Archive for November, 2009
By Caren Turner – CEO , Turner Government and Public Affairs
With the political conversation being completely dominated by health care and banking reform, someone on Capitol Hill has finally said what I’ve been longing to hear for months.
That someone was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who during a meeting of his Democratic colleagues earlier this week announced plans to “take up” a new jobs creation bill.
On the heels of Reid’s announcement came word that the White House is hosting a “jobs forum” in December.
It is about time. Let’s be sure that the “forum”, typically an exchange of ideas, has a more concrete outcome than the myriad of job “fairs” that are springing up around the nation.
I was beginning to wonder whether anyone on the Hill or in the White House was paying attention to what’s happening out here on Main Street America.
Don’t look now, but everyone is out of work.
Well, maybe not everyone, but it sure feels like it.
In October the national unemployment rate officially hit 10.2 percent with nearly 16 million people out of work. Some economist say the real rate of unemployment is in the neighborhood of 17 percent when you factor in folks who have simply given up looking for a job.
Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the ranks of the unemployed have swollen by 8.2 million and the unemployment rate has gone up by 5.3 percentage points, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There’s no denying that health care reform is important as is fixing the abuses on Wall Street. But with the jobless rate the worst it has been in a quarter-century, putting Americans to work is the No. 1 priority.
If you don’t agree consider the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia where Republicans took back those statehouses. Voters in both states rated “jobs and the economy” as their top issue.
I believed the President and Democratic leaders when they promised that the $787 billion stimulus package passed at the start of the year, would save or create 3.5 million jobs. And, that well might be the case once all the money is spent and the funded projects are up and running. But so far the White House can only point to about 640,000 jobs being saved or created. That is nearly the number of jobs we have been losing each MONTH of 2009.
That just doesn’t cut it. The vote of the American people, coupled with recent national polls tell us the population has had enough!
- Enough with relying solely on business tax credits or investments in green technologies to spark hiring and create jobs. Those initiatives will most likely bear fruit in the long-run, but America needs to return to work now.
- Enough with touting the “indicators” such as stock market gains. Most of us don’t have a 7, 8 or 9 figure nest egg secreted away in the stock market and we are not benefiting from the stock market increase. Moreover, most of us realize that stock market gains usually means company profits are up as a result of a severely reduced labor force. (You know, those with jobs need to work twice as hard in order to keep them).
- Enough with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Again, nice in theory, but for the most part the funds are stuck in red tape at every level of government. Only 13% of the ARRA funds have been received.
- Enough with extending unemployment benefits. Preventing job loss is cheaper medicine than extending unemployment.
I know for some the term “make work” is scary. But what should be more frightening is the prospect of ever increasing unemployment. The unrest, malaise, anger, foreclosures are increasing in direct proportion to job losses. It must be addressed immediately.
It’s time to use our tax dollars to hire people to do the jobs that will create long term and immediate growth. Get the money out of ARRA, start building those brides and high speed rail. Establish weekly metrics and deadlines for job creation and release of funding. While some have suggested school painting and park clean ups, we prefer a blend of those type of short term projects with the long term, strategic projects.
It has worked before. Think New Deal and its WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps programs. Not only were the economic benefits significant but the psychological boost it gave Americans was incalculable.
You don’t have to leaf through the pages of a history book to see a more recent example of our government taking direct action to meet the economic needs of Main Street.
For most of the summer Americans excitedly watched as cars disappeared from auto lots and showed up in their driveways and those of their neighbors. According to researchers the $3 billion rebate program resulted in an estimated 700,000 new vehicles being sold.
The program was an immediate shot in the arm for consumers, local dealerships, the auto industry and for states’ budgets that saw roughly $875 million in sales tax revenue generated. It has been estimated that the overall impact of the program was north of $25 billion.
There is currently no bigger Clunker than the American economy.
It’s time that Congress and the White House get serious and creative about creating jobs and putting people back to work.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 12 so far )
By Scott Orr
With the 2009 election in the rear view mirror, two clear questions emerge: Do decisive Republican victories in two key gubernatorial races mean the Obama honeymoon is over? And, what do the results say about the mood of the American electorate looking forward to 2010?
A year after they sent Obama to the White House as the candidate of change, American voters again opted for change in a pair of states Obama carried in 2008. In New Jersey they rejected Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine in favor of Republican Chris Christie, while Virginians chose to end Democratic control by choosing Republican Bob McDonnell over Creigh Deeds.
Two things are certain: Republicans, emboldened by the wins, will continue to chip away at the Obama agenda, starting with his costly health care reform and economic recovery programs; and, by the time you read this, both parties will already have moved on to what promises to be a tantalizing and revealing 2010 election cycle.
“I don’t think it’s so much a referendum on the president. It certainly is, I think, a checkpoint on the policies,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said during an election post mortem with reporters.
“Certainly, the president has put forth policies that are…controversial, but I think out of the mainstream of where America is. America doesn’t want the federal government running its health care. America doesn’t want the federal government buying its cars for it and telling them what cars to drive. America doesn’t want the federal government running its banks,” Steele said.
The White House, meanwhile, dismissed the results saying voters reacted as they always do the year after presidential elections in rejecting the party of the candidate they endorsed just one year earlier.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that Obama did not see the results as an early sign that Americans had soured on his presidency. “People went to the polls and voted on local issues not to either register support for or opposition to the president,” he said.
Outgoing Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the Democratic National Committee Chairman, expressed similar feelings: “In exit polls in both Virginia and New Jersey, strong majorities of citizens said their vote was based on local issues and was not at all connected with their views of the president. When they were asked then about their views of the president in exit polls in both states, they had good things to say about their approval of the way he was handling his job.”
Still, there are implications as the 2009 election year gives way to the much more critical 2010 cycle in which the House and one-third of the Senate will be decided by voters.
“The common denominator in (Virginia and New Jersey) is that independent-minded voters rejected the Democrats’ super-majority in Washington and elected candidates who made fiscal responsibility a key mantra of their campaigns. Watching their party hemorrhage independent voters should send shivers down the spines of Democrat strategists as they look ahead to Senate elections next year,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Cornyn could be right about that, especially considering the success opposition party candidates historically have enjoyed in elections, like the 2010 races, that come two years after presidential polling.
Still, the Republicans have their work cut out for them in uniting conservatives with the party’s more moderate wing. How well the GOP bridges the gap between its left and right flanks could determine if it can regain lost ground in Congress. Especially competitive are races already taking shape for Senate seats in Nevada, Colorado, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
Democrats too face daunting questions, particularly on Capitol Hill where moderate Democrats may be beginning to question the political benefits of sticking with Obama on the bedrock issue of his presidency: the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and health care reform.
Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia political scientist and author, urged caution in reading too much into the New Jersey and Virginia results. Sabato analyzed the results of gubernatorial elections in the two states between 1965 and 2005 and found “no support for the belief that the Virginia and New Jersey results predict what will happen across the entire nation next year or that these elections constituted referenda on President Obama’s performance.”
But Democratic pollster Peter Hart, in a memo to clients that was quoted in the Washington Post, said the two states have foretold significant changes in the make-up of Congress, but only in years the public also was dissatisfied with Washington, like the 1979-80 and 1973-74 cycles.
In the current environment, Hart said, Democrats must fear “the disappointment and disgust the American public feels toward Washington” heading into 2010.
So, with the 2010 campaign now joined, both parties have reason to make an early and committed leap into the fray. It promises to be a busy year for politicians and an empowering one for voters.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
By Carl Chancellor
The recent attack on Fort Hood that left 13 dead and scores wounded, means lawmakers will increase their focus on the need to spend more money to keep America safe, says Caren Turner, CEO of Turner Government Public Affairs.
Just days prior to the Fort Hood shootings, President Obama signed the Defense Department’s $680 billion budget blueprint for fiscal 2010. The authorization bill includes $550 billion for the DOD and the national security programs of the Department of Energy, along with $130 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also allows the Pentagon to increase its intelligence services.
However, the bill marks a major shift in defense spending, moving away from big-ticket weapons programs to funding for more troops and equipment for fighting small conflicts.
In signing the bill the President stressed efforts to kill or trim costly weapons contracts–including the F-22 fighter and the Army’s Future Combat System.
“This bill is an important step forward, but it is just a first step. There’s still more waste we need to cut,” said the President.
The annual defense authorization bill falls under the House and Senate armed services committees and is one of two bills required for the Department of Defense to spend money. The other is the appropriations bill crafted by the appropriation committees of the House and Senate, which provides funding to pay for the programs specified in the authorization bill.
Turner noted that under the Congressional budget process, once the authorization is signed into law, funding for the agencies, programs, and activities is then provided separately in the annual appropriation spending bill. The process requires that the House and Senate versions of the appropriation bill be reconciled and the final version sent to both bodies for approval before going to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
Turner said as lawmakers evaluate the defense authorization bill and decide on spending measures, it is a certainty that the events at Fort Hood will be part of the conversation.
The question before Congress now is how to allocate funding: To equipment or domestic security?Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
By Carl Chancellor
On the heels of the one year anniversary of the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) unveiled a banking reform bill that would create a super-regulator for banks, protect consumers and limit the fallout of a bank deemed “too big to fail.” Click here to read Dodd’s bill.
In a word Dodd’s 1,136-page bill is –bold.
Introduced on Nov. 10, the bill would strip the Federal Reserve of much of its oversight authority and shift those responsibilities to three new agencies that would be charged with policing banks, protecting consumers and dismantling failing financial institutions.
Dodd’s banking overhaul plan goes farther than both the plans being proposed by the Obama administration and the House.
“This is not the time for timidity,” said Dodd, who called the Fed’s record of protecting consumers and regulating bank holding companies “an abysmal failure.”
Dodd said his bill “will create a new architecture to make our financial institutions more transparent, more responsible and more accountable to the American people…It will address the problems of the past, and look forward to the needs of the future.”
According to the Associated Press, Dodd’s bill would:
- Create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to protect consumers using credit cards, taking out home loans as well as address predatory lending.
- Consolidate federal supervision of banks under a “Financial Institutions Regulatory Administration.”
- Abolish the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision, and strip the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Fed of their bank supervision duties.
- Create an “Agency for Financial Stability” that would enforce new rules and dismantle complex financial firms if they threaten the broader economy.
- Regulate privately traded derivatives, hedge funds and other private pools of capital so that regulators have a sense of how much risk is being assumed by financial firms.
- Impose new rules on investment rating agencies.
- Limit the Fed’s ability to provide emergency loans to mostly healthy institutions, instead of failing firms.
The Senate Banking Committee is expected to begin voting on the measure and alternations to it during the first week of December.
Caren Turner, CEO of Turner Governmental Public Affairs, said Dodd’s bill moves the country “one step closer to much needed comprehensive financial reform.”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
It was 11:15 p.m. on Nov. 7 when a razor-thin and overwhelmingly Democratic majority of 220 House members voted to approve a mammoth White House backed health care reform package. But as historic as the vote was said to have been, the House action could turn out to be the easy part.
The vote was 220-215, with 219 Democrats and Republican Rep. Anh Cao of Louisiana backing the bill and 176 Republicans and 39 Democrats opposing it. But to say the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate could be an understatement.
“The House bill is dead on arrival in the Senate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, echoing the feelings of many Republican lawmakers in the upper body which has yet to sanction any health care reform legislation. Graham said many senators “are not going to get anywhere near the House bill,” which he described as “written by liberals for liberals.”
Such opinions hardly swayed President Obama, who called on the Senate to accept the House measure “to finally confront the challenges that Washington had been putting off for decades.”
“Most public servants pass through their entire careers without a chance to make as important a difference in the lives of their constituents and the life of this country. This is their moment, this is our moment, to live up to the trust that the American people have placed in us — even when it’s hard; especially when it’s hard. This is our moment to deliver,” Obama said.
According to a recent poll by the Gallup Organization, more than half of Americans, 55 percent, trusted President Obama to get health care right. The same poll found 48 percent trusted Democrats in Congress while only 37 percent trusted congressional Republicans.
Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has his work cut out for him in amassing the 60 votes needed for a filibuster-proof majority as Senate Democrats have failed to reach a consensus on one of the hottest issues to arrive on Capitol Hill in years. Among the highest hurdles he faces is the so-called public option, which was revived and inserted into the Senate draft two weeks ago.
Though Reid continues to push for early action on the bill, perhaps before Thanksgiving, he acknowledged recently that the package is so controversial the Senate may not be able to act until next year. And that’s not even considering the ample time that will be needed to reconcile the Senate and House packages.
Still, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs has been asked repeatedly if a year-end deadline is realistic: “Let me do this just so I’m clear, all right?…The president wants to sign health care before the end of the year,” he said emphatically.
Besides the public option, under which the federal government would offer premium-based health care insurance that would compete with private insurance companies, senators continue to balk at the bill’s anticipated price tag estimated at around a trillion dollars.
The inclusion of the public option could be enough to scare off some Democrats and any potential Republican defectors. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who supported a Democratic draft of the bill in committee, has said she will not support the public option language.
The Senate’s working draft differs from the House passed bill on cost, taxation and abortion, three issues that are sure to draw the attention of senators, and their constituents, as the bill advances. Meanwhile, senators are being deluged by calls from constituents on both sides of the issue. Want to put your two cents in? Call you senator.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )