filibuster health reform if his abortion language was not included, but he's since walked that back. Even a Nebraska attention-seeker can only go so far, after all. Democratic leaders have said they're working on other compromises to win Nelson's support for the final bill, but it's unclear that he was ever willing to vote for health reform, even if his amendment were to pass. And other pro-life Democrats--like Bob Casey, who is a co-sponsor of Nelson's amendment--have not said the issue will determine their vote."

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait notes polls show majority support reform or want it stronger: "...supporters plus liberal critics of health care reform outnumber conservative critics."

W. Post notes that Lieberman's opposition to public option makes no sense: "He argues that the proposal lacks public support, although polls show a majority favor the concept. He says the government has no place in providing health insurance, despite its role in overseeing Medicare and Medicaid. Most of all, he insists that a public option would drive the country further into debt. But this argument muddles how the new system will function and is at odds with independent assessments."

EPA Move Strengthens US Position At Copenhagen

W. Post on EPA finding that it has authority under Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouses gases without new legislation: "The move, which coincided with the first day of the international climate summit in Copenhagen, seemed timed to reassure delegates there that the United States is committed to reducing its emissions even if domestic legislation remains bogged down. But it provoked condemnation from key Republicans and from U.S. business groups, which vowed to tie up any regulations in litigation."

NYT sums up global reaction: "Political leaders in Copenhagen welcomed the ruling, but they were quick to press the Obama administration to do more now to sweeten its offer."

Rare conservative climate realist Sen. Graham takes notice. The Hill: "Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is working with Kerry and Lieberman, has similarly used the prospect of EPA rules as a selling point for a compromise climate bill, arguing that Congress can set terms that are far more manageable for businesses."

Yes, the planet is warming. NYT: "Despite recent fluctuations in global temperature year to year, which fueled claims of global cooling, a sustained global warming trend shows no signs of ending, according to new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization..."

British newspaper reports former KGB agents may be behind theft of climate scientist emails. TreeHugger: "...some believe that Russia actually wants global warming to occur. ... if climate change affects Russia as predicted, some of its icier areas will thaw, allowing access to areas worth billions of dollars in natural resources like oil and gas that are currently extremely difficult to tap into. Never mind that such a change would likely melt the pervasive permafrost, which many Russian cities and structures are built on, potentially causing a massive infrastructure collapse. Another idea is that Russia simply wants to delay talks as long as possible, so it won't be accountable for investing in clean energy or emissions reduction technology."

Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard on good and bad developments as Copenhagen begins: "...the UN Environment Program released a report conducted by British economist Lord Nicholas Stern and the Grantham Research Institute which found that pledges from both developed and developing countries are actually closer to the cuts that science deems necessary than previously assumed ... the bad news. The G77—the bloc of developing countries—is unhappy with what richer countries have promised so far."

WH Aide Pushes Back on Transaction Tax

Wonk Room's Pat Garofalo reports Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee raises criticism of proposed tax on financial market transactions. " He said he thinks such a tax 'would be hard' to implement, and that the FTT was merely a 'serving as a proxy' for more robust financial regulation: 'It’s clear it would have to be done by everybody, and don’t overlook the temptation of a bunch of small [nations] saying "everybody else is going to tax your transactions but we won’t, so you should move all your stuff here."' ... The first point Goolsbee makes is worth considering, especially in light of Germany’s assertion yesterday that an FTT is not in the cards. [But] isn’t just about regulation, but also raising deficit-reducing revenues from the one source that can most afford it these days: Wall Street."

Dean Baker questions Bernanke's competence in HuffPost: "The bubble was easy to recognize, Bernanke just failed to do so. Nationwide house prices had already experienced an unprecedented 30 percent increase by the summer of 2002. Since there was nothing in the fundamentals of the housing market to justify this run-up and no remotely corresponding increase in rents, Bernanke should have already been aware of the housing bubble by the time he joined the Fed in 2002."

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