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.

Deficit Hysterics Block Senate Jobs Bill, Next Steps Unclear

Super-slimmed down jobs bill filibustered in Senate by all GOPers, joined by Sens. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. HuffPost: "The 56-to-40 vote left Democrats with no clear path forward ... By the end of this week, 903,000 people who have been unemployed for longer than six months will have missed benefits checks ... 'There's still parts of it that are not funded, that are not offset,' Nelson said. 'I want to see it all offset.'"

"GOP holdout pushes deeper cut back on state aid. Politico: "[GOP Sen. Susan] Collins has said she will support some of the $24 billion [for state Medicaid funding] but would prefer a new formula that phases out the assistance over the first six months of 2011 ..."

NYT on the real world impact on the impasse: "Without action, a 21 percent cut in doctor fees paid by Medicare would take effect, raising the prospect that some physicians might refuse Medicare patients. Tens of thousands of Americans who have exhausted their jobless benefits would not be eligible for more. States counting on $24 billion in federal aid for help with health costs might have to make up the shortfall. And a host of tax breaks benefiting businesses and individuals would not be renewed. In addition, new taxes on wealthy investment managers would not be imposed, along with an increase in liability taxes on oil companies, leading Democrats to contend that Republicans were protecting Wall Street and the oil industry."

House looking to revisit health care deal with drug companies to help pay for funding to prevent teacher layoffs. Politico: "...'exclusion' payments between brand and generic manufacturers are part of a patent settlement process that companies defend as a practical means to avoid protracted legal challenges Critics, including the Federal Trade Commission, scoff at these claims and contend the payments amount to collusion ... costing consumers and government billions ... Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) won Senate Judiciary Committee approval last year of legislation to crack down on the practice ... Kohl’s legislation — if it is embraced by the House — could now have more staying power in the context of the teachers’ debate."

WH launches six-week "Recovery Summer" campaign with presidential visit to Ohio today. The Hill: "...analysts and pollsters say the 'Recovery Summer' effort, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, may be politically risky at a time when unemployment remains around 10 percent and it is not entirely clear how quickly the economy will right itself ... Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said people are experiencing the benefits of the stimulus; they just need the White House 'to connect the dots' and communicate that without it, they would be unemployed."

Welfare to work program winning praise, but will Congress extend?. Stateline: "...32 states are tapping into a $5 billion emergency fund under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare-to-work program — to help small businesses, nonprofits and public hospitals hire and train unemployed workers ... The current TANF program has subsidized only 185,000 jobs so far. But in its own limited way, it is stimulating local economies, boosting small businesses and providing opportunities for low-income workers to leave welfare ... most states took more than a year after the Recovery Act was signed in February 2009 to develop eligibility standards ... But now, as Congress considers additional funding and an extension of the program’s September 30 deadline, thousands of businesses are gearing up to hire and train new workers."

NYT's Paul Krugman, writing from Germany, bangs head against wall after tangling with deficit hysterics: "Press German officials to explain why they need to impose austerity on a depressed economy, and you get rationales that don’t add up. Point this out, and they come up with different rationales, which also don’t add up ... In America, many self-described deficit hawks are hypocrites, pure and simple ... Senator Ben Nelson, who sanctimoniously declared that we can’t afford $77 billion in aid to the unemployed, was instrumental in passing the first Bush tax cut, which cost a cool $1.3 trillion. German deficit hawkery seems more sincere. But it still has nothing to do with fiscal realism."

Calculated Risk compares Krugman's warnings against austerity with Alan Greenspan fresh call for austerity: " if on cue ... Alan Greenspan writes in the WSJ ... 'An urgency to rein in budget deficits seems to be gaining some traction among American lawmakers. If so, it is none too soon.' I believe Greenspan is flat wrong - just as he was in 2001 when he Greenspan spoke of 'an on-budget surplus of almost $500 billion ... in fiscal year 2010.'"

Debt commission co-chair Alan Simpson blows a gasket, on video, when confronted with Social Security facts from Alex Lawson. FireDogLake: "SIMPSON: We’re trying to take care of the lesser people in society and do that in a way without getting into all the flash words you love dig up, like cutting Social Security, which is bullshit. We’re not cutting anything, we’re trying to make it solvent. It’ll go broke in the year 2037. // LAWSON: What do you mean by ‘broke’? Do you mean the surplus will go out and then it will only be able to pay 75% of its benefits? // SIMPSON: Just listen, will you listen to me instead of babbling?"

No Decisions Yet For Senate Energy Bill As Rifts Widen

No Dem consensus on energy bill yet. Another caucus meeting set for next week. Politico: "Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada dedicated an hourlong session to a 'full, frank discussion' of three competing proposals for overhauling the nation’s energy policies and trimming greenhouse gas emissions. But senators spoke for so long that they had to bump back a more detailed question-and-answer session for another meeting that’s tentatively scheduled for next week ...

Senate progressives threaten to sink energy bill if there's no price put on carbon pollution. The Hill: "'It’s hard to imagine that I would support it,' said Sen. Frank Lautenberg ... [Sen. Sheldon] Whitehouse said 'it would be very challenging' ... said [Sen. Mark] Udall. 'I’m still not willing to back off, and a number of senators agree with me.' ... The CEOs of General Electric, Dow Corning and Honeywell International told nearly 20 senators that a cap on carbon emissions would fuel investment in renewable energy technologies and create new jobs across the country."

While coal-state Sen. Jay Rockefeller digs in against a carbon cap. The Hill quotes: "The Senate should be focusing on the immediate issues before us – to suspend EPA action on greenhouse gas emissions, push clean coal technologies, and tackle the Gulf oil spill ... We need to set aside controversial and more far-reaching climate proposals and work right now on energy legislation that protects our economy, protects West Virginia and improves our environment."

Grist's David Robert shreds Rockefeller's incoherence: "Congress shouldn't focus on the controversial task of regulating CO2. Instead, it should turn to blocking EPA's ability to regulate CO2 ... so that Congress, instead of a regulatory agency, can regulate CO2. But not yet. It's incoherent on its face ... I haven't seen a single 'centrist' Dem senator make a substantive case for why we shouldn't cap carbon now. They all want to avoid it because it's 'controversial' or 'doesn't have the votes.' They're all acting like pundits, commenting on Senate realities as though they are not creating those realities."

Rockefeller anti-EPA bill to get vote "this year." Politico: "Reid on Wednesday told reporters he planned to allow a floor vote this year on Rockefeller's legislation that would force a two-year freeze on EPA climate rules for power plants and other stationary sources."

Reid still aiming for a bill in July. ABC: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters after the meeting that he wouldn’t put a timeline on passing a bill. But Sen. Joe Lieberman said moments later that Reid will try to have a bill on the Senate floor in July."

Yahoo! News speculates on possibility of a partial carbon cap: "Environmentalists say it’s currently hard to imagine finding 60 votes in the Senate for a measure that puts a limit on carbon emissions. 'But without a cap, then progressives will not swallow more nuclear and drilling,' says former Energy Dept. official Joseph Romm ... without one, Uncle Sam won’t have any revenue to pay for energy provisions like increased wind and solar power. One possibility, Romm believes, would be an energy bill that includes a cap on emissions for just one sector — power plants. That’s relatively easy because the utility industry already supports emissions limits."

Sens. Cantwell and Collins push their cap-and-dividend plan in W. Post op-ed.

GOP Shakes Down Rep. Joe Barton

Rep. Joe Barton pressured by GOP leaders to retract apology to BP CEO, but other GOPers share Barton's views. LAT: "angry House Republican leaders issued a joint statement saying Barton was wrong for apologizing to BP. After fielding phone calls from unhappy Gulf Coast Republicans, they threatened to strip him of his seniority on the Energy and Commerce Committee unless he retracted his statement. Although few Republicans rushed to his defense, Barton was not alone in his criticism of Obama, reflecting a split between the party mainstream and an increasingly confrontational wing of the GOP."

W. Post's Karen Tumulty adds: "...some Republicans are having trouble bringing themselves to say anything bad about an industry that has been so good to them. It was notable that in their statement distancing themselves from Barton, House Republican leaders John A. Boehner (Ohio), Eric Cantor (Va.) and Mike Pence (Ind.) referred to the spill -- caused by the explosion of an oil rig -- as a 'natural' disaster."

EconoSpeak debunks right-wing claim that escrow fund is a "shakedown": "If we take the decline in BP equity value since the oil spill began as the market’s best guess of how much BP will ultimately pay, then the market’s price tag is closer to $100 billion. Let’s say that you and I have a disagreement as to how much I owe you with you claiming the amount is $100 and me claiming the amount is only $40. If I choose to hand you a twenty dollar bill today with the agreement that we’d settle on the rest tomorrow, could I then scream to the police that you shook me down?"

Sure his fellow Republicans pressed him to apologize (but not to resign), but that's because they knew Rep. Barton's apology to BP was not his alone: "Let’s just remember that despite his GOP colleagues calling him out, Barton’s Apology (wow, I hope that gets turned into an historic phrase made permanent in textbooks of the future) is not Barton’s alone. He is only saying out loud what Republican (and some Democratic) policies have put into practice for years."

BP escrow fund overseer Kenneth Feinberg heads to Gulf Coast today. NYT quotes: "I’m not wasting any time. These people need help.”

BP will likely pay out more than $20B, says WH enviro adviser Carol Browner, an interview with Bloomberg.

NYT analysis the President's approach to handling corporations, in the wake of the BP $20B escrow fund: "[President Obama] has cast himself as a last line of defense against market excesses that take many different forms ... But at the same moment, as his critics on the left have pointed out, Mr. Obama has been warding off calls for far more stringent regulations of the banks, hoping to win at least a modicum of business support ... Mr. Obama is betting that Republicans are also walking a fine line. That became evident Thursday as Republican leaders distanced themselves from Representative Barton’s outburst..."

Obama, at least, used his presidential power to hold BP accountable. What if he'd wielded it sooner? Alternet's Laura Flanders: "Imagine had President Obama used his power to stop government layoffs? Prod congress into some new taxes? Get Congress to raise taxes on hedge funds and commercial real estate over 15 percent for example — closer to the 35 percent taxation rate we all pay?"

What Republican office-holders have been saying in defense of BP has seriously overshadowed how little BP's CEO had to say to Congress. Ecocentric's Bryan Walsh: "He couldn't tell Congress whether there were oil plumes under the water. ... Hayward was asked about reports that oil-spill cleanup workers employed by BP weren't being given proper safety equipment — he said that BP was 'endeavoring to provide safety equipment. The closest time Hayward came to finding responsibility for what went wrong ... was when he blamed the failure of the blowout preventer ... Perhaps not coincidentally, the blowout preventer was manufactured by a company other than BP."

Rep. Bart Stupak, subcommittee chair, rips Hayward testimony on CNN: "There comes a point in time when you almost become absurd and ridiculous. Unfortunately, I think that's how Tony Hayward looked to the American people."

Taxpayers are paying BP, thanks to the Defense Department. Tomdispatch's Nick Turse: "...the Department of Defense, which has a longstanding, multi-billion dollar business relationship with BP, tells TomDispatch that it has no plans to sever current business ties or curtail future contracts with the oil giant."

Bank-Friendly Dems Love Loopholes

Bank-friendly House "New Democrats" potential obstacle to strong derivatives reform. W. Post: "...43 members of the New Democrat Coalition ... argue that the controversial measure 'would increase systemic risk ... ' ... Opposition from the group, which has voiced support for much of the financial overhaul package, presents a potential hurdle..."

62 House Dems push to keep its auto dealer exemption to new consumer protections. Wonk Room's Pat Garofalo retorts: "...the notion that the House bill is a 'compromise' is absurd. There is no middle ground here. Auto dealers either have to follow the consumer regulator’s rules or they don’t, and the House language makes the latter the standard ... auto finance is a market ripe for deceptive and abusive practices."

Rortybomb warns that some Dems may be working with hedge funds to create Volcker Rule loophole: "...what are Democrats doing fighting for State Street’s ability to put a hedge fund and shadow bank right in the middle of their crucial, boring custodial business? Did they like the business model of AIG and State Street, and the subsequent bailouts, so much they want to do it all over again?"

Agreement of Fed audits, no agreement on resolution authority. NYT: "House and Senate negotiators agreed Thursday to broaden the scope of a new set of audits of the Federal Reserve by the Government Accountability Office to include transactions involving the Fed’s discount window and open market operations. But the Federal Reserve dodged attempts to extend Congressional review over its monetary policy decisions ... House members also wrestled Thursday with a subject that has been a sticking point in both houses of Congress during the months of trying to develop a regulatory bill: what agency would have the authority to liquidate a failing financial company, and how money would be provided for the liquidation."

Global Deficit Hysteria Threatens G-20 Summit

Obama warns world leaders of economic disunity before G-20 summit. W. Post: "[In a leaked letter to world leaders,] Obama referred -- sometimes elliptically but still unmistakably -- to a lengthening list of disagreements among the G-20 group of nations, including China's overvalued currency and Europe's suddenly aggressive budget-cutting."

A new report makes the case for a financial speculation tax, in advance of next week's G-20 summit. AFL-CIO Blog's James Parks: "The study by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) shows, for example, that had a tax of just 0.25 percent on securities trades been in place during the 20 minutes of the wildest stock trading on May 6, it would have generated $142 million in revenue. ... The study notes that a financial speculation tax on insurance giant AIG’s $440 billion worth of risky credit swaps would have amounted to as much as $1.1 billion in taxes, enough to cover the annual salaries of more than 20,000 elementary school teachers."

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