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.

Jobs Tax Credit Advances On Bipartisan Vote

NYT on successful Senate procedural vote for jobs tax credit bill: "The 62-to-30 vote ... cleared the way for the Senate to vote Wednesday to approve the measure ... But it is not clear whether the House, which has backed a broader approach, will go along without making substantial changes ... [The] $13 billion plan [will] give companies who hire unemployed Americans an exemption from paying payroll taxes on those workers through the end of this year. It also provides a $1,000 tax credit to employers who keep new workers on the payroll for at least for 52 weeks."

W. Post on the limited scope of the bill: "Democrats tout the plan as a simple way to create tens of thousands of new jobs, though some experts dismiss it as too narrow to make a significant dent in the nation's unemployment rate."'s Bill Scher highlights how little bipartisanship can accomplish: "While we need to create 402,000 jobs a month for three years just to dig out of the jobs hole created by the recession, the only thing new in this bill is a small tax credit for businesses that hire the unemployed, which in a best-case estimate would yield about 28,000 jobs a month ... if all bipartisanship produces are bills that fall short, bills like today's, all bipartisanship will give us is failure."

GOP Sen. Voinovich's support secured with significant transportation pledge. W. Post: "Voinovich ... said he agreed to back the bill after getting a commitment from Reid 'that he will bring the reauthorization of a multi-year surface transportation bill to the floor for a vote this year.'"

GOP Sen. Snowe's support hinged on future small biz action. Politico: "[Snowe] explained to the president how important it was to extend a series of expired tax breaks and other provisions that help companies who have only a few employees ... After Snowe cast her ‘aye’ ballot ... Reid approached her on the floor ... he suggested he plans to incorporate her initiatives in the future jobs bills he wants to bring to the floor..."

Politico's Ben Smith analyzes Sen. Scott Brown's yes vote: "He's choosing a shot at re-election in Massachusetts -- and a lot of power in the Senate -- over conservative stardom..."

Black Caucus fails to secure provision steering aid to low-income areas. W. Post: "When the House passed its $154 billion version in December, it did not include a request from black lawmakers that 10 percent of the money in each of its provisions go to communities where at least 20 percent of the people are low-income. The [Senate] version of the package ... does not include the 10 percent formula, nor does it include the additional funding for youth employment programs that is in the House bill."

"Senate Democratic leaders plan to move a 15-day extension this week of several soon-to-expire programs, including unemployment benefits," reports CQ.'s Mike Elk lambastes: "...hundreds of thousands of people will still receive notices from state unemployment offices saying that they will stop receiving aid ... This will cause people to miss required steps for applying for benefits, such as documenting applying for jobs. Others will become confused and simply not file for benefits anymore ... states already broke will waste lots of money sending out confusing notices, first to say that unemployment benefits were canceled, then to say their benefits are restored, then to say they are about to be canceled again."

Senate jobs bill lacks aid to state governments, while state tax revenues nosedive. NYT: "...state tax collections shrank at the end of 2009 for a fifth consecutive quarter, the longest period of continuing state revenue declines since at least the Great Depression... With less tax money coming into state treasuries and expenses for programs like Medicaid continuing to mount, many states will probably be forced to consider further tax increases, spending cuts and layoffs..."

Regional Fed prez warns of sluggish recovery. HuffPost: "...even as the economy starts to grow again, employers are likely to continue squeezing more productivity out of workers rather than start hiring new ones, thereby prolonging the economic crisis for the millions of unemployed. In remarks at the University of San Diego, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President Janet Yellen said ... the economy will continue to be sluggish and won't be operating at its full potential until 2013."

Democrats amping up attacks on stimulus hypocrites. NYT: "Party officials say they have identified 120 Republicans lawmakers and governors who they see as engaging in double talk on the issue. They plan to enlist party organizations and activists to push the theme via the Internet, beginning with a web ad. But Democrats say a television or radio commercial is not out of the question."

WH Lays Groundwork For "Up Or Down" Vote On Health Care

Bloomberg reports on possibility for simple majority vote on health care: "Obama’s proposals to expand coverage to millions of uninsured Americans may qualify for a parliamentary maneuver that would allow Senate Democrats to circumvent Republican opposition and pass the measure with a simple majority, said lawmakers. Administration officials didn’t reject the idea. 'The American people deserve an up-or-down vote on health reform, and this package is designed to provide us the flexibility to achieve that' should Republicans try to block the bill, [said] Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director..."

President tweaked Senate bill for his summit offer. W. Post: "Obama's proposal takes the more modest Senate bill as his basic framework. But, in what is perhaps his proposal's most notable feature, he scales back the Senate bill's main revenue source, a tax on high-cost insurance that he has strongly supported. Instead, he would impose a new tax on the unearned income of the wealthy. He would expand subsidies to help working-class and middle-class families afford coverage. To win over some of the bill's strongest skeptics -- seniors and state officials -- he would expand the Medicare drug benefit for seniors and Medicaid assistance for budget-strapped states."

GOP in attack mode, though Congressional Dems don't immediately endorse WH proposal either. Politico: "Republicans called it a retread of the same bills Americans have panned, even though it included some GOP ideas ... Democrats and labor unions didn’t rush to embrace it, either, with some disappointed by the absence of a public insurance option."

Bipartisan ideas despite little hope of bipartisan votes. Time's Kate Pickert: "In a sign of how little value Obama places on Republican votes at this point — or how unobtainable he believes them to be — the White House reform plan includes a large new tax on unearned income ... [But] the reform plan Democrats appear to have settled on closely resembles the most bipartisan version developed throughout the past year: the Senate Finance Committee bill ... Though the notorious bipartisan Gang of Six disbanded before the final bill was written, the basic structure of the legislation was developed with Republican input."

Paul Krugman blesses Obama's health care reform plan:: "Since the House bill is better than the Senate bill, and the Senate bill is much better than nothing, this should be a go."

Sen. Rockefeller throws cold water on final push for public option. HuffPost quotes: "I don't think the timing of it is very good ... I'm probably not going to vote for that, although I'm strongly for the public option ... we really need as much bipartisan[ship] ... as possible."

In These Times' Art Levine reports Howard Dean urging Medicare buy-in be considered in a simple majority vote strategy: "Dean may be adopting a new pragmatic tone by describing the Medicare expansion as 'a form of a public option,' but it's not as sweeping a goal as the drive by the organization he founded..."

Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal finds drug lobby deal no longer operative: "The White House’s new proposal contains deeper cost cuts than previously agreed to and contains regulations on the relationship between brand-name and generic drug companies that the industry opposes."

Insurance lobby grumpy. WSJ: "The Obama administration's proposal to create a federal body to oversee insurance premiums drew fire Monday from insurers, which contended it would do little to contain spending and could ruin some companies."

Booman says Republicans attending President Obama's health care summit are falling into a well deserved trap: "If they engage seriously during the summit, embracing the premise that reform needs to pass, they'll enrage their base beyond description. But if they petulantly refuse to accept the premise and keep repeating their mantra that the American people have already rejected reform, they'll come off exactly the way the White House wants them to come off. And then the Democrats will have renewed momentum for passing a bill under reconciliation rules."

At Tapped, Paul Waldman takes on Republicans' claim that Americans have "rejected" the president's health care reform plan, as most of it's provisions remain popular: "The ones that aren't popular are the things you wish you didn't have to do, but you have to in order to make the system work ... In the poll's language, these involve "imposing fines" and "imposing a tax" respectively — very distasteful to voters, as the data show. Nevertheless, all the other provisions are extremely popular (even the public option, which isn't actually in the president's plan)." W. Post's Behind The Numbers details the strong polling for specific provisions.

HCAN's Jason Rosenbaum catches up with participants of "Melanie's March": "Melanie's March - the 135 mile, 8 day trek health insurance company survivors are taking from Philadelphia to Washington, DC ... continues, with the marchers moving through Delaware and into Maryland ... Only a few more days until they arrive in DC, where we'll be holding a gigantic rally for them and to make sure Congress hears their message. If you live in the DC area, please join us on February 24th! Click here for details."

EPA Reassures/Warns Coal-State Dems on Climate Action

EPA seeks to reassure coal-state Dems it will go slow on climate regs. NYT: "The E.P.A.’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wrote in a letter to eight coal-state Democrats who have sought a moratorium on regulation that only the biggest sources of greenhouse gases would be subjected to limits before 2013. Smaller ones would not be regulated before 2016, she said.

Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard sees EPA maintaining threat of reg action if Congress fails to pass carbon cap: "The Obama administration on Monday sent an ultimatum to the Senate: regulate carbon dioxide this year, or we'll do it for you ... senators may be forced to decide whether they are going to get to work on a new law, or block the EPA from doing its job."

Wonk Room's Brad Johnson sees EPA weakening its rules: "Jackson’s proposed 'tailoring' rule would have limited permitting requirements to emitters of 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, instead of the automatic statutory amount of 250 tons. The 25,000-ton threshold covers only 14,000 industrial pollution sources nationwide, 11,000 of which are currently covered by the Clean Air Act permitting requirements already."

Wonk Room also notes Sen. Rockefeller not reassured by EPA timetable. Quotes from statement: "...this is good progress but I am concerned it may not go far enough. I believe we need to set in stone through legislation enough time for Congress to consider a comprehensive energy bill."

GOP Sen. Murkowski renews EPA attack. Politico: "...Jackson's statement didn't go far enough for some critics. 'While the delay in implementation is a small forced step in the right direction, the Clean Air Act continues to be the wrong tool for the job,' Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski said ... Murkowski and three Democratic co-sponsors hope to bring a resolution to the Senate floor in the next month that would veto the EPA rule altogether."

Huge Energy Dept. loan guarantee for solar power plant. NYT: "The [$1.37B] loan guarantee for BrightSource Energy of Oakland, Calif., is the largest the department has given for a solar power project. BrightSource’s planned project, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is the first utility-scale solar power plant to undergo licensing in California in nearly two decades. It would use solar thermal technology, in which mirrors concentrate sunlight to heat a fluid and generate steam. If built, it would be the largest of its kind ... The plant, to be built by Bechtel, is expected to create 1,000 construction jobs."

Sen. Bingaman opposes Sen. Graham's proposal to loosen definition of "clean" energy in any renewable energy standard. The Hill: "'Sen. Bingaman has not changed his mind,' Bingaman spokesman Bill Wicker said in an e-mail. 'While he has consistently supported nuclear power and clean coal technology, he realizes that these energy sources are not renewable.'"

Energy Dept. to investigate Wall Street gas price manipulation. The Hill quotes Sec. Chu: "“We are going to be undergoing studies to try and find out how much has the volatility been increased by large financial institutions taking positions ... Certainly the volatility of the price seems to be far in excess of demand and supply."

New Credit Card Rules Strengthen Need For Consumer Agency

LAT on new push for Consumer Financial Protection Agency to enforce new credit card rules: " New federal credit card rules that took effect Monday outlaw the most egregious industry practices, such as retroactive interest rate increases and hidden fees, that have cost customers billions of dollars a year. But Obama administration officials and consumer advocates said the landmark provisions needed to be followed by the creation of a regulatory agency that can ensure that the new standards are enforced and that can quickly rein in any new unfair fees or practices."

Banks still want to exploit their credit card customers. NYT: "As the government cracks down on the way banks charge fees for overspending on debit cards, the industry is mounting an aggressive campaign aimed at keeping billions of dollars in penalty income flowing into its coffers. Chase and other banks are preparing a full-court marketing blitz ... to urge consumers to keep their overdraft service turned on."

Will Debt Commission Lean Pro-Austerity?

The Hill takes early speculation on WH debt commission names as "centrist" sign: "Alice Rivlin, President Bill Clinton’s budget director from 1994 to 1996, is being considered ... [She] would join former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) ... All three had a hand in deficit reduction moves during the 1990s ... Obama’s effort to stock the panel with centrists appears aimed at paving the way for compromises between current Democratic and Republican lawmakers ... Obama is also 'strongly considering' appointing to the panel Honeywell CEO and Chairman David Cote and Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) ... Cote helped make the case for Obama’s $787 billion stimulus to the business community last year ... The SEIU’s Stern and other union leaders had joined liberal groups in opposing a version of the fiscal commission pushed by Senate centrists."

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