fresh voices from the front lines of change







Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to affect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security.

Senate Shoots For Bipartisan Jobs Bill

BREAKING: Labor Dept. monthly jobs report finds unemployment down, but US still not creating jobs: "The unemployment rate fell from 10.0 to 9.7 percent in January, and nonfarm payroll employment was essentially unchanged ... Employment fell in construction and in transportation and warehousing, while temporary help services and retail trade added jobs."

Senate looking to pass small, bipartisan jobs measure next week. AP: "Democrats believe a jobs bill that includes tax breaks Republicans support is a good way to break the ice ... In addition to the tax break for hiring unemployed workers, the bill under discussion Thursday would extend unemployment payments [and] renew a program that offers the jobless a subsidy for health insurance premiums ... About $33 billion in popular tax breaks that expired at the end of 2009 ... would be extended through 2010 ... Reid has said he also wants to extend at least three programs for another year: funding for the highway trust fund; tax breaks for small businesses that buy new equipment; and a bond program to help state and local governments pay for infrastructure projects ... Tax experts, however, question how effective [a jobs tax credit] would be as long as consumer demand for products is down."

Specifics still not firm. NYT: "...they offered no details, and presented only a scant outline of proposals they might pursue, some of which echo initiatives they failed to include in last year’s stimulus bill."

Sen. Baucus optimistic for bipartisanship. CQ: "Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., was still negotiating the details of tax provisions, but he said he is close to getting a deal that would have 'meaningful' Republican support. 'Enough to show that it’s bipartisan,' he added.

House may adopt Senate strategy of series of smaller job bills. Politico: "Pelosi said she wants a small-businesses package as quickly as possible, and then plans an infrastructure spending bill and an extension of unemployment insurance."

Krugman attacks Washington for putting deficit cutting ahead of job creating: "Washington now has its priorities all wrong: all the talk is about how to shave a few billion dollars off government spending, while there’s hardly any willingness to tackle mass unemployment. Policy is headed in the wrong direction — and millions of Americans will pay the price."

Reid knocks Republicans for limiting size of recovery efforts. NYT: "Mr. Reid, asked after the news conference if the Democrats’ jobs agenda was an acknowledgement that the stimulus measure was not big enough, snapped: 'Don’t talk to me. Talk to the Republicans about how big it was, ok? Don’t talk to me.' ... [Reid's aide Jim] Manley said that Democrats were virtually powerless to advance [the $154B House bill] because Republicans would block it."

Much more can be done on infrastructure.'s Eric Lotke: "The Economic Policy Institute has a new report detailing the positive impacts of transportation infrastructure spending. A $34.3 billion jobs package will create approximately 480,000 direct and indirect jobs ... The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials reports ... the list of 'ready-to-go' state infrastructure projects has surpassed the 9,800 mark."

Digby wonders why Congress hasn't passed a real jobs bill: "I suspect this is less a lack of spine than it is an unwillingness to challenge market orthodoxy and right-wing political cant, which they have internalized even more than the average American (who has benefited far less). And those who do have the imagination to see another way are powerless in the face of a political system that is at the mercy of an unprecedentedly disciplined political opposition and a Senate that no longer even tries to hide its constitutional function as the protector of the wealthy. It's a problem."

Sen. Scott Brown kicks off his term with a lie about the Recovery Act, appears to oppose jobs bill. AP: "Brown made an assertion about the last economic stimulus bill that most economists would dispute. 'The last stimulus bill didn't create one new job,' Brown said in response to a question about a jobs bill pending in the Senate." Brown embraces failed Bush policies. Bloomberg: "The new senator said he favors an 'across-the- board' tax cut to spur economic growth."

Frustration Over Health Care Strategy

Sens. Franken and Sanders upbraid WH adviser Axelrod for lack of health care strategy. HuffPost: "Franken insisted that 'he really needed to know if the White House was going to lead,' according to one Democratic aide. Axelrod, by several accounts, didn't give a response that Franken found sufficient. And as the two continued to talk, Sanders eventually jumped in .... Sanders said, in a statement to the Huffington Post. 'We also need to realize we're not going to get 60 votes for anything, so we have to look at a very broad, omnibus-like reconciliation bill -- including health care and jobs -- that will pass the Senate with 51 votes.' Details of what transpired after that are scant."

Ezra Klein says the only thing standing between Dems and passing health care reform is the will to do it: "What Democrats can do is a lot less important than what they want to do. If 51 Democratic senators and 218 Democratic congresspeople are dead-serious about passing a bill, they can, and will, pass a bill. One of the two chambers will go first, and the other will go second. If that many Democrats were committed to this project, the other chamber won't fear their colleagues leaving them hanging out to dry. It's a fairly straightforward path to passage, and they'd begin walking down it. That they haven't moved is evidence that will is missing, not that the rules are too complex."

The Treatment's Jonathan Cohn wants Obama push, but notes finesse has been working: "...the White House has some reasons for wielding its influence carefully. Among other things, bullying legislators--even House members--can backfire ... while the relatively hands-off strategy seems ill-advised now, it’s also the strategy that got the administration farther on health care reform than any before it ... [But the] time may be right for yet another [White House] intervention..."

Obama wants to put pressure on Republicans to back health care reform. Politico: "Obama appeared to be sketching out a strategy that involves putting Republicans on the spot, and if they decline to take a meaningful role, Democrats will push ahead with a vote regardless."

ThinkProgress finds Sen. Scott Brown flip-flopped on health care reform: "In an August] interview with MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan, Brown stated that the Senate health bill was 'really mirroring' the 'really great' Massachusetts health plan."

Budget Backlash

Spare Change, Mr. President? Newsweek's Ben Adler on liberal backlash over Obama's budget: "[W]ith Obama's announcement in his State of the Union address, delineated in his budget released Feb. 1, that he wants to freeze domestic discretionary spending for three years, he may have finally caused his base to lose its patience. Liberal activists say the Democratic Party may suffer if their base stays home or simply refuses to engage in the grassroots donating and volunteering that helped propel Obama into office."

The American Prospect's Robert Reich says we either go big or go bust: "Long-term fiscal balance is necessary policy, but we can reduce the debt burden without slashing social outlay. That's exactly what we did during the quarter--century boom after World War II, when we combined high growth rates, modest budget deficits, progressive taxation, a declining debt burden — and increases in social spending. That growth was partly driven by public investment."

Congress passes PAYGO restrictions. W. Post: "Congress agreed Thursday to revive the pay-as-you-go budget rules that helped wipe out massive deficits and balance the budget during the Clinton administration, although the new version includes a long list of exceptions ... the rules allow Obama to extend tax breaks for the middle class enacted during the George W. Bush administration ... protect taxpayers from the expansion of the alternative minimum tax for two years, lower the estate tax for two years and protect doctors who serve Medicare patients from a scheduled pay cut through 2014 ... The new paygo rule, they said, will prevent additional tax cuts or new government benefit programs from being adopted unless Congress summons the will to cover the cost."

Newsweek's Daniel Gross has a simple message for those about to lose their Bush tax cut: You're Rich. Get Over It: "Whenever the subject of taxes comes up ... we're treated to a chorus of complaints that people who make $250,000 a year aren't really rich ... I have two pieces of bad news for the over-$250,000 crowd. First, the reversal of some of the temporary Bush tax cuts is probably inevitable, given the appalling mismanagement of fiscal affairs between 2001 and 2008. Second ... I regret to inform you yet again: Yes, you are indeed rich—any way you slice it."

Dodd Tries To Move Financial Reform, But In What Direction?

Still no agreement on consumer financial protections. The Hill: "...the proposed [Consumer Financial Protection Agency] continues to face fierce opposition in the Senate ... Dodd and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) have discussed a new division for consumer financial protections within a regulator over national banks, several industry sources say. But the two sides are split over how much independence and rule-making power to give to a new division, among other issues. Democrats have supported strong rule-writing power, while Republicans have generally favored leaving rule-making authority at the existing regulators instead of pooling the powers in the new division. In addition, industry sources say there is a debate over how much independence the head of the new division would have relative to the head of the actual regulator."

Dodd suggests Obama/Volcker "Glass-Steagall 2" plan can be done without legislation. CQ: "...Dodd said Thursday that the time is near to 'pull the trigger' on a financial regulatory overhaul, and that there may be a way outside that process to address a recently announced Obama administration plan to put new size and operating restrictions on banks ... 'There may be a way to empower the regulators,' he said."

Salon's Robert Reich rips Dodd for waiting on Wall Street approval to pass reform: "He charged that Wall Street’s intransigence was the reason for Congress’s failure to pass any bill to regulate the Street ... Call me old-fashioned, but I thought Congress was in charge of passing legislation, not Wall Street."

Bank reform makes Wall Street sad. NYT: "Executives at Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase expressed misgivings on Thursday about the Obama administration’s new proposals to restrict the size and risk-taking of the country’s largest financial institutions."

Rachel Maddow rips Republicans for chasing Wall Street donations and blocking reform: "Republicans seems to have decided to run on a 'We're With Wall Street" platform."

Industry lobbying holding up reform to end subsidies to private student lenders. NYT: " aggressive lobbying campaign by the nation’s biggest student lenders has now put one of the White House’s signature plans in peril, with lenders using sit-downs with lawmakers, town-hall-style meetings and petition drives to plead their case and stay in business."

Former Bank of America chief formally accused of fraud by NY AG. Bloomberg: They allegedly deceived investors and taxpayers in 2008 by not disclosing losses at Merrill Lynch & Co. before shareholders voted on the firm’s pending takeover, and using those losses to extract more bailout funds from U.S. regulators..."

Support Still Big For Climate Protection, Clean Energy Investment

Huge public support for climate action. It's Getting Hot In Here sums up new Yale survey: "Funding more research on renewable energy, such as solar and wind power (85 percent ... Regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant (71 percent) ... Signing an international treaty that requires the U.S. to cut emissions of carbon dioxide 90% by the year 2050 (61 percent)..."

Grassroots Montanans push for climate bill. Billings Gazette: "Farmers, professionals and small businesses from around the state pressed Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus about supporting measures that not only promote green energy, but also curtail greenhouse gas pollution ... Both Tester and Baucus voiced concerns Wednesday about harming Montana’s economy."

Utility industry rejects narrow climate bill. Climate Progress: "...some folks are pursuing the idea of a climate bill with a cap just on utility emissions. I have serious doubts that works politically ... Not surprisingly, utilities, which were key to passage of the first ever climate bill in the House, aren’t signing up to be the sole focus of emissions reductions."

New report finds strong clean energy regs would create 274,000 jobs. Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard: "Congress would have to enact a 25 percent [Renewable Energy Standard] in order to create those jobs ... even the House-passed climate and energy bill didn't meet that goal. That bill requires 20 percent to come from renewables by 2020, but it would allow 5 percent of the requirement be met through efficiency measures rather than new renewable capacity ... The Senate version currently in legislative purgatory sets the target even lower..."

Higher standard needed to fend off China. The Hill: "The Global Wind Energy Council reported this week that China alone accounted for a third of global wind power capacity additions in 2009. ... [Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association said] 'If this isn’t the "case-closed" evidence that America must have stable renewable energy policy and hard targets in order to create jobs and revitalize our economy, I don’t know what is,' ... Bode called for enactment of a national renewable electricity standard..."

Higher standards would solve problem of weak demand. McClatchy: "The U.S. installed more wind power last year — 9,900 megawatts, or enough to power 2.4 million homes — than in any other year ... Nonetheless, wind equipment manufacturers cut as many as 2,000 jobs last year. According to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, the drop in U.S. jobs is due, in part, to the lack of a long-term national policy that would require a certain percentage of American electricity to come from renewable sources."

Flurry Of Campaign Finance Proposals

Dodd to introduce constitutional amendment to allow regulation of campaign finance. HuffPost quotes from statement: "[The amendment would] authorize Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for state and federal political campaigns, and to implement and enforce the amendment through appropriate legislation."

Bipartisan bill would force CEOs to say "I approve this message" in political ads. HuffPost: "Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Mike Castle (R-Del.) ... plan to push the 'Stand By Every Ad Act', which would force a corporate chief to issue a similar message at the end of every commercial."

NYT edit board backs legislative, not constitutional, remedies: "Require detailed disclosure ... Empower shareholders and union members to review and approve [campaign] spending ... Enact an airtight ban on foreign intrusion in federal elections..."

China May Concede On Currency

W. Post reports WH "hopeful" China will make currency concessions: "Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said Thursday that he believed China would allow its currency to appreciate vis-à-vis the dollar ... A team of U.S. officials was in Beijing last week, and the United States is pushing China to make the currency issue a central part of the two countries' Strategic and Economic Dialogue scheduled for this summer."

Calculated Risk says currency is key to boost exports: "Getting the Chinese to revalue (or float) their currency is probably critical to the U.S. achieving Obama's ambitious SOTU goal of doubling U.S. exports in the next five years."

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