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 Dems Convene To Chart Energy Course

Graham makes a pitch for carbon cap on utilities, Obama reaches out to GOP, as Reid expresses flexibility before Dem caucus meeting today. Politico: "...Reid will give the entire 59-member Senate Democratic Caucus a chance to air its views on the energy and climate debate, with Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Maria Cantwell of Washington each taking 10 minutes at the start ... Reid said he’ll spend the next couple of weeks sifting through the ideas ahead of a floor debate that had been scheduled for July but that now seems to be slipping ... Obama spoke by phone Wednesday morning with both Kerry and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), author of a bill that promotes energy efficiency but stops short of a carbon limit. The president also invited a broader bipartisan group — Sens. Kerry, Graham, Bingaman, Lugar, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — to the White House next Wednesday ... Graham also joined Maine GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe in urging Obama to consider a cap on emissions from the utility sector, leaving out any limits for transportation or trade-sensitive manufacturers..."

GOP Sen. Scott Brown tells President he's a "no" on a carbon cap, further lowering expectations. The Hill: "Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), a crucial Republican swing vote, met with President Barack Obama on Wednesday and told him he would not support a cap-and-trade plan or carbon fee to limit greenhouse gas emissions ... A senior Democratic senator said Obama knows the chances of passing climate change legislation are slim and wants to avoid a public failure ... '...I am very excited about working with him in a bipartisan manner to come up with a comprehensive energy plan to address a whole host of issues: wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, geothermal, conservation, incentivizing businesses, providing grants and loans to our businesses,' Brown said."

Renewable energy companies pushing for extensions of stimulus "loan, grant and tax credit programs." CQ: "...lawmakers may be constrained by members’ reluctance to offset the cost of new energy tax credits by paring tax breaks for more conventional energy sources."

BP CEO faces Congress today. Ecocentric's Bryan Walsh raises the key questions for him to answer: "Why did the Deepwater Horizon accident happen? ... Why can't BP stop the leak? ... Why is BP lying? ... What's wrong with the cleanup? ... Why haven't you resigned?"

BP may care about the "small people," but conservatives care even more about the big corporations. Daily Kos' Jed Lewison: "Even as President Obama and his administration were working out the final details of a $20 billion escrow fund for compensating victims of BP's oil spill, Republicans were crying foul, saying that the escrow fund was unfair and and overly harsh. Leading off the crazy was Michele Bachmann, who called the escrow fund a 'redistribution of wealth fund.' ... Not to be outdone, Missisippi Governor Haley Barbour — a potential 2012 contender — said the escrow fund was overly harsh, and could cause BP so much economic pain that it wouldn't be able to offer victims any compensation whatsoever."

Tea Party leader Dick Armey stands up for BP. W. Post: "... Richard Armey rebuked President Obama on Wednesday for improperly assuming the authority to hold BP accountable for damages related to the oil spill ... ' what constitutional authority does the president of the United States say, "I will decide what redress will be made to the victims of this catastrophe... ."'"

"BP Plc was struggling to seal cracks in its Macondo well as far back as February, more than two months before an explosion killed 11 and spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico," reports Bloomberg.

Constant spills from Nigerian oil wells that power our country have destroyed theirs. NYT: "The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are long since lifeless ... How much of the spillage is due to oil thieves or to sabotage linked to the militant movement active in the Niger Delta, and how much stems from poorly maintained and aging pipes, is a matter of fierce dispute among communities, environmentalists and the oil companies."

Environmental Defense Fund employs "Glee" to launch campaign to press Senate to "unleash our clean energy future."

Jobs Bill Blocked As Deficit Hysteria Grips Senate

Loss on Senate floor prompts Dems to scale back scaled-back bill. Bloomberg: "The new plan cuts the bill’s costs by reducing unemployment benefits, increasing taxes on oil companies and shortening a reprieve for doctors from cuts in their Medicare payments ... 11 Democrats and Connecticut independent Joseph Lieberman joined 40 Republicans to block the previous version because it would have added almost $80 billion of debt ... Lawmakers trimmed weekly unemployment benefits by $25 to an average $310, a move that proponents estimated would save $6 billion."

W. Post's Ezra Klein reminds the deficit hysterics that you don't stimulate with deficit spending: "Unemployment may be at 9.7%, but the Senate is moving on. Or, at the least, they care about the deficit more ... '$77 billion or more of this is not paid for,' said Sen. Ben Nelson, 'and that translates into deficit spending and adding to the debt, and the American people are right: We've got to stop doing that.' No, sir, they're wrong, and we don't ... increasing the size of the deficit isn't some nasty side effect of stimulus spending. It is, quite literally, the point of the enterprise."

HuffPost's Arthur Delaney notes that attacks on jobless aid extensions, included in the bill, are rising: "Lurking beneath deficit concerns, for both Republicans and even some Democrats, is the suspicion that extended unemployment benefits discourage job-seeking. Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) said last Thursday, for instance, that extended unemployment benefits are 'too much of an allure' for people to look for work. Even Senate Democrats who voted in favor of the bill, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), are starting to look toward winding down the programs ... no help is forthcoming from Congress for the 99ers, the several million people who will have exhausted all available benefits by the end of the year."

AFL-CIO's Tula Connell reminds how many people are still suffering from long-term unemployment: "In May, some 6.8 million U.S. workers were out of a job for 27 weeks or longer, up from 4 million a year ago. More than 250,000 people a week are losing their unemployment benefits ... If Congress fails to act on the jobs bill and allows federal UI to expire, 8.2 million workers will exhaust their benefits by the end of 2010."

France succumbs to deficit hysteria. TIme: "Up until now, France has been one of the few nations to decry such frugality, echoing the arguments of Nobel Prize-winning economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman who have said that slashing public spending before confirmed recovery is the best recipe for pushing sputtering economies back into recession ... the government will raise income taxes on wealthier workers and on capital gains by 1% — an ideological surrender in part aimed at warding off criticism from leftists that the burden of retirement reorganization falls primarily on the mass of less affluent wage earners who will now be forced to stay in work longer."

Fresh Support For Derivatives Firewall

St. Louis Fed president backs Senate derivatives firewall. HuffPost: "James Bullard, the St. Louis Fed chief, joins Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher and Thomas Hoenig, who heads the Kansas City Fed, as the three Fed officials who publicly support the provision .."

Fed audit compromise may be strengthened. HuffPost: "The Senate will accept an expanded Federal Reserve audit proposal from the House as part of Wall Street conference committee deliberations, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) told the panel Wednesday evening. The House proposal allows repeated future audits of discount window and open market transactions, whereas the Senate proposal had only allowed a one-time audit ... Fed critics are worried the House proposal will still allow the Fed to keep information secret by keeping certain operations ongoing."

Conferees revisit bank fund to pay for orderly bankruptcies. CQ: "Derided by Republicans as a bailout kitty, but hailed by many Democrats as a buffer protecting taxpayers, the so-called resolution fund was one of the most hotly contested provisions of the bill ... Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., plans to ask Senate members of the panel to reconsider the concept on Thursday ... it will be a tall task for Frank to persuade Senate conferees to agree to the resolution fund that House members prefer."

Sen. Durbin willing to tweak limits on debit card swipe fees to satisfy state governments. CQ: "State governments have raised concerns that the provision, which Durbin wrote, could negatively affect programs for the elderly and poor, who use prepaid cards to access benefits. Durbin said that his amendment was never intended to affect these programs and that he was working on language that would exclude them from the provision covering debit card use."

Durbin faces furious bank lobby effort to maintain high swipe fees. The Hill: "Durbin has been aided in the fight by a strong lobbying effort from merchants and retail interests ... banks and credit unions have waged a massive effort against the provision ... Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Kenny Marchant (R-Texas), meanwhile, are organizing lawmakers in opposition. They released a letter on Wednesday citing 'grave concerns' with the legislation and said it would 'devastate' community banks and credit unions. The letter is signed by 131 House members, including 71 Democrats and 60 Republicans..."

Philly Fed president argues bill does not have strict enough rules to end "too-big-to-fail." HuffPost: "...Plosser repeated his call for a new bankruptcy-like process to resolve large, complex financial firms on the verge of failure. Market participants need firm rules and procedures, he argued, echoing a view voiced by [KC Fed president] Hoenig. Relying on regulators won't be enough."

House conservatives on conference committee attack attempts to rein in Wall Street executive pay. Wonk Room's Pat Garofalo: "The House bill institutionalizes 'say on pay' (which guarantees shareholders a non-binding vote on their companies pay package), requires compensations committees to be independent, and gives federal bank regulators the ability to regulate pay packages at financial institutions that lead to undue and unreasonable risk. The House Republicans on the conference committee oppose these measures, and have evidently decided that the best way to denigrate them is to associate them with a 'bailout,' while falsely claiming that they will affect the Christmas bonuses of janitors and bank tellers."

House ethics probe looking at members who held fundraisers just before House financial reform vote. W. Post: "Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) held a 'Finance Services luncheon' at the Capitol Hill Club on Dec. 10. On the same day, a lobby firm with financial clients, Davis & Harman, hosted a fundraising breakfast for Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) at its Pennsylvania Avenue offices. [Rep. Mel] Watt held a Dec. 9 fundraiser and soon after withdrew a proposal he had introduced to subject auto dealers to tougher regulations..."

Another conference committee session today. W. Post previews: "On deck for Thursday ... measures that would limit the amount of leverage at certain firms, give regulators authority to break up companies that pose threats to the financial system, and establish an industry-paid fund that could be tapped to liquidate large and troubled firms. Possible amendments also include a proposal by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that would forbid companies that have received significant government aid, such as American International Group and General Motors, from hiring lobbyists."

Pressure Ratches Up On China Before G-20

Congress prepares to act on China currency manipulation after next week's G-20 meeting. NYT: "'The administration constructively set the G-20 meeting as an important juncture for China to change its inflexible currency practices,' Representative Sander M. Levin ... said Wednesday. 'If China does not act and the administration does not respond promptly thereafter, the Congress will act.'"

Dean Baker notes reports of higher Chinese wages are a good thing: "USA Today reported that higher wages for Chinese workers could mean higher prices for U.S. imports for China. While the paper reported this as bad news, this is exactly the process through which the U.S. corrects its trade imbalance. There is no other way."

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