Economy & Budget

Republicans must stop playing politics with unemployment benefits (Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand)

More than 7,000 people across the country are losing their unemployment benefits every single day because Republicans are playing politics. Hardworking, middle class families, who are already cutting coupons and squeezing pennies to make ends meet, are now going to have the last strand of the safety net pulled right out from under them, simply because Republicans are obstructing progress.

Last week, the majority of my colleagues and I moved twice to extend unemployment benefits for millions of hardworking Americans who have been laid off and unable to find work in this difficult economy. These are our families, our friends, our neighbors. We all know someone who has been thrown into this situation.

But rather than do what is right, Republicans did what was politically convenient, twice blocking the extension in an effort to derail other economic recovery programs.


The Big Question: Does Obama deserve much criticism for his Katrina recovery efforts?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight on the biggest question burning up the blogosphere and cable news airwaves on Friday, Oct. 16, 2009.

The Big Question today is:

Does President Obama deserve all the criticism he is getting for his Katrina recovery efforts?

Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) said:

My hope is that the President will work closely with Louisiana's Congressman Cao as New Orleans continues to rebuild this historic city. We should also not forget the vast devastation that Mississippi experienced as families' memories and livelihoods were washed completely away by Katrina.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said:

President Obama missed an opportunity to prove his commitment to New Orleans' recovery and gain a full understanding of the challenges we are facing. There is a big difference between campaigning here as a political candidate and spending quality time here as the President. Yesterday's visit was more like a partisan campaign rally than a hurricane recovery visit. After the recent decision to move forward with an inferior level of interior drainage repairs, this Administration has shown that they don't fully grasp the changes that need to be made in the rebuilding of our region. The people of New Orleans deserve more than a 'drive-through daiquiri' summit with the President.

If the President is sincere in his commitment to our recovery, he will join our delegation in supporting Category 5 hurricane protection, including the strengthening of our levees, improving our interior drainage system, and restoring our eroding coastline. I invited the President to visit areas like the 17th Street Canal where the federal levees breached, and St. Tammany Parish where they still don't have adequate protection from storm surge.

There is no substitute for spending quality time on the ground to see first-hand the challenges we are still facing, and it was disappointing that the President passed up that opportunity to gain that deeper understanding.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said:

The more time the president spends on the ground, the better he'll understand the challenges of rebuilding, but we appreciate that he made this trip. What matters most is that he delivers on his many campaign promises to put effective policies in place for rebuilding South Louisiana.

John F. McManus, president of the The John Birch Society, said:

Too many Americans feel that it is the duty of federal government to take care of their needs, and to fix what gets broken by floods, storms, and other natural disasters. This is not the job of the federal government whether run by George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or George Washington. Years ago, floods destroyed homes along the Mississippi River and the federal government paid the people to rebuild, an absurd use of taxpayers' money just waiting for the next flood. The same goes for New Orleans. Building a portion of a city below sea level is ridiculous. Making taxpayers pay for the flood that developed is a small, but real, slice of tyranny. Don't blame Obama for this one; blame the perversion of the American system that allows such outrages in the first place.


We need an economic stimulus for rural communities (Rep. Phil Roe)

As unemployment continues to rise, and hopes of the trickle-down factor from the economic stimulus bill are dwindling, I am working to find solutions that will directly help East Tennessee and rural communities throughout the country.  Just like many industries across the nation, our businesses in small towns are being forced to downsize operations while demanding more from fewer employees.  Even in the current economic downturn, workers in smaller remote communities are at a disadvantage because economic development is virtually non-existent.  In fact, a growing number of rural workers are being forced to commute long distances or actually relocate their families in order to find work in metropolitan areas.  Ultimately, this only creates a worsening downward spiral.

That is why I introduced H.R. 3807, The Economic Stimulus for Rural Communities Act in an effort to spur the economy and create quality jobs in rural America.  Rural areas are often times hit harder during an economic downturn and they often lag in a recovery. This legislation would make rural employers eligible for a tax credit when they hire a rural worker.


HIRE America Act about creating jobs today (Rep. Tom Rooney)

Late last week I introduced the Helping Invigorate and Revive our Economy Act of 2009 (H.R. 3784), also known as the HIRE America Act, with my friend and colleague Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio).    The HIRE America Act will expand the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to help small businesses and firms hire more employees. 

This bill is simply about creating new jobs. With unemployment in Florida over 10 percent, and even as high as 15 percent in some areas, we have to find ways to create jobs and get Americans back to work.  The HIRE America Act is common sense legislation that gives employers additional incentives to create new jobs and hire more employees.  By increasing the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and expanding it to cover all new hires we are putting money back in the pockets of business owners, allowing them to expand and start getting people back to work. We can no longer stand by as the unemployment rate continues to increase.


The Big Question: Who benefits politically from the Dow topping 10K?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009.

Today's question:

The Dow on Wednesday topped 10,000 for the first time in a year. Are there any political points to be scored by President Barack Obama's team? By anyone? 

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research, said:

We have to get over the idea that the stock market tells anything about the economy or even necessarily anything about the state of business. Those of us who are old enough to have lived through the stock bubble know that the market often goes up (or down) for no reason. In principle, a rising stock market reflects the value of future corporate profits. Should people be happy when corporate profits are projected to rise because their wages are projected to fall?

A rising stock market is good for those who own lots of stock, a group that excludes the vast majority of the population. (Yes, I’m even including stock held in mutual funds in 401(k) plans. If you didn’t know this fact, then you should consider yourself too ignorant to take part in serious discussions of economic issues.) A rise in stock prices should be viewed in the same way that we view a rise in the price of corn. It’s good news for corn farmers, but not necessarily especially good news for the rest of us.

It is understandable that politicians would try to take credit for a rising stock market, just as they would take credit for the sun shining, if they could (and as long as people believe that a rise in the stock market somehow benefits them, even when they don’t hold stock).

It's the job of reporters to call them on this nonsense. Unfortunately, they rarely do.

John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:

The Dow Average is like the Consumer Price Index. When the CPI rises too dramatically, the items measured for it are changed to reflect a smaller increase. When some of the companies included in the Dow average go belly up or nearly so, they get dropped and others are inserted. The name of the game is manipulation of figures. We can be sure that some in the Obama administration will delight in the Dow again reaching 10,000, but foreclosures are up, unemployment remains very high, the dollar's value continues to sink, and the average American knows the nation is still in deep trouble. Anyone who points to the higher Dow Average as some sort of indication that the nation is pulling out of the recession - President Obama included - is either daft or dishonest.

Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign, said:

The 10,000 level is a quick-and-easy measure of success for those who want fast proof of an economic recovery. More important points to score are lowering the unemployment rate and Congress showing some backbone as it attempts to regulate the financial sector, resisting the full might of Wall Street’s big campaign contributors.

Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Miss.) said:

It's just another benchmark on this road to recovery, which I think is going to be long, but it helps build confidence from investors. Our biggest job here is to grow jobs, so with that confidence and investments, it's going to help with job creation. So, yes.

Michelle D. Bernard, president & CEO of the Independent Women's Forum, said:

No one deserves credit for the Dow Jones passing above 10,000, and any politician who tries to claim credit does so at his or her peril, since the Dow could head back down at any time. It is a positive sign to see investors willing to put their money into American corporations: they believe that better times are ahead and that there is fundamental value in American businesses.

Yet politicians should be very concerned about the state of the economy both today and in the future: our staggering unemployment and under-employment rate, the ballooning debt that will afflict citizens today and decades into the future, and the declining dollar which could undermine our economic well being, from deterring foreign investment to eroding the value of private savings.

Policymakers need to focus on changing these more important measures by encouraging job creation, eliminating the debt and rewarding sound economic growth. The path to prosperity lies with encouraging work and entrepreneurship – unfortunately too many of the current policies are moving us in the wrong direction. And unless we correct these fundamentals the DOW will likely start moving in the wrong direction again soon...

Glenn Reynolds, from Instapundit, said:

It's nice that the Dow has reached 10,000 again, at least compared to the alternative. But it's not much of an accomplishment, really. In constant dollars, today's 10,000 is equivalent to 7,537 ten years ago -- when the Dow first hit 10,000. In gold, today's 10,000 is worth 10 ounces of gold, while 1999's was worth 30. So an unadjusted 10,000 isn't all that impressive.

The real question is where we'll go from here. Policies of massive debt and profligate government spending have never done much to promote real, sustained economic growth, and there's certainly no reason to think that they'll do so this time.


Greater free trade means more jobs (Rep. Erik Paulsen)

The government is spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars attempting to stimulate the economy, but it’s clear these spending programs are not achieving the results we need. Instead, the economy continues to shed jobs. Unemployment figures released last week show U.S. unemployment reaching a 26-year high of 9.8 percent.

Instead of putting Americans back to work, Congress is simply putting heavier burdens on taxpayers, while driving the country deeper into debt. In short, the current approach is not working. There is another approach to stimulating the economy – a proven method to increase prosperity, grow our economy and create jobs: expansion of free trade.


'Anything goes' capitalism has got to go

In the title tune to the 1934 musical “Anything Goes,” Cole Porter says “times have changed,” since the stock market crashed in 1929, but the super rich, like John D. Rockefeller Jr., “still can hoard enough money to let Max Gordon produce his shows.”

The lyrics also tease FDR because Eleanor advertised a mattress from a venerable company:  “Missus R., with all her trimmin’s, can broadcast a bed from Simmons, ‘cause Franklin knows, Anything Goes.”

That 133-year-old company, which employs members of my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), will file for bankruptcy soon. Then it will be auctioned to yet another private equity firm – the seventh such sale in little more than 20 years.


Transparency will Help restore public trust (Rep. John Culberson)

Record high spending bills are passing the House without a chance for Members of Congress and the American public to read the legislation. It is time to stop voting blind. Last June Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) and I introduced a bill requiring the House of Representatives to make bills and conference reports available online for 72 hours before they are considered by the House. If adopted, I believe this resolution will enhance public participation in our democracy and help restore the public trust in government by raising the level of openness, order and discourse.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Sunlight Foundation praised this resolution. Ellen Miller, executive director and co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation said, “We commend Reps. Baird and Culberson for demonstrating such strong support for increasing legislative transparency in the House. By making the core activity of the House—the consideration of legislation—more transparent, this rules change would strengthen the public's trust in the institution, improve legislation and trim wasteful spending. When legislation is not available for lawmaker or public review, we end up with special amendments like the Stimulus Bill’s last-minute loophole that allowed AIG executives to receive retroactive bonuses at the American taxpayers’ expense. If Congress and citizens alike had 72 hours to read the Stimulus Bill online, someone would have noticed the AIG provision and fixed it before it became law.

Cross-posted from Red Country.


We need the Consumer Financial Protection Agency

Faced with mounting consumer anger and congressional scrutiny, several of the nation's largest banks took modest steps last week to curb abusive overdraft practices.

For years, as they raked in billions of dollars in overdraft fees, these same institutions protested that even such incremental changes weren't possible. Public attention works wonders. But the changes are too little, many years too late and-because they are voluntary-easily revocable once the spotlight shifts.

That's why we need the Consumer Financial Protection Agency that Congress is now considering. The CFPA would streamline regulatory authority that has been scattered among several federal agencies and largely ignored. The new agency would have the tools and the focus to rein in the banks and protect consumers-and taxpayers-from unfair financial practices and products. And it would allow states to stamp out abuses in their own back yard as they crop up instead of having to wait for Washington to act.


Ballooning bureaucracy (Rep. John Campbell)

Over the last 9 months, we have seen a drastic increase in government spending, deficits, and debt. You will often see or hear pundits and TV personalities opining about these metrics in relation to the size of government. However, you don’t often hear about another important metric relative to the expansion of government, and that is the growth of the federal bureaucracy.

Since the President passed his massive non-stimulating stimulus bill, it has proven to have been largely ineffective and inefficient. But several government agencies have made hires just to oversee the stimulus spending, and the federal workforce has ballooned by 15.6% since 2006.