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News Coverage on the Economy

Coverage of the Debt Ceiling, fiscal cliff, Budget, and other Economic Issues This Page Last Updated on:August 1st

August 1, 2016: NewsMax: Dish Network Loses Record Number of
Subscribers Over increased rates and decreased programming

Dish Newwork shares fell as much 4 percent to $49.91 in New York Thursday, and were trading at $50.40 at 9:39 a.m after reports that they have lost 281,000 subscribers in the last quarter. The stock had dropped 9.1 percent this year through Wednesday’s close. The results underscore the challenge Dish faces in trying to keep customers from ditching their traditional satellite-TV service for lower-priced, online-only options like Netflix or Hulu.

July 29: CNN Money: Venezuela Forcing Citizens to work Farms given food shortages
and a collapsing economy

A new decree by Venezuela's government could make its citizens work on farms to tackle the country's severe food shortages.  That "effectively amounts to forced labor," according to Amnesty International, which derided the decree as "unlawful."

In a vaguely-worded decree, Venezuelan officials indicated that public and private sector employees could be forced to work in the country's fields for at least 60-day periods, which may be extended "if circumstances merit."   "Trying to tackle Venezuela's severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid," Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas' Director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

July 23: Reuters: G20 Nations pledge to bolster defenses against BrExit headwinds
The world's leading economies will do more to lift global growth and share the benefits more broadly, top policymakers said on Saturday as they sought to deal with fallout from Britain's Brexit vote and counter dissatisfaction with globalization.  Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 nation are huddling in China's southwestern city of Chengdu this weekend to discuss how to confront global challenges exacerbated by Britain's decision to leave the European Union.  The specter of protectionism, highlighted by presidential candidate Donald Trump's "America First" rhetoric and talk of pulling out of trade agreements, also hangs over the meeting.

"The recovery continues but remains weaker than desirable. Meanwhile, the benefits of growth need to be shared more broadly within countries to promote inclusiveness," the G20 ministers said in a draft communique seen on Saturday.  The draft, which is subject to change,  said Brexit added to uncertainty in the global economy but G20 members were "well positioned to proactively address the potential economic and financial consequences".

July 22: Yahoo News: Thousands flee Venezuela Seeking Food and Safety
Martin Gottwald, the United Nations Refugee Agency's representative in Colombia said a sizeable number of Venezuelans have entered Colombia probably never to return.  "If you consider that 100,000 people crossed the border to stock up on supplies at the weekend, if a minimal percentage, let's say 10 percent, stayed (in Colombia), we're already talking about quite large numbers," he said.  Venezuelans are also sneaking across the border even when it is closed, driven abroad by the economic crisis, violent crime and a health care system teetering on the brink of collapse.

July 18: Yahoo.Com:  Foreign ownership of U.S. Debt Slips again in May
Foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities fell for the second straight month in May.   The Treasury Department says total foreign holdings dropped 0.5 percent after slipping 0.8 percent in April.  Japan, the second-biggest foreign owner of Treasury securities, reduced its holdings by 0.8 percent. China, the biggest foreign investor in Treasurys, increased its holdings slightly.  The national debt is nearly $19.4 trillion and is expected to grow, which means the United States will need foreigners to keep buying Treasury securities.  Of the debt total, nearly $14 trillion is publicly traded on financial markets. The rest is money the government owes itself, including holdings in the Social Security trust fund.

July 15: Bloommberg.com: An Upside-Down World Economy:
Japanese families seem to have a sudden affinity for home safes. According to the Tokyo-based manufacturer Eiko, shipments have doubled since last fall. And in Germany, insurer Munich Re has stashed some 10 million Euros ($11.4 million) worth of its own cash into vaults.  Why the squirreling? One possible reason is the creeping imposition of negative interest rates across the world, which could make it more rewarding to bypass banks—and a safe or vault is, well, more secure than a mattress!

Welcome to the upside-down world of modern monetary policy. In this new reality, borrowers get paid and savers penalized. Almost 500 million people in a quarter of the global economy now live in countries where interest rates measure less than zero. That would’ve been an almost unthinkable phenomenon before the 2008 financial crisis, and one major economies didn’t seriously consider until two years ago, when the European Central Bank first partook in the experiment. Now the ECB and the Bank of Japan are diving deeper into the sub-zero world as they seek more ways to spark inflation.

June 18: The Daily Caller:  Legendary baseball announcer destroys socialism on air!
Legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully absolutely destroyed socialism with a rant Friday night during the Los Angeles Dodgers game against the Milwaukee Brewers.   “Socialism, failing to work as it always does. This time in Venezuela. You talk about giving everybody something free and all of a sudden, there’s no food to eat. And who do you think is the richest person in Venezuela? The daughter of Hugo Chavez. Hello,” Scully said during the broadcast. 

June 13: The Global Post: Venezuela: People barter diapers for food
A kilo of pasta gets you a packet of diapers. A bag of flour buys a bottle of shampoo.  Short on basic supplies, Venezuelans have reverted to ancient shopping habits: bartering whatever they have.  This is the end result of the socialistic economic policies of Venezuelan leadership. 

June 5: Yahoo News: 80% of Swiss Vote No on guaranteed income for life:
Almost 80 percent of Swiss voters rejected a guaranteed monthly income Sunday.  Under the proposal, Swiss adults would receive a government check of $2,563 each month. Although the proposal had almost no political support, it gathered more than 100,000 signatures, so it was put to a public vote under Switzerland’s popular initiative political system.  But the Swiss overwhelmingly rejected the proposal believing it would cripple the Swiss economy by eliminating all motivation to work.  “If you pay people to do nothing, they will do nothing,” Charles Wyplosz, an economics professor at the Geneva Graduate Institute, said.  Other opponents say a guaranteed basic income would cause international implications.

Luzi Stamm, who opposes the idea as a member of parliament for the Swiss People’s Party, told the BBC. “But with open borders, it’s a total impossibility, especially for Switzerland, with a high living standard.  "If you would offer every individual a Swiss amount of money," he said, "you would have billions of people who would try to move into Switzerland.”  [Compared to its European counterparts, Switzerland’s economy is faring well. Switzerland had an impressive unemployment rate of 3.5% as of April, far below the Eurozone average of 10.2%.]

May 19: Associated Press: Poll shows Two-Thirds of Americans would
struggle to pay for a $1,000 Emergency

Two-thirds of Americans would have difficulty coming up with the money to cover a $1,000 emergency, according to an exclusive poll released Thursday, a signal that despite years after the Great Recession, Americans' finances remain precarious as ever.  These difficulties span all incomes, according to the poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Three-quarters of people in households making less than $50,000 a year and two-thirds of those making between $50,000 and $100,000 would have difficulty coming up with $1,000 to cover an unexpected bill.  Even for the country's wealthiest 20 percent — households making more than $100,000 a year — 38 percent say they would have at least some difficulty coming up with $1,000.  "The more we learn about the balance sheets of Americans, it becomes quite alarming," said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute focusing on poverty and emergency savings issues.

May 15: The Hill: 67% of jobs are created by small business
Small businesses drive our economy. Earlier this month, the country celebrated National Small Business Week, recognizing the 28 million small companies that create opportunities for millions of Americans through employment and innovation.  Their economic contributions are well known – small businesses create two out of every three new jobs annually and generate income for more than 50 percent of Americans who either own or work for them. Between 2009 and 2015, 67 percent of all job growth came from small businesses.  This underscores why policymakers need to do all they can to support these entrepreneurs and the jobs they create.

May 5: The Daily Caller: Businesses Flee New York City as Mayor Boycotts Chick-Fil-A
Twenty-one companies in New York City have announced they are laying off workers and many are closing due to “economic” reasons as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s focus has been on targeting a company because of its views on marriage.  As de Blasio encouraged a boycott of Chick-fil-a because he said the company has “anti-LGBT” views, many New Yorkers are facing pink slips in the months to come.  A review of Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notifications filed with the state Department of Labor show 21 companies in the past four weeks alone have announced layoffs. Some are even closing shop altogether. The notices show a majority of these companies cite “economic” as the reason behind their decision.  Insurance giant AIG, in an amended notice filing, announced 108 workers at its Water Street location will be laid off, and an additional 132 at its other four locations in the city will also be given pink slips. The reason cited for the dislocation is “economic.”

April 19: CNBC.com: Saudi Arabia Takes ont $10 Billion Loan as Oil Sales Slump:
Saudi Arabia is raising $10 billion from a consortium of global banks as the kingdom embarks on its first international debt issuance in 25 years to counter dwindling oil revenues and reserves.  The landmark five-year loan, a signal of Riyadh's newfound dependence on foreign capital, opens the way for Saudi to launch its first international bond issue. It comes as the sustained slump in crude encourages other Gulf governments, such as Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Oman, to tap international bond markets.   

The oil-rich kingdom, which last weekend blocked a potential deal among oil producers to freeze output and bolster prices, has burnt through $150 billion in financial reserves since late 2014 as its fiscal deficit is set to widen to 19 per cent of gross domestic product this year.  Strong interest in the loan, especially from Asian banks, came despite rating agency downgrades on Saudi creditworthiness since the oil price collapsed. The government raised the amount it wanted to borrow from $6bn-$8bn to $10bn after the deal was oversubscribed.

April 16: USA Today Low oil prices haven’t seemed to help the U.S. Economy:
Many analysts had anticipated that a dramatic drop in oil prices such as we’ve seen since the summer of 2014 could provide a big stimulus to the economy of a net oil importer like the United States. That doesn’t seem to be what we’ve observed in the data.  There is no question that lower oil prices have been a big windfall for consumers. Americans today are spending $180 billion less each year on energy goods and services than we were in July of 2014, which corresponds to about 1 percent of GDP. A year and a half ago, energy expenses constituted 5.4 percent of total consumer spending. Today that share is down to 3.7 percent.  But we’re not seeing much evidence that consumers are spending those gains on other goods or services.

April 15: Think Progress: Cruz sets goal of GDP of 5%
Jeb Bush was lambasted for promising that his presidency would have created 4 percent GDP growth. Republican candidate Ted Cruz is now going even further: he’s promising 5 percent growth or more.  On Friday, he told CNBC’s Squawk Box, “My object is a minimum of 5 percent GDP growth.” And he would get there, he said, through his tax plan, which does away with most of the tax code to institute a 10 percent across the board rate on all income, and 16 percent on businesses. “The numbers we’re estimating are, if anything, underselling the GDP impact” of his plan, Cruz said.

Arthur Laffer, a former adviser to President Reagan, also joined the show and made bigger promises on behalf of Cruz’s plan. Pointing to the 7.1 percent annual GDP growth high point under Reagan, Laffer said, “You’ll get more than that” under Cruz’s plan. “Higher growth rates than 5 percent.”

April 5: Bloomberg: Trade Deficit Rises to a Six Month High
America’s trade deficit widened in February to a six-month high as an increase in imports exceeded a more modest pickup in shipments overseas.  The gap increased 2.6 percent to $47.1 billion in January, the Commerce Department reports.  The gain in exports was just the first in five months and highlights the squeeze on American manufacturers from a stronger dollar that’s made U.S.-made goods less attractive in a weaker global marketplace. A third straight increase in the deficit indicates trade will weigh on first-quarter growth.

April 1: FEE.Org: California $15 Minimum Wage is a Terrible Experiment
The Washington Post reported on the deal to raise California's minimum wage in stages to a whopping $15 an hour by 2022.  In doing so they wisely titled the article, "The risks of California's minimum-wage increase."  Some economists believe that watching what happens in California may be a worthwhile experiment while others point out the guinea pigs that are being experimented upon are human beings!

March 28: The Daily Signal: California’s Future with a $15 Minimum Wage Hike:
California lawmakers and labor leaders are cheering a new deal that, if passed, raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, making the Golden State the first in the country to do so.  But labor experts are already warning that such a wage hike could lead to higher prices for consumers, more automation, and a drop in employment.

March 27: Fox News: After big promises, House GOP facing the reality of not passing a budget and facing backlash
Few people in Washington think House Republicans this year will complete a budget. That’s a little astonishing.  Republicans have batted around dozens of ideas. They’ve conducted closed door meetings. Entertained options. And still, House Republicans aren’t much closer to solving the budget riddle than they were when conversations began over the winter.

March 19: USA Today: Port Arthur, Texas - Largest U.S. Refinery Now Belongs to Saudi Arabia
Royal Dutch Shell and Saudi Aramco appear to be getting a divorce, breaking up their joint venture in U.S.-based refining assets.  The two companies signed a nonbinding letter of intent, a plan that would divide up Motiva’s refineries between them. The refineries have a combined capacity of 1.1 million barrels per day and are all located close to each other. The breakup will allow Saudi Aramco to take over the Port Arthur refinery and 26 distribution terminals, and Aramco will also hold onto the Motiva brand name. Shell will take over the other two refineries, Convent and Norco, both located in Louisiana. Shell said that it would operate the two refineries as one plant with a combined throughput of 500,000 barrels per day.

March 16: CNN Money: Foreign Govt: Dumping U.S. Debt at Record Rate
In a bid to raise cash, foreign central banks and government institutions sold $57.2 billion of U.S. Treasury debt and other notes in January, according to figures released on Tuesday. That is up from $48 billion in December and the highest monthly tally on record going back to 1978.   It's part of a broader trend that gathered steam last year when central banks sold a record $225 billion of U.S. debt.

So what are foreign central bankers doing with these piles of cash? They're mostly using the funds to stimulate their own economies as the global growth slowdown and crash in oil prices continue to take their toll.

March 16: Yahoo News Israel launches first ever app to send distress calls for help
Israel on Wednesday became the first country to launch a nationwide platform in which emergency operators can see live video, chat via text messages and determine pinpoint location outdoors and indoors. Israelis can now use their smartphones to make live video distress calls to emergency responders.  If successful this could set a new standard for countries around the world.  Heretofore these kinds of services have been a puzzle to most emergency calling systems, which are outdated and only take voice calls.

This gap in technology -- which developed countries are racing to close -- leads to slower response times, miscommunications and many wasted resources, often to the detriment of people calling for help. 

February 26: CNSNews:  The United States completes Ten Years without 3% Growth
The United States has now gone a record 10 straight years without 3 percent growth in real Gross Domestic Product, according to data released yesterday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  The BEA has calculated GDP for each year going back to 1929 and it has calculated the inflation-adjusted annual change in GDP (in constant 2009 dollars) from 1930 forward.

In the 85 years for which BEA has calculated the annual change in real GDP there is only one ten-year stretch—2006 through 2015—when the annual growth in real GDP never hit 3 percent. During the last ten years, real annual growth in GDP peaked in 2006 at 2.7 percent. It has never been that high again, according to the BEA.

February 9: The Hill: Admin. Releases $4.1 Trillion Budget then Attacks Congress:
The White House on Tuesday unveiled a dead on arrival $4.1 trillion election-year budget and then immediately pivoted to attacking congressional Republicans on their own attempts to craft a fiscal blueprint.  The administration’s final wish list for Congress includes multibillion-dollar investments in areas such as clean energy, education and job growth, paid for mostly by tax hikes on big banks and the wealthy.  But in a surprise move OMB Director Donovan warned that some House Republicans who want to reduce spending further are threatening to “blow up” last fall’s $1.1 trillion spending deal, which imposes a top-line figure on 2017 discretionary spending.

February 6th: Foundation for Economic Education:  Low-Skilled Workers Flee Minimum Wage States
What happens when, in a country where workers are free to move, a region raises its minimum wage? Do those with the fewest skills seek out the regions with the highest wage floors?  New minimum wage research by economist Joan Monras states that theoretically there should be a close relationship between the employment impact of rising minimum wages and the migration of low-skilled workers.  But instead of finding an influx of these workers the opposite is actually happening.

One would expect an increase in wages to drive an influx of workers but looking at data from 1985 to 2012 shows that workers with the fewest skills were having an easier time finding full-time employment PRIOR to the institution of minimum wage increases.  Interestingly, those with high-skill levels were not impacted as their low-skilled counterparts.  One of the sectors that would be most impacted by these findings would be first time entrants to the job market who have yet to demonstrate their skill levels.

February 5: The Daily Caller: Admin Takes Swing at GOP for not holding hearings
on the President’s [Dead on Arrival] Budget:
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) – the chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees – are opting not to hold hearings on President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget, saying inviting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shaun Donovan would not be a productive use of their time.  The president is slated to unveil his final budget request, which is expected to increase government spending, next Tuesday. Republican lawmakers said they will focus on their own proposal, criticizing the commander in chief’s past budgets as being detrimental to the economy.

“Nothing in the president’s prior budgets – none of which have ever balanced – has shown that the Obama Administration has any  real interest in actually solving our fiscal challenges or saving critical programs like Medicare and Social Security from insolvency,” Price said in a joint statement. “Rather than spend time on a proposal that, if anything like this administration’s previous budgets, will double down on the same failed policies that have led to the worst economic recovery in modern times, Congress should continue our work on building a budget that balances and that will foster a healthy economy.”

December 25: Fox News: Special Taxing  Authorities  Grow like  Weeds  --  Especially in Texas:
When former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs issued a report in 2012 on special purpose districts — largely invisible layers of government with the power to charge property and sales taxes — there were 1,675 of them.  She sounded the alarm, waived the flag and irritated a few people in the process. But the special purpose districts continued to sprout up all over the state, now growing to about 2,000.   Combs is still beating the drum about the issue, even though she’s since left public office.  “There has been no effort to rein any of this in,” she said Friday.

Indeed, these ghost-like governments have continued to proliferate, according to data from the comptroller’s office. According to U.S. Census data, as of 2012, Texas has the third most special districts in the nation, trailing only California and Illinois.  Texas has more than 40 types of special purpose districts to build hospitals and libraries, control crime or bring infrastructure to a new development. Some of them have the power to impose a property and sales tax or condemn property through eminent domain. 

December 16: The Daily Signal: What’s Wrong With the Omnibus Spending Bill?
The omnibus spending package, along with the tax extenders package, is full of provisions that were negotiated behind closed doors. Here are some of the issues:

  • High Spending: Congress missed a critical opportunity to abide by the Budget Control Act spending caps and will not rein in excessive spending.  They continue to spend money we don’t have.
  • Sanctuary Cities:  The omnibus spending bill doesn’t restrict Department of Homeland Security or Department of Justice grants to cities that resist the enforcement of federal immigration law, also known as sanctuary cities.
  • Vetting Refugees: It doesn’t require additional vetting of refugees when it could have requested additional assurances, intelligence assessments, or risk-based plans for the refugee process.
  • Planned Parenthood: The trillion-dollar budget deal would continue to allow hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to flow to Planned Parenthood Federation of America affiliates. 
  • Crude Oil Exports:  The bill lifts the 40 year old ban on the export of U.S. crude Oil.
  • Climate Change:  Absent from the text are provisions that would block the Obama administration’s climate change regulations, regulations that will drive up energy costs no climate benefit.
  • The EPA Water Rule:  The omnibus bill fails to prohibit funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s and Army Corps’ controversial “waters of the United States” rule, which would greatly expand the types of waters that could be covered under the Clean Water Act, from certain man-made ditches to so-called waters that are actually dry land most of the time.

December 18: The Hill: House easily approves funding bill 316-113
The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a $1.1 trillion spending package that includes the first major change approved by Congress to ObamaCare and keeps the government open through September 2016.  Lawmakers backed the package following a furious effort by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and their leadership teams to corral votes in both parties.  In the end, there was no drama in the 316-113 vote.   Ryan won 150 GOP votes, a majority of his conference that represents a big victory for the new Speaker.  Ninety-five Republicans voted against the measure.  Only 18 Democrats voted against the spending bill, while 166 supported it. 

Ahead of the vote, conservatives were expressing disappointment with the package, which was largely put in place by former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who agreed to the top-line number in a deal with Democrats and the White House before ending his Speakership.  Only 79 House Republicans voted for that budget in October, which severely limited the GOP’s leverage in the omnibus negotiations.

December 18: McClatchyDC.com:
Congressman Jones (R-NC) Swings a sword at the 2,000-page omnibus billl:
Jones didn’t just oppose Friday’s $1.1 trillion budget deal by voting against it, he brandished a sword in his congressional office Thursday night to cut through the 2,000-page document, expressing disdain for what he later called on Twitter a win for “the Washington Establishment” and loss for “the people.”   On Friday morning, about an hour before the House vote on the budget legislation, Jones put photos up on Twitter of himself preparing to slice into the “omnibus” document at his desk with a sword. The House passed the budget deal in a 316-113 vote. The Senate passed the bill in a 65-33 vote, with Sen. Richard Bur (R-NC), voting against it and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) voting in support.

December 16: Market Watch: The Wait is over: The Fed’s Raises Interest Rates
The Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time since 2006, ending what Chairwoman Janet Yellen called an “extraordinary period” in which the bank sought to revive the economy in the aftermath of the Great Recession.   Policy makers on Wednesday voted 10 to 0 to lift the Fed’s short-term borrowing rate by a quarter-point to a range of 0.25% to 0.5%. The Fed’s short-term rate had kept near zero for seven years, marking an unprecedented era in the history of U.S. monetary policy triggered by the worst financial crisis and economic downturn since the 1930s.

In a Related Story from Fox News: With interest rates moving higher it will soon be more expensive for consumers to borrow money to buy big-ticket items such as homes, cars and appliances.  Business will also pay more if they borrow to cover the costs for expansion and other capital investments.  Those higher borrowing costs have fueled the Fed’s reluctance to raise rates off the near-zero range where they’ve been held since December 2008, just three months after the collapse of erstwhile Wall Street titan Lehman Brothers.

December 16: The Hill: Senate Sends President a second short-term funding bill
The Senate on Wednesday passed a second short-term spending measure, sending it to President Obama's desk. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) passed the legislation by a voice vote as lawmakers face an end-of-the-day deadline to avoid a government shutdown.  The measure, which President Obama is expected to sign, will fund the government through Tuesday, giving lawmakers extra time to debate and vote on a larger "omnibus" funding bill, as well as a separate tax package. 

December 13: The Hill: Obama Trade Agenda Faces Huge Hurdles
The White House is battling suggestions that President Obama’s trade agenda is in jeopardy after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said it shouldn’t bother to send a Pacific Rim deal to Congress until after the elections.  McConnell indicated he has serious reservations that the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership can win approval, and warned Obama would be risking an embarrassing defeat if he pursues a floor vote this year.

The trade deal represents one of Obama’s last legislative goals and is a key part of his push to pivot U.S. foreign and economic policy toward Asia. Not winning approval for the deal would be a tough blow for the White House.  McConnell’s comments raised the possibility of a lame-duck session vote for the TPP, since that would come after the elections.  Yet that would be a tremendous risk given opposition to the deal from all of the Democratic presidential candidates.  The GOP presidential field also includes candidates who have been skeptical about the TPP.

December 4: Fox News: The Economic Week Ahead:
Next week’s economic calendar is highlighted by inflation data, November retail sales and a report on consumer sentiment.  All three reports will likely fuel momentum toward a rate hike the following week at the Dec. 15 and 16 meeting of the Federal Reserve.  Only one Fed official is scheduled to speak publicly next week: St. Louis Fed President James Bullard on Monday. Bullard is not currently a voting member of the policy-setting Federal Open Markets Committee. Inflation has been the fly in the ointment for a Fed seemingly anxious to raise rates in an effort to normalize U.S. policy seven years after the 2008 financial crisis. The Fed has said its conditions for raising rates require strong evidence of an improved labor department and confidence that inflation is rising toward the Fed’s 2% target. 

November 25: CNSNews: Debt Under Obama Over $8,000,000,000,000 (that’s over $8 Trillion):
The debt of the federal government has now increased by more than $8 trillion during the time President Barack Obama has been in office, according to the official debt numbers published by the U.S. Treasury.  The total federal debt, which was $18.7 trillion at the close of business on Monday, that equals about $159,007 per household.  It has increased approximately $68,756 per household during Obama’s presidency.  On Jan. 20, 2009, when Obama was inaugurated, the total debt of the federal government was $10.6 trillion. On Nov. 23, 2015, it was $18.7 trillion.  Thus, so far in Obama’s presidency, the federal debt has increased by $8.1 trillion.  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of September there were 117,748,000 households in the United States. Do the division and you get $159,006.91 of the national debt per household.  That’s an increase of $68,755 per household under the Obama Presidency, and it’s not over yet!  The Congress suspended the debt ceiling earlier this year as parting “gift” from former Speaker Boehner!

Nov 5 The Daily Caller: Senate pushes for budget reforms/biennial budget
After passing 173 short-term spending bills over the past 38 years (an average of 4.5 per year), Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi called for major reforms, proposing a biennial budget approach to streamline the process during a hearing held Wednesday.The legislative branch has a history of dysfunctionality when it comes to passing a budget, it has only completed the appropriations process on schedule four times over the course of the past four decades.

November 5: Associated Press:  Details of Controversial Pacific Trade Deal are Released
Details of a sweeping Pacific Rim trade deal released Thursday set the stage for a raucous debate in the U.S. Congress but also may provide reassurances to those who worried the agreement could gut protections for the environment, public health and labor. The text of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries runs to 30 chapters and over 5.000 pages. It is mind-boggling in its detail, laying out plans for handling of trade in everything from zinc dust to railway sleepers and live eels. Governments of the 12 member countries released the complete text online Thursday, making public the specifics of an agreement that critics complain was forged in secrecy.  The Trade pact is chock full of good intentions but has no guarantees.

October 30: The Hill: Winners and Losers over the Debt Ceiling Deal
Congress agreed early Friday morning to pass a two-year budget deal that raises funding levels and suspends the debt limit until 2017. The last-minute accord marked one of the last achievements of outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and draws the curtain on the fiscal fights that were central to President Obama’s feud with congressional Republicans.

Former Speaker Boehner; 
New Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI); 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY);  
President Obama/Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)/Harry Reid (D-NV); 
Defense hawks
Conservatives/House Freedom Caucus; 
Budget hawks

October 15 : The Daily Signal: The “Freedom Caucus” Promises to Keep Pressure on
Boehner during the Debt Ceiling Debate
As pressure builds for Congress to increase the government’s borrowing cap, outgoing House Speaker John Boehner is signaling he will do what it takes to prevent a default.  While Boehner is being quiet on his exact strategy, the same House conservatives who pushed him to retire early say they expect the speaker to be careful on the method he uses to clean a “dirty barn” of must-pass issues before he leaves office Oct. 30.  ion per day to pay bills as high as $60 billion per day.

October 23: The Washington Post: House Searches for Votes to Pass Debt Ceiling
Congressional Republicans say they are short votes for raising the debt limit and avoiding a first-ever government default. With barely a week before deadline, there’s no plan on what to do.  It’s a huge problem for House Speaker John Boehner and a potential nightmare for his successor-in-waiting, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI).  GOP leaders promised Friday that the House will act next week — just days from a Nov. 3 deadline. Increasing the government’s $18.1 trillion borrowing cap so that it can continue to pay its bills in full and on time would prevent a potential meltdown in the financial markets and save the Republican Party from presiding over a default on U.S. obligations.

[Not in the Post story, but still of interest: This raises the issue of when are we going to stop spending more than we take in?  In the meantime the IRS has taken in record levels of income and it is possible to prioritize spending so the interest on the debt is paid first and Medicare and Social Security Checks are also paid.   In fact, the House of Representatives recently passed a bill [221-207] to do just this.]

Meanwhile Treasury Secretary Lew has warned lawmakers that the government’s ability to use accounting steps to pay its bills for veterans, Social Security recipients, federal employees and others will run out early next month.  “The debt limit will have to be raised, but we’ve got to do something to deal with it for the future,” said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, (R-CA). “We’ve got a lot of ideas cooking.”  At the same time GOP leaders admit they don’t have the support for the kind of debt limit increase demanded by President Barack Obama — one that’s free of any concessions on the part of the Administration.   The Democrats have over 180 votes for a straight debt increase but there are questions as to whether the GOP has enough votes to push the measure over the 218 votes needed to pass the measure.  [Why?  Because the Republicans want to stop the debt death-spiral we are in while the Democrats are content to have business as usual.]

October 22: The Hill: GOP braces for a “clean” debt vote in the House
House Republicans are increasingly resigned to voting on a “clean” bill to raise the debt ceiling now that their leadership has shelved a proposal tied to a package of conservative reforms.  Raising the $18.1 trillion debt limit before the looming Nov. 3 deadline is expected to be one of outgoing Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) final acts before leaving Congress at the end of the month.  Boehner has said he wants to clear the debt limit issue off of his successor’s plate. And with the Senate likely to take multiple days to act on legislation, that leaves a window of voting next week on a “clean” debt limit bill without preconditions.

House GOP leaders had been whipping a proposal authored by the Republican Study Committee that would have raised the debt limit into 2017.  But it also would have imposed a freeze on new regulations, banned the Senate from filibustering spending bills after October and prevented either chamber from adjourning in September if they haven’t finished work on appropriations bills. 

October 18: The Telegraph (UK): Russia Retreats as Poverty Looms: Putin is falling back on Soviet-era self-reliance as oil wealth evaporates and sanctions cut off vitally-needed technology:
Russia is running out of money. President Putin is taking a strategic gamble, depleting the Kremlin's last reserve funds to cover the budget and to pay for an escalating war in Syria at the same time.  The three big economic rating agencies have all issued alerts warning the country's public finances are deteriorating fast and furiously. There is no prospect of an oil revival as long as Saudi Arabia continues to flood the market. Russia cannot borrow abroad at a viable cost.

Deficits on this scale are manageable for rich economies with deep capital markets. It is another story for Russia in the midst of a commodity slump and a geopolitical showdown with the West. Oil and gas revenues cover half the budget.   "They can't afford to run deficits at all. By the end of next year there won’t be any money left in the oil reserve fund," said Lubomir Mitov from Unicredit. The finance ministry admits that the funds will be exhausted within sixteen months on current policies.

October 9: United Press International: Russia running short on Reserve Funds
Stumbling under the strain of low crude oil prices, the Russian economy will run out of reserve funds as early as 2017, the deputy finance minister said.  Russian Deputy said private sector investments are all-but out of the question when access to foreign markets is limited.  "Reserve funds are depleting. We believe reserve funds may end at such rates of their spending," she said. "We will use up resources received when oil prices were high by 2017-18."  The Russian economy teetered on the brink of recession when entering fiscal year 2015. In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for financial stability and pushed for efforts "to considerably decrease the federal budget's dependence on oil prices."

The Russian military intervention in the Syrian civil war on the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad put positive pressure on crude oil prices. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last week Russia was responding from a position of weakness brought on by the dual economic strains of lower crude oil prices and tighter sanctions. Earnest said in 2013 the Russian economy was about 12 percent the size of the United States' and it should end the year about half that size. The International Monetary Fund expects Russia to linger in recession, with the economy on pace to contract by up to 4 percent. 

October 2: The Hill: Obama Ultimatum: No more short-term spending bills
President Obama vowed Friday that he would not sign another short-term funding measure, pushing lawmakers to craft a long-term budget agreement.  Speaking to the press two days after signing a two-month continuing resolution to keep the government from shutting down, Obama said that would be the last he is willing to tolerate. Government funding is now set to expire Dec. 11 after the latest agreement.  “I want to be very clear, I will not sign another shortsighted spending bill like the one Congress sent me this week,” he said. “We purchased ourselves 10 additional weeks. We need to use them effectively.”

In a related column by the Three Musketeers they point out some very interesting things about the Congress and the passage of appropriation bills under the current House and Senate Republican leadership

October 2: Breitbart News: Record 94.6 Million Americans Are Not in the Labor Force:
The number of Americans (ages 16 and older) not in the labor force exceeded 94 million for the second time in a row last month according to government data.  In other words they were neither employed nor had made specific efforts to find work in the prior four weeks.  The number of individuals out of the work force last month — due to discouragement, retirement or otherwise — represented a substantial 579,000 person increase over the most recent record of 94 million, hit in August.  While the prior two months saw a labor force participation rate of 62.2 percent, September’s participation rate dropped to 62.4 percent, matching the lowest level seen since October 1977. 

In a related story from Breitbart News;   a record 56.6 million women are not in the labor force. This number is up 390 thousand from August.  The labor force participation rate among women in September was 53.6 percent, down 0.2 percent from August.

October 1: The Hill: Treasury: Debt Limit Deadline is November 5th, Coincides with Boehner’s Departure:
Congress will need to address the debt limit by Nov. 5 or risk a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.  The deadline is the first the Obama administration has set for raising the $18.1 trillion debt limit, and comes in somewhat earlier than what most experts had predicted.  The timeline gives lawmakers just a few weeks to hammer out some sort of agreement, and sets the stage for what could be a hectic scramble, particularly in the House as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is looking to accomplish as much as possible before resigning at the end of October.

In a new letter to Congress, Lew said the latest figures coming into his department show that the government will have less than $30 billion on hand “on or around” Nov. 5. He added that that amount would be “far short” of what is needed on certain days, when government bills can total as much as $60 billion.

September 24: The Hill: House Leadership Wants to Use Reconciliation to Defund Planned Parenthood
Top House Republicans hope to convince their members to keep the government open by using a fast-track process known as reconciliation to try to defund Planned Parenthood.  They are planning to target Planned Parenthood’s funding by immediately drafting a fast-track reconciliation bill, according to a senior House GOP aide.  Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and his lieutenants will lay out their strategy at a closed-door conference meeting on Friday.  While the plan would mean supporting a short-term bill introduced in the Senate on Thursday to keep the government open through Dec. 11, it could also lead to legislation blocking money for Planned Parenthood hitting President Obama’s desk.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) defended the strategy in an interview Thursday with CNN, arguing that fighting Planned Parenthood through budget reconciliation was the wiser strategy.  Ryan said the House plans to put this legislation on the President’s desk and that they can do so through the budget process.  Their plan would be to use the reconciliation measure instead of a short term Continuing Resolution – the latter of which could cause a government shutdown with the GOP  being blamed for it.

September 24: The Daily Caller: Senate votes 47-53 Not to fund the Government and
Freeze Planned Parenthood Funding

In a 47 to 53 vote, the Senate failed to pass a continuing resolution Thursday that would have temporarily funded the government while freezing Planned Parenthood funding for a year.  Eight Republicans broke ranks and failed to support the Planned Parenthood language.  They included Avotte (NH), Collins (ME), Cotton (AR), Heller (NV), Kirk (IL), Murkowski (AK), Paul (KY) and Sasse (NE).  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) chose to bring the legislation to the floor in an attempt to prevent a government shutdown while placating conservatives who won’t vote for a bill that provides Planned Parenthood with federal dollars.  Shortly before the vote, the White House threatened to veto the measure, which would have kept the government running until Dec. 11.  McConnell is expected to introduce a “clean” version of the bill which will likely to come to a vote Monday.

September 18: The Hill: House Passes One Year Freeze in Funding Planned Parenthood
The House on Friday voted along party lines to freeze federal funding for Planned Parenthood after weeks of escalating tension surrounding its use of fetal tissue.  In a 241-187 vote, nearly all Republicans and two Democrats approved legislation that would block Planned Parenthood's federal funding for one year, giving time for Congress to fully investigate claims of wrongdoing by the provider. Lawmakers also passed a bill tightening restrictions on abortion doctors who violate infant protections in a 248-177 vote. “What we’ve learned about Planned Parenthood is appalling, barbaric and indefensible,” Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA) said.  [Related: Column on this issue]

September 12: The Hill: Is another shut down on the horizon?
The prospect of a second government shutdown in two years is growing as House conservatives pledge to oppose any funding measure that includes money for Planned Parenthood.   This means the GOP leaders face a familiar problem. A measure that blocks funding for Planned Parenthood would almost certainly lack the votes to pass the Senate, and would be vetoed by President Obama. But Republicans in the House don't have enough GOP votes to approve a funding measure that continues funding for Planned Parenthood, and don't want to negotiate with Democrats.
Conservatives headed to their districts on Friday expressing certainty that they would force GOP leaders to include a hold on Planned Parenthood funding.  And as in past funding fights, they insisted it would be the Democrats and President Obama who would be blamed for a shutdown.  “Will the president shut down and defund the troops in order to fund Planned Parenthood?” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS). “I don't think he's that politically stupid, but we shall see.”

September 9: The Hill: GOP Seeks Strategy on Spending & Planned Parenthood:
House GOP leaders say they will seek to develop a plan as early as next week on how to keep the government open but block funding for Planned Parenthood.  In the meantime, they will hold listening sessions with rank-and-file members as they seek a way forward.  “The listening session is to get the best idea so that we’re closer to being on the same page,” House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said after GOP conference’s fist meeting since the August recess.  Asked when the listening sessions would give way to a planned course of action, Sessions said, “Probably next week.”

September 7: The New York Times:
China is burning through foreign currency reserves in order to prop up its economy:
China is burning through its huge stockpile of foreign exchange reserves at the fastest pace yet as it seeks to prop up its currency and stem a rising tide of money flowing out of the country.  Even after a record monthly decrease of nearly $100 billion, China still has the world’s biggest cache of foreign reserves, standing at $3.56 trillion at the end of last month, government data showed Monday. The total has declined steadily from a peak of nearly $4 trillion in June of last year, as slowing economic growth caused investors to move money out of the country in search of better returns elsewhere. As a result, the Chinese central bank has had to sell huge amounts from its foreign reserves to maintain the strength of the nation’s currency, the renminbi.  The exodus of investors’ money accelerated last month after China made the surprise decision on Aug. 11 to devalue its currency.

August 24: The Telegraph: China: The Anchor Economy of East Asia
has struck before the West has fully recovered:

The world financial system is at a dangerous juncture. Markets no longer believe that China’s Communist leaders are in full control of the country’s $27 trillion debt bubble.  This sudden loss of confidence in the anchor economy of East Asia has struck before the West is fully back on its feet after its own debacle seven years ago.  Interest rates are still near zero in the US, the eurozone, Britain and Japan. Fiscal deficits are at unsafe levels. Debt is 30 percentage points of GDP higher than it was at the onset of the Lehman crisis. The safety buffers are largely exhausted.

“This could be the early stage of a very serious situation,” said Larry Summers, the former US Treasury Secretary. He compared it to the two spasms of the Asian crisis in the summer of 1997 and again in August 1998.   Ominously, he also compared it to the "heart attack" of August 2007, when credit markets seized up on both sides of the Atlantic and three-month US Treasury yields plummeted to zero. That proved to be a false alarm, but it was a harbinger of the accumulating stress that would bring down Western finance a year later.

August 24: The UK Independent: Stock up on Can Goods and Water Former Advisor to Gordon McBride Says
A former adviser to Gordon Brown has urged people to stock up on canned goods and bottled water as stock markets around the world slide.  Damian McBride appeared to suggest that the stock market dip could lead to civil disorder or other situations where it would be unreasonable for someone to leave the house.  “Advice on the looming crash, No.1: get hard cash in a safe place now; don't assume banks & cash points will be open, or bank cards will work,” he tweeted.  “Crash advice No.2: do you have enough bottled water, tinned goods & other essentials at home to live a month indoors? If not, get shopping.  “Crash advice No.3: agree a rally point with your loved ones in case transport and communications gets cut off; somewhere you can all head to.”

Mr McBride credited his former boss Gordon Brown with preventing a cataclysm by nationalizing the banking system during the 2008 crash.  “We were close enough in 2008 (if the bank bailout hadn't worked),” he said. “and what's coming is on 20 times that scale”.

August 14: Fox News: Fifteen States Petition to Stop EPA Power Plant Rules
Attorneys general from 15 states filed a petition in federal court Thursday to block new EPA rules requiring massive cuts in emissions from power plants.  They have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to issue a ruling on the matter before Sept. 8, one year before the states are required to submit compliance plans to the agency.   The new rules, announced by President Obama earlier this month, call for power plants to lower carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 32 percent by 2030. 

On Thursday, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey called the rule "the most far-reaching energy regulation in the nation’s history, and the EPA simply does not have the legal authority to carry it out ... The Clean Air Act was never intended to be used to create this type of regulatory regime, and it flies in the face of the powers granted to states under the U.S. Constitution."   West Virginia is joined in the petition by Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming

August 11: Reuters: Greece Bailout Hammered Out in All Night Session
Greece and its international lenders reached an 85 billion euro ($93.72 billion) bailout agreement on Tuesday after nailing down the terms of new loans needed to save the country from financial ruin.  The deal, which came after 23 hours of talks that continued through the night, must still be adopted by Greece's parliament and by euro zone countries.  The currency bloc's finance ministers are expected to give their approval on Friday in time for Greece to make a crucial 3.2 billion euro debt repayment that falls due next week.

Greek shares rallied, with the banking index climbing 3 percent, while the government's two-year borrowing costs fell to a five-month low.  The agreement gives Greece some respite after a turbulent year marked by acrimonious talks with lenders, the imposition of capital controls and a three-week shutdown of its banks before Athens capitulated last month to creditors' demands for deep austerity measures in order to receive new loans.  But the deal has caused a rebellion within Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's Syriza party, forcing him to rely on opposition support in parliament and raising talk of early elections in the autumn.

August 11: Reuters: Wall Street down 1% as cheaper Yuan Hits Commodities Markets
All three major U.S. stock indexes were down more than 1 percent on Tuesday for the first time in over a month as China's surprise devaluation of the yuan stoked fears about the health of the economy and pressured commodity-related stocks.  The yuan fell to its lowest against the dollar in almost three years following what China's central bank described as a "one-off depreciation". U.S. crude hit contract lows, trading about $1 above its bottom for 2015. Brent, the global benchmark, was heading for its largest decline in a week. The currency move by the world's top metals consumer pushed copper and aluminum to six-year lows.

July 29: The Hill: Treasury Secretary: End of October is Debt Limit Deadline:
Lawmakers will likely have at least until the end of October to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in a letter to Congress on Wednesday.  Lew told lawmakers that while he cannot pinpoint when the nation would be in danger of missing debt payments without a borrowing boost, he was confident he would be able to avoid default until at least late October. 

After the government reached its borrowing cap in March, Lew deployed his usual set of “extraordinary measures” to free up room under the cap to ensure the government kept paying its bills.  Noting the inherent difficult in precisely predicting the flow of funds in and out of the federal government, Lew reiterated that there is “considerable uncertainty” in terms of how long the U.S. can go before risking a calamitous default.

July 27: The Daily Caller: House Halts EX-IM Bank Reauthorization
Republican House Majority Leader Congress Kevin McCarthy will assure that the Export-Import bank will remain unauthorized, the AP reports.  McCarthy said Monday that he will not pick up the Senate highway bill in the U.S. House. The Senate sought to renew the Ex-Im bank’s charter in its bill, but McCarthy beat them by passing an $8 billion highway bill through the House without the Ex-Im Bank’s renewal. McCarthy said that he will not budge on the issue. The Ex-Im Bank, installed by President Franklin Roosevelt to serve as a national export credit agency, has become a breeding ground in recent years for global crony capitalism, according to the House Oversight Committee’s Rep. Jim Jordan and other congressional investigators.

July 24: Associated Press: Cruz Accuses Majority Leader McConnell of Lying:
In a stunning, public attack on his own party leader, Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of lying, saying he was no better than his Democratic predecessor and he couldn't be trusted.  "[It’s] not only what he told every Republican senator, but what he told the press over and over and over again, was a simple lie," Cruz said.  At issue were assurances Cruz claimed McConnell had given that there was no deal to allow a vote to renew the federal Export-Import Bank.  Cruz rose to deliver his remarks moments after McConnell had lined up a vote on the Export-Import Bank for coming days. 

"It saddens me to say this. I sat in my office, I told my staff the majority leader looked me in the eye and looked 54 Republicans in the eye. I cannot believe he would tell a flat-out lie," Cruz said.  "We now know that when the majority leader looks us in the eyes and makes an explicit commitment that he is willing to say things that he knows are false."

July 22: Fox News: Seattle Sees Unintended Fall Out from $15 Minimum Wage
Seattle’s $15 minimum wage law is supposed to lift workers out of poverty and move them off public assistance. But there may be a hitch in the plan.  Evidence is surfacing that some workers are asking their bosses for fewer hours as their wages rise – in a bid to keep overall income down so they don’t lose public subsidies for things like food, child care and rent.  “If they cut down their hours to stay on those subsidies because the $15 per hour minimum wage didn’t actually help get them out of poverty, all you’ve done is put a burden on the business and given false hope to a lot of people,” said Jason Rantz, host of the Jason Rantz show on 97.3 KIRO-FM.

The twist is just one apparent side effect of the controversial -- yet trendsetting -- minimum wage law in Seattle, which is being copied in several other cities despite concerns over prices rising and businesses struggling to keep up.  The notion that employees are intentionally working less to preserve their welfare has been a hot topic on talk radio. While the claims are difficult to track, state stats indeed suggest few are moving off welfare programs under the new wage.

July 8: The Daily Signal: Dems/McConnell Hope to Revive Ex Im Bank Authority/Highway Trust Fund Together
For nearly a week, the Export-Import Bank has been closed following the expiration of its charter. But Democrats in Congress are working to revive the bank through a piece of “must-pass” legislation.  Ex-Im’s charter expired June 30, with its authority lapsing for the first time in the bank’s 81-year history. The bank can no longer process new applications, but it continues to oversee its existing financing. Additionally, those working at the bank remain employed. Conservative lawmakers and groups cheered Ex-Im’s expiration, calling it a victory for Main Street and a defeat for corporate cronyism and corporate welfare.

With the help of Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Democrats in the Senate will attempt to attach Ex-Im reauthorization to legislation extending the Highway Trust Fund, which expires July 31 and has been dubbed a piece of “must-pass legislation.”  The Senate held a test vote on Ex-Im’s reauthorization last month, and 65 senators on both sides of the aisle expressing support for the bank. More than half of the Republican senators, though, opposed reauthorization, as did Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.  The decision to allow an amendment reauthorizing Ex-Im to be attached to the Highway Trust Fund ultimately falls to McConnell, and opponents of the bank are urging him to follow the GOP conference.

July 6: Fox News: Financial Situation in Greece Impacts Markets Worldwide:
Greece's debt crisis sent shivers through American stock markets Monday, a day after Greek voters rejected demands from international creditors for further austerity measures in exchange for a bailout of its bankrupt economy.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 100 points after the opening bell, at one point hitting its lowest level since early February.  The dip followed plunges by markets in Europe and around the world as the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggled to find its way through the crisis, which included the resignation Monday morning of Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.

July 5: The Hill: Puerto Rico Debt Crisis Hits Congress:
A looming debt crisis in Puerto Rico is setting off a fresh fight in Congress, where lawmakers are debating a statutory fix that could allow the island territory to declare bankruptcy.  Advocates of the change say it would resolve a technical oversight from a decades-old bankruptcy law, while skeptics warn that it could throw into question billions of dollars in debt now owned by investors across the country.  Earlier this week, Puerto Rico’s governor declared that the nation’s $72 billion pile of debt was too much for it to handle. To avoid a “death spiral,” Gov. Padilla said the commonwealth would have to break its promise to pay back some money owed.

But a quirk in the nation’s bankruptcy code is throwing Congress into the middle of the matter, as lawmakers will need to quickly pass a new law if Puerto Rico is going to gain access to the nation’s bankruptcy courts.  Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative, Resident Commissioner Pierluisi (D), is working to build support for legislation that has simmered in Congress for months but has taken on new urgency following the governor’s declarations.  Sens. Schumer (D-NY) and Blumenthal (D-CT) are working to build support for similar legislation in the Senate.

July 1: The Daily Caller:
School Pensions force firings of up to 1,400 teachers and staff in Chicago; others blamed:

About 1,400 Chicago public school teachers and staff are expected to lose their jobs in order to finance a pension debt of $634 million, the city announced Wednesday.  The layoffs are part of an aggressive $200 million budget cut to help finance the pension payment, which is required of Chicago Public Schools by Illinois law. The rest of the pension payment is coming from heavy borrowing, adding to the school district’s already massive $1.1 billion deficit.  In announcing the layoffs, Mayor Rahm Emanuel blamed the rest of the state for not picking up the slack, saying the rest of Illinois doesn’t pay its fair share for pensions.

June 23: The Daily Caller: Money Talks! Congressional Aide: Ex-Im Vote a Favor for Big Campaign Contributions
A staffer for Congressman Paul Cook told an undercover journalist that Cook will likely vote to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, because big campaign contributors that benefit from the bank are in his district.   “He’s probably going to vote in favor of it,” Dillon Lesovsky, a field rep for the California congressman, told the undercover reporter in a video produced by Project Veritas.  [The] “reason being Boeing is in our district, and then we also have Mitsubishi Cement. We have a bunch of cement and minerals companies that export out a lot of stuff.  …they are big contributors of ours …so, you know, we’ll help them out.”

The Ex-Im Bank’s stated mission is to make it easier for U.S. businesses to export goods by providing financing deemed impossible or too risky by the market, with the goal of helping the U.S. economy. But critics say it amounts to international corporate welfare funded by U.S. taxpayers.  If Congress does not act, the Ex-Im Bank will expire June 30.

June 20: The Hill: McConnell Calling Democrat’s “bluff” on Trade Bill:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is daring Senate Democrats to vote against fast-track trade legislation they supported less than a month ago.  The GOP leader has scheduled a procedural vote on fast-track for Tuesday, and is signaling he’s through offering concessions.  He believes he’ll get the 11 Democratic votes he needs to move forward because pro-trade Senate Democrats have already gone out on a limb to support fast-track — despite the cries of organized labor and other groups on the left – and because they don’t want to thrust the dagger into President Obama’s prized legislative goal.  But this time the bill does not include Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for workers who may be hurt by the deal.

McConnell has promised to consider TAA – which was stripped from the bill in the House – separately, but some Democrat Senators aren’t trusting that it will actually happen.  The only “sweetener” the Majority Leader is offering is a bipartisan measure that would empower the Commerce Department to take retaliatory action (through antidumping and countervailing duty laws) against foreign countries that violate the trade rules.  But this falls short of what the Democrats want.

June 19: The Fiscal Times: Madness?! Congress’ Scramble to Save Obama’s Trade Deal:
The White House and Congressional Republican leaders joined hands this week on a strategy to advance Obama Free Trade Deal. Yesterday’s 218-208 vote in the House for trade promotion authority (TPA, or “fast track”) kicks off a series of maneuvers designed to get something across the line that will allow the president to complete negotiations on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.  But the strategy rests on a diminishing resource in Washington: Trust. The original fast-track bill was linked to Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) which would help for workers laid off as a result of trade deals.  But when the House offered a two-track vote, Democrats refused to go along and pass something they liked when doing so would advance a measure they didn’t.  So the White House/Republican team decided to split up the two measures. 

There is another possible complication; Supporters of reauthorizing the ExIm Bank might try to attach this to the Fast Track or TAA bill in the Senate.  House Republicans are strongly opposed to the ExIm Bank reauthorization and attaching it to one of these two bills would be a poison pill for the bill in the House.    According to economist Dean Beker, if they attempted to do this it would be ironic that the linchpin to passing a so-called free trade deal would be re-authorizing the Ex-Im Bank, which provides direct subsidies for U.S. exports at the expense of other countries, the polar opposite of free trade.

And a final complicating factor: The original Senate Fast Track bill would deny trade agreements fast-track authority if they included partners with bad records on human slavery. That would disqualify the Trans-Pacific Partnership, since the pact includes Malaysia, which ranks as a “Tier 3” nation in the State Department’s annual trafficking report, the lowest possible tier. 

June 19: Fox News: Hillary Clinton breaks with Obama on Trade Despite supporting the deal as Secretary of State
After being coy for weeks on her position, Hillary Clinton on Thursday clearly broke with President Obama on his trade push -- despite having supported the trade deal he wants as secretary of state.  The now-Democratic presidential candidate made her position clear after speaking at length about the uncertainty of what's in the deal and trade in general, Clinton was pressed for a yes-or-no answer on whether she'd vote for the package going through Congress.   "At this point, probably not," she said. 

Clinton indicated last weekend she was leaning against the plan, urging Obama to work more with "allies" in Congress including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who helped scuttle a major vote last week. Clinton urged all sides to get the "strongest deal possible," and said there should be no deal absent that.   But Thursday's interview was the first time she said whether she'd support or oppose the plan on the table. 

June 17: Roll Call: House Prepares for TPA Re-Vote
The House is set to vote Thursday on Trade Promotion Authority, with GOP leaders employing procedural maneuvers and indirect promises to make sure the bill eventually gets signed into law.  Pro-trade lawmakers are moving ahead with a vote on TPA without Trade Adjustment Assistance, which aids U.S. workers displaced by international trade.  The success of their plan hinges on whether Democrats who voted for TPA will still support that measure without immediate certainty they’ll also get TAA, which trade opponents voted down on June 12 to derail the entire package.

Without the Trade Adjustment Assistance provisions, the Trade Promotion Authority has an uphill battle for passage, but the leadership is assuring Members that the TAA will be moved forward on a parallel track.  In a joint statement Boehner and McConnell said  “We are committed to ensuring both TPA and TAA get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the President for signature.”   Meanwhile, conservatives in both houses are saying, how can we trust this President – who has a track record of overreaching his authority -- to do what is right and to live within the boundaries of this legislation?  Meanwhile, conservative Republicans are asking why their leadership is going to the Democrats for votes, instead of members of their own party.

June 17: The Weekly Standard: Sessions: Fast Track Would Lead to three pacts encompassing 90%
of the World’s GD
Senator Jeff Sessions is worried that the adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would lead to an "historic international regulatory Commission" that would  encompass 90 percent of the world's GDP. He's concerned that it would "[create] a self-governing and self-perpetuating Commission with extraordinary implications for American workers and American sovereignty."  “The House is preparing to vote again tomorrow on providing fast-track executive authority to the President,” Sessions said in a statement. “If adopted, it will be sent immediately to the Senate for final consideration."

"It is essential that there be no misunderstanding: fast-track pre-approves the formation of not only the unprecedentedly large Trans-Pacific Partnership, but an unlimited number of such agreements over the next six years. Those pacts include three of the most ambitious ever contemplated. After TPP comes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the United States and the European Union, followed by the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), seeking as one its goals labor mobility among more than 50 nations. Together, these three international compacts encompass three-fourths of the world’s GDP. Including the nations whose membership is being courted for after enactment, the countries involved would encompass nearly 90 percent of global GDP. Yet, through fast-track, Congress will have authorized the President to ink these deals before a page of them has been made public. Then, the Executive sends Congress 'implementing' legislation to change U.S. law—legislation which cannot be amended, cannot be filibustered, and will not be subjected to the Constitutional requirement for a two-thirds treaty vote,” Sessions contended. The Congress would only be able to vote the trade deals up or down and by a simple majority vote.

June 15: The Hill: House Looking at Options on Trade Bill
House leadership has made no decisions on how to move a trade package forward following a colossal defeat on the floor at the end of last week which saw both Republicans and Democrats joining forces to defeat a major part of the measure.   The House on Friday approved fast-track authority for President Obama but voted down a separate measure that grants aid to workers displaced by trade. Both parts of the package must be approved to send the bill to the White House so that Obama could sign it into law.

Members of both parties voted against the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, including scores of Democrats who saw killing it as the only way to stop fast-track.  Democrats voted against TAA despite personal pleas from Obama.  House Republicans have discussed bringing the bill up for another vote Tuesday, but few think the result would be different. Only 40 Democrats on Friday backed TAA, which many Republicans also oppose because they see it as an unnecessary program.

June 13: The Hill:  Behind the scenes: Pelosi’s Break with Obama on Trade
President Obama probably knew his trade agenda was going down in flames hours before the first votes were even cast in the House on Friday afternoon.   That morning, Obama made a rare visit to the Capitol to try to salvage legislation he needed to complete a major 12-nation Pacific trade deal.  It was there, in the second-floor office of one of his closest allies in Congress, that he got the bad news.   Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told the president she was “leaning no” on a workers-aid bill — the linchpin to a broader package granting Obama so-called fast track trade authority.
[This is an interesting story about the ins and outs of this legislation which you might find an interesting read in its entirety.]

June 12: Fox News:  Congressional Democrats May Sink PAC RIM Fast Track Trade Agreement
In a dramatic defeat for the White House, President Obama's trade agenda ran aground in the House on Friday in a 302-126 vote.    This was tied to one of the President’s main agenda items -- legislation that would give Obama "fast-track" authority to negotiate trade deals. Without it, the trade push withers for now.  The key vote Friday was on the so-called Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, a program that retrains workers displaced by trade. The bill was originally put on the table as a sweetener to help get Democrats on board and ultimately move the "fast-track" bill. But Democrats are so opposed to that legislation, all but 40 opposed the sweetener.   The White House downplayed the defeat saying that these kinds of things are “endemic to the House of Representatives.”

June 11: The Daily Caller: Boehner Defends Secrecy of Trade Talks:
House Speaker John Boehner [R-OH] said Thursday that members of Congress do not want to reveal their positions are on the current negotiations to give President Obama broader authority on trade agreements.  He said this in response to a question about the secrecy surrounding the development of so-called “trade promotion authority,” or TPA, which would allow the president to reach a trade deal with a foreign nation that would only require an up-or-down vote from Congress. Congress would not be allowed to filibuster the agreement.  “There’s a trade negotiation going on, and like any negotiation that goes on, you don’t want to air out what everyone’s positions are,” Boehner told reporters. “That’s not what we’re voting on. By passing trade promotion authority, it will actually give Congress more openness — more involvement in what the trade agreement may look like if we ever get one, and goal posts along the way.”

June 11: The Daily Caller: The Restaurant Industry will suffer from an increase in the Minimum  Wage
Raising the minimum wage will have severe consequences, especially for those working in the restaurant industry, investor rating service Moody’s warned on Thursday.  “A higher minimum wage represents a particular challenge for restaurants, which depend heavily on hourly workers,” William Fahy, vice president and senior credit officer for Moody’s said. “But restaurant operators will have a tough time passing higher labor costs onto customers without negatively impacting traffic.”  The Moody’s report also showed the minimum wage doesn’t even have to go up to $15 an hour for negative effects to occur. For instance, if the minimum wage went to $10.10 from the current $7.25 an hour margins, casual dining could fall substantially.

June 10: Breitbart.News: Sessions|Hunter: Trade Agreement is setting up a “European Union”
In a joint appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio show on Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) warned against the passage of the so-called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) currently being considered by the Congress.  Sessions argued it was more than just a framework for a process for the president of the United States to use in negotiating trade agreements, but instead was creating an economic union with wide-ranging powers. 

“I’ve been there three times and I can tell you it is far more than a trade agreement,” he said. “It is a creating of an economic union.”  The congressional resource said it is a wide-ranging political and economic partnership that is created where the Sultan of Brunei gets one vote.  The president of the United States gets one vote. Twelve countries – they have the ability to add other treaties and pass them. They have the ability to deal with climate issues, wage issues and environmental issues. There’s just no doubt about that.” The junior Alabama senator went on to explain that he felt it was being kept secret because if the public were aware of this union, which he likened to the European Union, it would be stopped dead in its tracks.

June 3: Breitbart News:   Paul Ryan: Claims Obamatrade more transparent than Iran deal
House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) believes the Obamatrade process is more transparent than President Obama’s negotiations with Iran  even though the text of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal that would fast track trade among pacific rim partners has been kept secret.

June 3: The Guardian:  Greek Leader meets with Eurozone Creditor but as expected, no deal yet
Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s radical prime minister, met with his eurozone creditors in Brussels on Wednesday evening over the terms of his country remaining in the single currency, as the five-year crisis centered on debt and democracy moved towards a climax.  Tsipras joined the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, for dinner and a battle of wills over conflicting ideas for resolving Greece’s financial catastrophe, although many believe the best they are likely to agree on is a fix to buy more time.  Although the meeting went well, it ended without a deal. However, there were positive expressions from participants afterwards and Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, said that there was more to come.

May 30: The Hill: Policy Differences could threaten Government Funding Later This Year
Spending bills crafted by Republican lawmakers include several policy provisions that could lead to a standoff with the Obama administration later this year.  While the fight over whether to bust spending limits will dominate this year’s government-funding debate, there are other issues that could prove to be thorny as well as Congress moves forward on 12 appropriations bills.

  • Cuba Policy: The House seeks to torpedo the President’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba – An action that some have pointed out violates the law set in place by former Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC).  One of the current provisions would block any U.S. flights it they passed through property confiscated by the Cuban Government.  Another would block funding for licensing vessels (like cruise ships) that dock near such property. Another Bill would limit the U.S. exports of goods to Cuba.
  • EPA Water Regulations:  Some Congressional members hope to use the power of the purse to stop the new EPA water regulation announced this week.  The WOTUS (Water of the United States) rule redefines streams, ditches, wetland and other bodies of water are protected by the Clean Water Act.  This is seen as a massive grab of authority not authorized by the law.  House Republicans have already passed a bill with a provision that restricts funding for the rule.  Senators have tried to include similar language in the upper chamber but have met with some resistance saying doing this might kill the funding bill.
  • Gun Control Restrictions:  The House has included some spending bill riders that some contend would relax gun control restrictions and impede efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking. One bill would prevent BATFE (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives)  from curtailing the importation of certain types of firearms and ammunition.  It would also prohibit funding to enforce the reporting requirements for the multiple sales of long guns.   Before passage, at least one Democrat claimed this would create a “national security threat.”

May 30: Fox News:  Union Leaders in LA See Exemption from Minimum Wage Law for businesses that unionize:
Union leaders in Los Angeles are being accused of hypocrisy after being caught trying to exempt themselves from a new minimum wage law they tried to impose on others. For months, organized labor went after companies like McDonalds and Walmart, shaming any business that paid the old minimum wage. Carrying signs saying, "We see greed" and "We are worth more," union members marched outside businesses and appeared at City Council meetings demanding Los Angeles raise the minimum wage from $9 to $15 by 2020.   "We say, 'Don't leave anybody out, don't cut anybody out, a wage raise for all workers!'" Mary Elena Durazo, the longtime leader of the 600,000-strong Los Angeles County Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, told a cheering crowd of supporters at a recent council meeting.   Yet after pushing through the new wage law, union officials are asking for a waiver that would allow any company that unionizes to avoid paying the minimum wage. 

May 26: Fox News: EPA Under Fire for Social Media PR Campaign on Water Regulations
Obama administration critics charge the EPA cajoled the public into supporting a controversial proposed regulation with an unprecedented social media campaign, pushing the boundaries of legal agency advocacy.   To enact a regulation, federal agencies typically propose a rule, allow the public to comment on that proposal and then alter the final regulation based on those comments.  Last year, the EPA unveiled a proposed regulation to expand its authority over America’s waterways under the Clean Water Act.  Then, it launched a social media campaign to draw public support.

Critics, pushing back say “When an agency does what happened here, which is to propose a rule and then immediately embark on a PR campaign … It looks like the agency’s predetermined the outcome,” said Ellen Steen, the general counsel of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “It looks like the agency isn’t thoughtfully considering public input.”  The American Farm Bureau strongly opposes the EPA’s regulation.  Critics also charge the EPA violated the Anti-Lobbying Act, a federal law that curbs government officials’ advocacy work.   “I think there’s a really good question about whether the agency stepped over the line here,” said Steen.

May 25: The Telegraph: Goldman-Sachs: The World Is Drowning in Debt
The world is sinking under too much debt and an aging global population means countries' debt piles are in danger of growing out of control, the European chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management has warned.  Andrew Wilson, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), said growing debt piles around the world posed one of the biggest threats to the global economy.  "There is too much debt and this represents a risk to economies. Consequently, there is a clear need to generate growth to work that debt off but, as demographics change, new ways of thinking at a policy level are required to do this," he said.

May 23: The Daily Caller: Vote-Conscious Republicans Declare Opposition to EX-Im Bank
In an indication of the Export-Import Bank’s dwindling popularity, previously undecided lawmakers are now responding to the mere threat of messaging from the bank’s opponents.  Club for Growth, a free-market advocacy organization, announced Thursday that it would target four additional Republican representatives as part of an ongoing ad campaign aimed at convincing voters in key congressional districts to oppose reauthorizing Ex-Im’s charter when it expires on June 30.  The announcement represented something of a warning shot to Reps. Rob Bishop, Bill Shuster, David McKinley, and Chris Stewart, coming as it did one day before the ads were set to start airing.  At least three of those four, it appears, anticipated that their constituents would be responsive to charges that Ex-Im is little more than a corporate welfare slush fund catering primarily to the interests of large corporations like Boeing and GE. Without even waiting for the first ads to run, Bishop, Stewart, and McKinley all issued statements declaring their opposition to the bank.

May 20: The Daily Signal: Debate on Renewal of the Ex-Im Bank Heats Up
The charter of the Export-Import Bank is set to expire on June 30 unless it is reauthorized by Congress.  Ex-Im Bank supporters are using scare tactics of bank supporters, saying failing to renew it would not mean the loss of thousands of American jobs.  However, economists have long understood that subsidies in the form of Ex-Im loans don’t actually create jobs but serve to simply redistribute them among domestic producers.  So the radio” blitz” paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claiming that failing to renew the Ex-Im bank charter will eliminate thousands of jobs in Texas is not entirely accurate.  That’s because export subsidies do not “create” or “support” jobs.   Opponents claim that the bank gives more to large firms like Boeing and not to the small firms that really need it – e.g., picking winners and loosers.

May 13: The Hill: Boehner: Senate Trade Vote is just a bump in the road
"Obviously, I'm still optimistic the Senate will figure out how to deal with this. They had a little bump in the road over there," Boehner said at a news conference.  "I think there is a majority in the House and the Senate for giving this president trade promotion authority, and I'm hopeful the Senate will act soon," he continued. "When the Senate does, I hope we will act shortly thereafter."  Senate Democrats  dealt President Obama a major blow on Tuesday when they voted to block stand-alone legislation giving Obama "fast-track" authority to get major trade deals done. Democrats, led by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), demanded that the fast-track bill be combined with other pieces of trade legislation, a move Republicans opposed.  For now, it appears House leaders will let the Senate work through its differences on trade before taking up their own bill.

May 13: The Daily Caller: GOP Takes First Step toward repealing Dodd-Frank Financial Regulations
Now that Republicans control Congress, some are hoping to scale back onerous financial regulations imposed by Democrats in response to the 2008 financial crisis.  Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, introduced financial regulatory reform legislation Tuesday that would, among other things, scale back parts of the Dodd-Frank Act.  The legislation is still in its preliminary stages, but Shelby said that he is hopeful it will “initiate a conversation with all members of the Committee who are interested in reaching a bipartisan agreement to improve access to credit and to reduce the level of risk in our financial system.”  To that end, the discussion draft includes a number of reforms that Republicans have long demanded, but with a limited scope that may be designed to appease potentially reluctant Democrats.

May 6: Associated Press:  U.S. Productivity Rate Drops Dramatically in the First Quarter of 2015
U.S. worker productivity declined in the first three months of the year as labor costs jumped, reflecting a slowdown in growth.   The Labor Department said Wednesday that productivity, which is the amount of output per hour of work, fell at 1.9 percent rate in the first quarter. Productivity dropped at a 2.1 percent rate in the final three months of 2014.  Meanwhile labor costs surged at a 5 percent rate in the first quarter, after having increased 4.2 percent in the fourth quarter.

Falling productivity coupled with higher labor costs are usually a negative for the economy, since it implies additional expenses without improvements in worker efficiency. Increased worker productivity generally fuels stronger economic performance.  But the figures can be an extremely volatile on a quarterly basis. This is only the third back-to-back quarterly decrease in the past 25 years.  Overall economic growth essentially flat-lined in the first quarter, rising at a tepid annual pace of only 0.2 percent, the government reported last week.

April 29: Washington Post: U.S. Economic Growth slows to a grinding halt:
The U.S. economy ground nearly to a halt in the first three months of the year, according to government data released Wednesday morning, as exports plunged and severe winter weather helped keep consumers indoors.  The gross domestic product grew between January and March at an annualized rate of 0.2 percent, the U.S. Commerce Department said, adding to the picture of an economy braking sharply after accelerating for much of last year. The pace fell well shy of the 1 percent mark anticipated by analysts and marked the weakest quarter in a year.  The economy had expanded at a rate of 2.2 percent in the final three months of 2014 and at a rate of 2.4 percent for the year.  Economists, employers and policymakers now face the challenge of determining whether the slowdown is temporary — stemming mostly from an unusually snowy winter in the Northeast — or a sign of broader problems. 

April 26: Yahoo News:  Russian Economy Tanking: Putin Ponders Raising the Retirement Age
Taking care of pensioners who are his bedrock of support has been a key feature of President Vladimir Putin's rule, but as crisis bites, the Russian government is mooting an idea that has been taboo for 80 years: raising the retirement age.  Since 1932, Russian men have been eligible to retire at the age of 60 and women at the age of 55. In numerous professions, especially hazardous ones like mining, people may retire even earlier.  But the budget has come under strain as people have started to live longer, as Russian women now have a life expectancy of 76 and men 65. 

Now, faced with a shrinking economy thanks to Western sanctions over Ukraine, an oil price that is half of what it was a year ago and a weak ruble, even Putin is cautiously bringing up the subject, which threatens to unleash protests and hurt his high ratings.  "The retirement age is one of the key issues," the president said in his annual phone-in session earlier this month. In 2016, Russia will have to spend three percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on pensions -- over $50 billion -- he said.   "Here is the question: where, in fact, will we get this money?" Putin pondered.  International institutions such as the World Bank have long pressed Russia to reform its pension system, but the Kremlin resisted, despite constant warnings by fiscal hawks that it poses an unbearable burden on the budget. The recession adds to the problem of an ageing population combined with fewer Russians entering the workforce due to a slump in births in the 1990s, and has prompted the government to sound the alarm.

"The faster we resolve this issue, the better for the economy and for the budget," Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said recently, proposing to hike the retirement age to 65 for both men and women.  Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev last week backed raising the retirement age gradually, by six months per year.

April 26: Fox News: Democrat Senators Call on President to Declassify Pac Rim Trade Deal Details
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is asking President Obama to make public classified information in the international trade deal that he’s asking Congress to ‘fast track’ -- the latest incident in which the populist, first-term Democratic senator appears critical of the president’s relationship with Wall Street and big business.  At issue is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, known as the TPP -- a significant deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations that aims to create a free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific region.  Warren and fellow Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) argue that by deeming the draft of the agreement’s text classified and from public view, the administration has, in fact, made the deal secret.  “As a result of your administration’s decision, it is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement,” they Senators contended.  Warren further claimed that corporate executives and lobbyists have had opportunities to not only read it, but to shape the terms, and calls for the American people to have the same ability.

April 19: Reuters: China cuts bank reserve requirements to fight economic slowdown
China's central bank on Sunday cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves, the second industry-wide cut in two months, adding more liquidity to the world's second-biggest economy to help spur bank lending and combat slowing growth.  The People's Bank of China lowered the reserve requirement ratio for all banks by 100 basis points to 18.5 percent, effective from April 20, the central bank said in a statement on its website.  "Though the growth in the first quarter met the official target of around 7 percent for 2015, the slowdown in several areas, including industrial output and retail sales, has caused concern," said a report. The latest cut, the deepest single reduction since the depth of the global crisis in 2008, shows how the central bank is stepping up efforts to ward off a sharp slowdown in the economy.  The size of the cut was more than expected.
April 17: CCN News:  Both Republican and Democrat Economists Agree: The Economy is not growing fast enough
"The good news is we're growing, we're creating jobs, property values are rising. The bad news is we're not growing quickly enough and there's tremendous income disparity," Hank Paulson, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush, told CNN on Sunday.  Paulson argued the biggest risk to America's "long-term preeminence" on the world stage isn't China -- it's political gridlock.  "The greatest threat is our own political inability to deal with the sorts of things we need to deal with to strengthen and revitalize our economy," Paulson said.   He pointed especially to the need for a federal tax code overhaul and better trade agreements with other nations.

Larry Summers, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton, had a similar take.   He warned that America's economy is entering a period of stagnation -- he dubs it "secular stagnation" -- where it won't be able to achieve its full growth potential because everyone is saving too much and not spending.  "We are doing less investment in infrastructure than at any time since the Second World War on a net basis," Summers said.

April 6: The Guardian: Greek Foreign Minister Seeks U.S. Help in Avoiding being Ousted from the EuroZone
Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, has continued efforts to drum up support in the US for his debt-stricken country as speculation mounted over the ability of the Athens government to survive in its current form.  Extending his “charm offensive,” the flamboyant finance minister held talks with senior administration officials after meeting IMF managing director Christine Lagarde and attempting to allay fears of an imminent Greek default.  Emerging from discussions with Lagarde he insisted Greece intended “to meet all obligations to all its creditors, ad infinitum”. In the coming weeks, the country faces a series of debt major repayments, including an installment to the IMF on April 9th.

Greece’s leftist-led coalition is hoping to draw support from a US administration widely perceived to have taken a softer line than creditors in Europe over Athens’ need to adopt austerity.  The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, was swept into power nine weeks ago on an anti-austerity platform and ever since has been haggling with Brussels, the European Central Bank and the IMF over a cash-for-reforms deal to unlock aid for his nation.

April 6: McClathydc NewsArab Nations’ donations to Hillary’s Foundation:
Curing the World’s Ills or Currying Favor?

Four oil-rich Arab nations, all with histories of philanthropy to United Nations and Middle Eastern causes, have donated vastly more money to the Clinton Foundation than they have to most other large private charities involved in the kinds of global work championed by the Clinton family.  Since 2001, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates gave as much as $40 million to the Clinton Foundation. In contrast, six similar non-governmental global charities collected no money from those same four Middle Eastern countries; the International Committee of the Red Cross was given $6.82 million. Since 2001, these global foundations have raised a staggering $40 billion to $50 billion to fund their humanitarian work.

The existence of foreign donors to the Clinton Foundation has been well-documented in the media. What hasn’t been revealed, however, is the disparity in donations by these four nations, all of which have been criticized by the State Department over the years for a spate of issues ranging from the mistreatment of women to stoking ethnic discord in the flammable Middle East.  Moreover, the level of Arab support for the Clinton Foundation, which occurred during the time Hillary Clinton was a U.S. senator, was seeking the Democratic nomination for president against Barack Obama, and was serving as secretary of state, fuels questions about the reasons for the donations. Were they solely to support the foundation’s causes, or were they designed to curry favor with the ex-president and with a potential future president?

March 27: The Washington Post: Lots of Showmanship as Senate Passes Budget:
For the second time in the past seven years, the U.S. Senate passed a budget, this time under Republican leadership. But not to be outdone some senators attempted to score political points by offering amendments on such issues as same sex “marriage,”  Iran sanctions, and defense spending.  In the end, the Republican budget proposal passed, 52-46, with all Democrats voting against it. Senate Republicans say their budget would achieve balance in 10 years and a $3 billion surplus in year 10.   Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Ran Paul (R-KY) were the only Republicans to vote against the bill.

March 21: Politico: Crackdown on New York Federal Reserve Bank?
A move to shift power away from the New York Federal Reserve Bank is finding some powerful friends in Congress amid lingering worries that a key part of the central bank is too cozy with Wall Street.  Two Republicans running the banking committees have both said they plan to explore proposals from the outspoken, former Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Richard Fisher that would roll back a long-standing provision that gives the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank an automatic position as vice chairman of a powerful committee and weaken New York’s oversight of Wall Street banks.

The politics may be ripe for chipping away at the power of the Federal Reserve, uniting liberals who want to crack down on Wall Street, Republicans who don’t like the Fed’s easy money policies and libertarians who are suspicious of the Fed altogether.

March 18: The Hill: Hawks back GOP Budget
Republican defense hawks said Wednesday they expected to fall in line behind the House budget, which would likely give GOP leaders the breathing room they need to pass another fiscal framework.    Senior Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee had declined to endorse the first budget from Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) over concerns that Congress would have to find offsets for a portion of the $90 billion in extra defense spending that is set aside in an account for overseas wars. But defense hawks said Wednesday that Price had given them assurances that lawmakers wouldn’t have to find a way to pay for any of those funds.  That led lawmakers such as Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) who organized a letter of 70 House Republicans saying they couldn’t back a proposal with more robust defense spending, to say they get could on board with the budget.   Other Armed Services members, like Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ), Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Joe Wilson (R-SC), also sounded more confident about backing the budget. 

March 8: Fox News & Associated Presss:
McConnell Vows No Shutdown, but what about limiting the ever increasing Debt?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that the Republican-controlled Congress won’t allow the government to default as the Treasury Department quickly approaches its so-called “debt ceiling.”  “I made it clear after November that we won’t shut down the government or default on debt,” the Kentucky Republican told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”  McConnell’s promise came two days after Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Capitol Hill that the government loses its authority after March 15 to borrow money to cover approved congressional spending and that his agency would have to resort to “extraordinary measures” as a short-term solution.

The debt limit has been suspended for the past year, meaning that Treasury could borrow whatever it wanted in order to keep the government running. But the limit will go back into effect on March 15 at whatever level of debt exists at that point.  The question is do we want to keep allowing the ongoing and seemingly never ending increase of debt around our necks and the necks of our children?  The nation's debt currently stands at $18.1 trillion.

The Congressional Budget Office, in a report last week, estimated that the various measures Treasury Secretary Lew can employ could put off the date the debt ceiling will have to be raised until October or November.  McConnell said that Congress will handle the issue “over a period of months” and that he has a responsibility to work with President Obama, despite their political differences.  "Only Congress is empowered to increase the nation's borrowing authority and I hope that Congress will address this matter without controversy or brinksmanship," Lew said in his letter. "I respectfully ask Congress to raise the debt limit as soon as possible."

February 19: The Hill: Paul eyes debt ceiling fight/Audit of the Federal Reserve
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is mulling attaching his Audit the Fed legislation to a vote to raise the debt ceiling, Paul spokesman Brian Darling has said.  Darling said Paul  fully expects to get a vote on the measure in the Senate this year and that "there are numerous options to get a bill passed by itself or combined with other legislation."  "The strategy going forward will be to use regular order," Darling said.   "If regular order does not work, Audit the Fed would be a great amendment to a debt-limit increase or any other piece of must pass legislation that hits the Senate floor."

The move is a clear signal of how serious Paul is about getting a vote on the legislation that has garnered political blowback from top Fed officials. The proposal allows for increased congressional oversight at the central bank.  Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and other top Fed officials have maintained for years that the bill would undermine the central bank's independence and politicize its actions.  The Treasury Department will reach its borrowing limit — or hit the "debt ceiling” — around March 15.  Most experts predict that Treasury Secretary Lew will be able to use a series of "extraordinary measures" to keep financing the government until summer or early fall.   Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) has introduced Audit the Fed legislation in the House, where it is expected to easily pass.

February 18: Fox News: Train Derailment Reignites Keystone Pipeline Debate
Aerial photo of derailed crude oil tanker railroad cars

The derailment of a train in West Virginia that sent flames soaring and at least some of the 3 million gallons of crude oil onboard into a Kanawha River tributary has prompted a renewed call for the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline as a safer alternative to rail transportation.  Daniel Kish, an Institute for Energy Research vice president, said Wednesday that trains remain a safe way to move oil and that the U.S. rail industry has met the demands of the recent domestic-energy boom.  But he said underground pipelines are safer.   “Any time you make more trips -- whether it’s trains, trucks or buses -- accidents increase,” he said. “I’m not trying to scare people. But the records show that if you move more stuff there will be more problems.”

Kish pointed to a State Department environmental-impact study that shows the number of stations for loading and unloading oil across Canada and the United States increased roughly 10-fold over the past four years. “I’m not opposed to these things being built,” Kish said. “But I have to say to myself: 'The fewer the number, the safer the transportation, which leads me to the pipeline being built.' " [See Related Column]

February 14: Fox News: State-Led Efforts to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment Gains Steam
A state-level campaign to rein in the federal government spending by calling an unprecedented convention to amend the U.S. Constitution is gaining steam, picking up support from two high-profile Republicans as more states explore the idea. The latest figures to endorse the effort are retired Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.  Coburn, a legendary government-waste watchdog, announced this week that he has joined the effort by becoming a senior adviser for the group Convention of States Action, which wants states, not just Congress, to pass constitutional amendments. A primary goal is to get an amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced federal budget, in which spending does not exceed revenue. So far, the Alaska, Florida and Georgia legislatures have each passed a resolution in support of a convention, and 25 more are considering one, according to the group.  “Our founders anticipated the federal government might get out of control,” Coburn said Tuesday. “And they gave us a constitutional mechanism to rein it in.”

Article V of the Constitution says amendments can be ratified either by Congress or by states if two-thirds of them petition Congress to call a convention. Then, any amendment proposed at the convention must be ratified by three-fourth, or 38, states.  But Beware!  Unless such a convention is limited to only focusing on a Balanced Budget Amendment then other measures could also be considered opening a Pandora’s box.  For example: Beyond getting Congress to pass a balanced budget, supporters of the largely Republican-backed effort are also focused on such issues as campaign finance reform and making sure the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t over regulate.

February 14: The Hill: Social Security Entitlements focus of Debate as 2016 Election Year nears
Social Security is surging to the forefront of the political debate ahead of the race for the White House in 2016.  The entitlement program has been thrust into the spotlight by a fight over the Social Security disability fund, which is expected to run dry by the end of next year. The looming shortfall is stirring a burst of activism on the left, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a likely 2016 candidate, and liberal hero Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) warning of an assault on the program from Republicans in Congress.  "We’ve known for years that Social Security Disability Insurance is set to run low in 2016, and most people assumed that another bipartisan reallocation was coming," Warren wrote Wednesday in an email to supporters. "But now, thanks to the Republican ideological war on our most important national safety net, disabled Americans could suddenly face a 20 percent cut in their Social Security checks next year."   Republicans have pushed back hard, and say they are the ones seeking to fix a broken program.

February 8: BBC News: Greenspan Predicts Greece Exit from Euro Inevitable
Greenspan said he could not see who would be willing to put up more loans to bolster Greece's struggling economy.  Greece wants to re-negotiate its bailout, but Greenspan said "I don't think it will be resolved without Greece leaving the eurozone".   Greenspan has long been a critic of the European single currency. Now, the 88-year-old former chairman of the US Federal Reserve has repeated a claim that nothing short of full political union - a United States of Europe - can save the euro from extinction.  Given that few (if any) of the current 19 sovereign governments which make up the eurozone would choose to create such an entity at this time, that means - for Greenspan at least - the euro is doomed.

February 5: Fox News: Gallop CEO Calls Jobless Rate another White House Lie:
The chairman of the venerable Gallup research and polling firm says the official U.S. unemployment rate is really an underestimation and a “big lie" perpetuated by the White House, Wall Street and the media.  Gallop CEO and Chairman Jim Clifton revealed in his blog Tuesday about how the Labor Department arrives at the monthly unemployment rate is no secret -- including that Americans who have quit looking for work after four weeks are not included in the survey.  The department's current rate of 5.6 percent unemployment is the lowest since June 2008, with President Obama using his State of the Union address and campaign-style stops across the country to tout an economic recovery.

Clifton says the “cheerleading” for the 5.6 number is “deafening.”  “The media loves a comeback story,” he writes. “The White House wants to score political points, and Wall Street would like you to stay in the market.”   But Clifton says Americans out of work for at least four weeks are “as unemployed as one can possibly be” and argues that as many as 30 million of them are now either out of work or severely underemployed.  He points out that an out-of-work engineer, for example, performing a minimum of one hour of work a week, even mowing a lawn for $20, also is not officially counted as unemployed.  In addition, those working part time but wanting full-time work -- the so-called “severely underemployed” -- also are not counted.  “There's no other way to say this,” Clifton says. “The official unemployment rate … amounts to a big lie.”

February 2:  Americans for Tax Reform:  Obama’s Budget crates a second Death Tax
The Obama budget calls for a stealth increase in the death tax rate from 40% to nearly 60%. Here's how it works:  Your dad buys a house for $10,000.  He dies and leaves it to you. The fair market value on the date of death is $100,000. You sell it for $120,000. Under current law, you have a capital gain of $20,000 (sales price of $120,000 less step up in basis of $100,000).  Under the Obama plan, you have a capital gain of $110,000 (sales price of $120,000 less original basis of $10,000).  There are exemptions for most households, but this misses the larger point: the whole reason we have step up in basis is because we have a death tax. If you are going to hold an estate liable for tax, you can't then hold the estate liable for tax again when the inheritor sells it. This adds yet another redundant layer of tax on savings and investment. It's a huge tax hike on family farms and small businesses.
February 2: Yahoo News:  Behind President’s Budget Proposal is a “Gloomy” view of the future:
Beneath President Barack Obama's plan to fight income inequality lies a gloomy view of an economy that is growing slower and creating fewer rewards for its workers than it did in much of the last century.  In a budget proposal unveiled on Monday, the White House cut forecasts for an array of economic variables, depicting less growth, weaker inflation and lower interest rates than officials expected only a year ago.   This comes despite an unemployment rate that the Obama administration expects to hit the 5.2 percent level considered to be roughly in line with full employment sometime this year.   The administration's take on the economy is one of close to a prolonged period of stagnation.

The economic vision presented in the plan is all-the-more pessimistic given that it incorporates the impact of higher spending on infrastructure and education, as well as overhauls of tax and immigration laws. Many of those proposals are unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Congress.  Even with these measures, which are aimed to counter rising income inequality, weaker growth would leave the economy about $500 billion smaller in 2020 than the administration projected a year ago. The administration expects the share of national income going to labor - as opposed to capital - to hold near historic lows for years to come.  An aging population that is less inclined to work could help limit long-run economic growth to around 2.3 percent annually, the budget says, a rate that would be roughly a percentage point lower than the average since World War Two.

January 29: The Hill: Senate votes to build the Keystone XL Pipeline
The Senate on Thursday voted 62-36 to build the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, delivering Republicans the first legislative victory of their new majority.  Nine Democrats joined with Republicans in voting to approve the $8 billion project, five votes short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a promised veto from President Obama.  The nine Democrats who voted to approve Keystone were Sens. Michael Bennet (CO), Tom Carper (DE), Bob Casey Jr. (PA), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WVA), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT) and Mark Warner (VA).  The bill now heads to the House, where Republicans are determined to act quickly to force Obama into taking what they believe will be a politically unpopular stand against a project that would carry oil sands from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

While the House voted to build the pipeline earlier this year, the Senate added several amendments to the legislation during three weeks of work, the byproduct of McConnell’s promise to give individual members more input on the floor.  Aides said House Republicans have not decided whether to pass the Senate bill as is or seek a conference committee, where a final version would be negotiated between the chambers.  Obama has repeatedly warned Congress not to short-circuit the federal review of the pipeline and seems poised to issue the third veto of his presidency when the legislation hits his desk.  The earliest the Keystone bill could reach Obama would be next week — just as the State Department receives final comments on the proposal to build the pipeline.

January 29: The Hill: Obama Budget $74 Billion over caps:  
President Obama will propose in his 2016 budget request to raise discretionary spending by $74 billion above the caps in sequestration, a White House official said Thursday.  Obama, who will formally unveil his next budget blueprint on Monday, will ask Congress to increase discretionary spending by 7 percent above caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011.   “This includes $530 billion on the nondefense discretionary side, an increase of $37 billion over the spending caps.   The president proposed relieving sequestration for fiscal years 2015 and 2016 in last year's budget.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest called the budget “the beginning of a negotiation,” but argued it was an important marker for the president’s priorities. “Budgets are important because they're a way that we can codify our values and our priorities,” Earnest said.  The White House spokesman said that as the administration engages with Congress, officials would seek a one-to-one match when easing cuts to defense and domestic spending. 

January 25: Sky News: Change in Greek Leadership may see them leave the EuroZone
Greece was forced by the Euro bailout to make deep budget cuts and fiscal reforms as part of the deal.  The current leadership is insisting that its actions are about to bear fruit, but exit polls indicate that Samaras – current leader of Greece – is about to be relieved of duty by the leftist candidate (Syriza) who wants to soften the burden of the cuts.  If this happens it looks as though Greece will be cut loose from the European Union’s EuroZone and allowed to fail on its debt payments.  What is happening in Greece  is a picture of what could happen in the United States if it doesn’t start dealing with its thirst for spending and its continual increasing of the national debt. 

Syriza's  -- the presumed winner of the election --  refusal to continue meeting the austerity demands placed on Greece by its creditors has sparked fears the country may be unable to repay its debts, which could force the country's exit from the Eurozone.  Meanwhile the current leader -- Mr Samaras --  has insisted voters would be making a huge mistake to elect Syriza at a time when painful fiscal reforms may be about to pay-off.

January 18: Yahoo News: Middle Class Decline: Legacy of Six Years of Obama Rein
President Obama enters the final two years of his presidency with a blemish on his legacy that looks impossible to erase: the decline of the middle class he has promised to rescue.  The revival of middle-class jobs has been one of his mantras since he took office in 2009.   It was a major theme of his last State of the Union address and is expected to feature in the one scheduled for Tuesday.  Administration officials said on Saturday the president would propose higher capital gains taxes, new fees on large financial firms, and other measures to raise $320 billion for programs and tax breaks aimed at the middle class.

Obama's administration may be able to take credit for stabilizing the U.S. economy, which is growing again and last year added jobs at the fastest clip since 1999.  But for the middle class the scars of the recession still run deep. Federal Reserve survey data show families in the middle fifth of the income scale now earn less and their net worth is lower than when the President took office.

January 15: Bloomberg.com: President set to ask Congress for a 7% budget busting increase:
President Barack Obama will ask Congress for as much as $68 billion more than current budget limits in fiscal 2016, according to two people familiar with the administration’s proposal. The request sets up a fight with the Republican-led House and Senate over whether to reverse part of the spending limits that the U.S. Congress and the White House agreed to in fiscal deals earlier this decade.  The new spending would mean as much as $34 billion each for the national security and domestic sides of what will be a budget of almost $4 trillion. It will be detailed in the budget proposal Obama will send to Congress on Feb. 2.   

That amounts to an almost 7 percent increase over discretionary-spending levels prescribed by automatic cuts known as sequestration voted into law in 2011, according to the people, who asked for anonymity because the budget plan hasn’t been released.  It’s a bold move at a time when many Republicans in Congress say they are eager to make deeper cuts in spending and are invigorated by a November election in which they expanded their House majority and gained control of the Senate.

January 11: Fox News: Senate needs four more votes for Veto-Proof Passage of XL Pipeline
The Senate still needs four votes to pass veto-proof legislation to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, Senator Hoeven (R-ND), who sponsored the legislation, said Sunday.  Hoeven, said the Senate remains shy of the 67 votes needed to override a presidential veto.  All of the chamber's 54 Republicans and nine Democrats are expected to support the legislation, which needs a two-thirds majority to override a veto.  “But we're going to the floor with an open amendment process, trying to foster more bipartisanship,” Hoeven said.  He also suggested Senate Republicans might attach the bill to other legislation that would get 67 votes.  The upper chamber could hold a preliminary vote on the legislation as early as Monday.

January 8: The Daily Caller: A New Year, 300 New Obama Administration Regulations
This year is already seeing a wave of new regulations being published in the Federal Register as the Obama administration unveils 300 new rules in the first seven days of 2015.  According to the Regulatikons.gov Website, they have published 300 final rules, proposals for new rules and regulatory notices in the seven days since the new year began. The bulk of these new regulations are notices, which can lead to rulemakings, meetings and other government activities.  Rules having to do with energy, environment, public lands and agriculture make up the largest share of new regulations. Included in these new rules are proposed EPA air quality standards for lead, reforming coal and oil leases on Indian lands and adjustments for the total amount of fish people can catch off Alaska’s coast.

January 6: The Telegraph: Greece verses Europe: Who will blink first?
The Eurozone stands on the brink of another crisis as Athens confronts Brussels and Berlin.  Everybody thinks everybody else is bluffing, all of them betting that a calamitous chain reaction will be averted.   Germany thinks Greece can be ejected safely from the euro, if the rebel Syriza party wins the elections on January 25 and carries out its pledge to tear up Greece’s hated “memorandum” with the EU-IMF “Troika.”  Tim Geithner, the former US Treasury Secretary, said the Europeans seemed determined to teach Greece a lesson: “They lied to us, and we’re going to crush them,” was the gist of it.  Last time Mrs Merkel retreated only after it became clear that Spain and Italy would be engulfed by contagion if Greece was thrown out.   But this time, Berlin seems almost eager to finish the job. Yet Syriza’s ice-cool leader, Alexis Tsipras, is equally convinced that the EU elites will back down, knowing that they have invested too much political capital in Greece’s salvation to walk away. After all, the sums involved now are tiny compared to the 245 billion in loans already dispersed since the crisis erupted in May 2010. Surely, after having claimed so confidently that the crisis was essentially over, Mrs Merkel can hardly admit that her strategy has failed?

January 4: The Hill: Thune: We won’t shutdown the government but we will use the power of the purse:
John Thune (R-SD) said on "Fox News Sunday" that Republicans would use their budget power in order to fight back against President Obama's executive orders, which GOP lawmakers argue is an overreach of power.  "We're not going to shut the government down," Thune said. "We'll use power of the purse to challenge the president."  Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN.) said on "Fox News Sunday" that "on bigger issues, we absolutely need him to be involved."  "We look forward to that opportunity," Corker said.

January 1: The Hill: The Budget will be one of the conflicts between the White House and Congress in 2015
The federal budget is likely to be the central battleground between the President and the new Congress in 2015.  The Republicans have vowed to slash the size of government.  The President has threatened to use his veto. Here are the dates to watch as the conflict unfolds.

  • February 2: Obama’s budget deadline:  The President is required  by law to submit his proposed budget to the Congress by the first Monday in February.  Obama has repeatedly missed this deadline, last year delivering it a month late.  It is likely that it will include more spending for the Pentagon than originally expected because of the new battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Obama administration officials have hinted that the proposed spending level for defense will bust the cap set by the Budget Control Act of 2011. If Congress doesn’t raise or remove the cap before next October, across-the-board spending cuts could take effect.
  • February 27: DHS funding runs out:  Congress has two months to decide how to fund the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year. The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed in December only funds DHS through February.  This may end up addressing desires to defund the President’s unilateral immigration actions.
  • March 15: Debt limit suspension expires: Last year Congress eliminated the debt ceiling.  That authority expires March 15th, at which time the debt limit will automatically be re-engaged.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has repeatedly promised he will not allow the U.S. to default, but GOP leaders are facing new pressure to demand spending cuts in exchange for a debt increase — something Obama and Democrats are likely to resist.
  • April 1: GOP budget resolution:  Anticipate a budget resolution that will provide directions to the appropriation committees on how to rein in federal spending.  Chairman Price has said that instead of raising the sequestration budget caps for fiscal 2016 he wants to maintain those limits, but eliminate the firewall between defense and non-defense spending. dissolving that boundary  would give Congress the flexibility to allocate more money to the military and less to domestic programs.  It is also possible that the budget resolution could involve a roll back of Obamacare, tas reform or even changes to energy policy. It is unclear that the President would sign such legislation.
  • September 30: Shutdown deadline: The Congress will need to pass 12 appropriation bills by this date or risk a shutdown, or partial shutdown, of the government.
    October 1: Fiscal 2016 begins:  By this point the budget battle may be over.  If not the automatic spending cuts – called sequester – will kick in.

December 31: The Washington Examiner: 
21,000 regulations so far and counting: 2,375 Set to go in 2015
The pace of agencies issuing new rules and regulations has hit a record high under President Obama, whose administration’s rules have filled 468,500 pages in the Federal Register.  And, according to the Completive Enterprise Institute (CEI), the president is poised to unleash another 2,375 new rules on American businesses without first giving Congress an up or down vote.  CEI’s, vice president for policy, told Secrets Wednesday that of the top six biggest Federal Register page tallies since 2002, the Obama administration owns five. This year, he said, the Federal Register ended up printing 79,066 pages — 78,978 when blank pages are removed.

December 30: Reuters: Venezuela Confirms Recession as Inflation Hits 63.6%
Venezuela entered a recession in 2014, with the economy shrinking in the first three quarters, the Central Bank said on Tuesday, blaming political opponents for the dismal figures.  In a statement, the bank said GDP contracted 4.8 percent in the first quarter, versus the same period of last year, then it fell a further 4.9 percent in the second quarter and shrank 2.3 percent in the third quarter.  The statement added that 12-month inflation, which is the highest in the Americas, reached 63.6 percent in November.  The central bank statement, confirming an economic contraction widely forecast by analysts, came just before President Nicolas Maduro was about to start a news conference in which he was expected to announce economic changes.

Venezuela's socialist government blames political opponents, who protested in the streets for four months earlier this year, for damaging the South American OPEC nation's economy. The protests resulted in violence that killed 43 people.  "These actions against public order blocked the correct distribution of basic goods to the population, as well as the normal development of production of goods and services," the bank statement said.  "This resulted in an inflationary spike and a fall in economic activity."  Opponents say Venezuela's economic crisis is a consequence of 15 years of socialist policies, begun by Maduro's predecessor Hugo Chavez, who ruled from 1999 to 2013 before his death from cancer.

December 29: The Daily Caller: Government Failures of 2014
The federal government’s waste in 2014 ranges from pornography and drunkenness to ignoring homeless veterans, and that’s not the half of it.  The U.S. government spent $3.5 trillion this year with a deficit of $486 billion. Federal spending has grown 63 percent faster than inflation in the last 20 years, and with skyrocketing spending, the federal government has, believe it or not, wasted billions.  Here are some examples of government waste:
- The Federal government allotted $466,642 for a grant to study why obese girls don’t have sex.
- An oversight report released in the fall showed that although the government has spent $8 billion fighting the opium trade in Afghanistan, opium growth levels are at an all-time high.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs is a champion of mismanagement and waste, in scale and longevity. Even after months of public criticism for pathetic service and wasted funds, an oversight report showed that the VA is on track to mismanage hundreds of millions in the coming years.
- Sen. Tom Coburn will step down in early 2015, but he left behind a legacy of exposing government waste. His annual “Wastebook” highlighted the most outlandish government spending. In 2014, Coburn picked out $25 billion in waste for his last go-around..."

December 27: Yahoo News (Reuters):
Famous Venezuelan Ice Cream Shop Closes Doors Due to the Economy

An ice-cream store listed in the Guinness World Records book for its 863 different flavors has become the latest victim of Venezuela's economic crisis. "We are closed during the season due to shortage of milk," the famous Coromoto ice-cream store in the highland town of Merida announced on its Facebook page. Locals confirmed that the shop, hugely popular among tourists for its exotic and strange flavors ranging from beer to beans, had been closed since Christmas Eve.  A sign on the door asked customers' forgiveness "for not attending you due to the lack of milk."

Venezuelans have been suffering acute shortages of basic goods, from toilet-paper to spare tires, all year due to an economic slowdown caused by its socialistic/progressive economic policies, the highest inflation in the Americas, and the impact of strict currency controls.

December 26: The Washington Post:
Obama Looks to GOP to get Free Trade Agreement against Democrat Resistance:
President Obama is preparing a major push on a vast free-trade zone that seeks to enlist Republicans as partners and test his premise that Washington can still find common ground on major initiatives. It also will test his willingness to buck his own party in pursuit of a legacy-burnishing achievement. Already, fellow Democrats are accusing him of abandoning past promises on trade and potentially undermining his domestic priority of reducing income inequality. The dynamic, as the White House plots strategy for the new year when the GOP has full control of Congress, has scrambled traditional political alliances.

In recent weeks, Obama has rallied the business community behind his trade agenda, while leading Capitol Hill progressives, including Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have raised objections and labor and environmental groups have mounted a public relations campaign against it.  The administration is moving aggressively in hopes of wrapping up negotiations by the middle of next year on a 12-nation free-trade pact in the Asia-Pacific region before the politics become even more daunting ahead of the 2016 presidential campaign.

December 18: CNBC News: Data Shows Russian Cash has already fled:
It may be a little late for Russian capital controls. The collapse of the ruble has prompted a flight of capital as investors and savers in Russia seek shelter outside the country's borders. A CNBC.com analysis of money flows monitored by the Russian Central Bank shows that large cash hoards have already left the country. Nations in the ex-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have been disproportionate recipients of those funds. The Ukraine is also a major destination for Russian cash.  Since 2006, the earliest data available, Russian individuals have sent nearly $200 billion out of the country—or more than 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product for 2013.

Russian central bankers have been frantically trying to stem a further collapse of the national currency, including a surprise move this week to jack up interest rates to 17 percent. The hope is that those higher rates will bring more hard cash back into Russia—or keep it from leaving.   But the data show that Russians have been sending their money outside the country for years. And the flow of cash has accelerated in the last year, up from $5.9 billion in the first quarter of 2013 to $13.4 billion in the third quarter of this year, the latest data available.

December 15: Bloomberg: Russia Raises Interest Rate to Hold Off Rout of the Ruble
Russia’s central bank raised its benchmark interest rate the most since the nation’s 1998 default, making the announcement in the middle of the night in Moscow as policy makers seek to douse investor panic and stem a ruble rout.   The central bank increased the key rate to 17 percent from 10.5 percent effective today, it said in a statement on its website. Policy makers gathered for an unscheduled meeting after a one-point increase on Dec. 11.   “This decision is aimed at limiting substantially increased ruble depreciation risks and inflation risks,” the bank said in the statement.

Russia’s central bank has raised interest rates six times in 2014 after more than $80 billion spent from its reserves failed to stop a 49% selloff of the ruble, the world’s worst-performing currency this year. President  Putin, whose incursion into Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March prompted the U.S. and its allies to strike back with sanctions, this month called for “harsh” measures to deter currency speculators.  This plus the decline of oil prices has had a further detrimental effect on the Russian economy.  

December 15: The New York Times: Spending Bill: Salty Foods and belching cows are the winners:
Health insurance companies preserved their tax breaks. Farmers and ranchers were spared having to report on pollution from manure. Tourist destinations like Las Vegas benefited from a travel promotion program. All these are part of the giant spending bill that cleared the Senate on Saturday and is headed to President Obama for his signature.  There  were also provisions that prohibit the federal government from requiring less salt in school lunches and that allow schools to obtain exemptions from whole-grain requirements for pasta and tortillas.

Representative Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio and a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, criticized the $1.1 trillion spending measure as “a Christmas tree bill,” decorated with “dangerous and unwelcome, nongermane riders.”    Such favors often have a long lineage. Lobbyists and lawmakers have, in many cases, been working on them for months or years. Some of this year’s provisions originated as free-standing bills, languished on their own and were then revived in the spending package. Others block regulations that have been proposed, adopted and sometimes upheld in court.  Republicans like Representative Harold Rogers of Kentucky, the committee chairman, said the riders were needed to halt wasteful spending and “overreach” by agencies that generate rules harmful to the economy.

December 13: The Hill: Democrats:  Don’t be scared of Warren
A senior Democratic House lawmaker said Saturday Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) nearly derailed the $1.1 trillion omnibus package because fellow Democrats are intimidated by the liberal star from Massachusetts.  “I think there are a lot of people who do not want to be on the right of Elizabeth Warren. They want her to represent liberal views. They know she has a grandstand. They know that their constituents are listening to her. They know they can’t explain the issue,” said Rep. Jim Moran (VA) a senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.  “So they were willing to jeopardize $30 billion for NIH. We put more than $7 billion into Indiana health and education. We put more than $11 billion into Head Start and early child care,” he said. “If we don’t pass this bill now, we’re going to lose most of those gains.”  Moran said Warren put all those items at risk by urging House Democrats to defeat the omnibus because it included language repealing a prohibition in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

December 11: Fox News:
After approving the Rule 214 to 212, the House Sends $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill to the Senate:
The House narrowly approved a vital spending bill Thursday night despite deep misgivings among liberals and conservatives alike, sending the measure to the Senate as a funding deadline looms. The bill passed on a 219-206 vote, following an intense lobbying effort by House Republican leaders and the Obama White House.  Current government funding technically runs out at midnight Thursday, and lawmakers still may have to pass a stopgap measure to buy time as the Senate debates the main $1.1 trillion spending package.  Earlier in the day the House approved the rule for considering this legislation by a closer vote 214-212. 

Passage in the House followed hours of urgent appeals from an unlikely alliance: President Obama and House GOP leadership.  Obama and Vice President Biden worked the phones to sway Democratic lawmakers. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough also met on the Hill with the Democratic caucus. Despite sources inside the meeting initially saying he did little to persuade lawmakers, a rift emerged in the Democratic leadership late Thursday. As House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi continued to oppose the bill, her deputy, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-MD, urged passage.  Meanwhile, House GOP leaders did what they could to sway conservative members who, for different reasons, were opposed to the package.  In the end, 67 Republicans defected, but 57 Democrats voted for it.  Within the Texas Republican delegation two Members opposed the rule.  Nine of the Texas Republicans who voted for the rule ended up voting against the bill, which passed in any event. 

December 11: The Hill
Rule that allowed consideration of the $1.1 Trillion in spending cleared House by two votes:

The House on Thursday narrowly passed a rule to set up debate on the $1.1 trillion "cromnibus" government funding bill, in a dramatic vote that for several minutes was on the brink of failing.  By a razor-thin margin of 214-212, the House advanced to debating the underlying appropriations bill to avoid a government shutdown at midnight. [Read the full vote breakdown here.]

Only two Republicans of the Texas congressional delegation voted against the rule (Louie Gohmert and Steve Stockman).   Not a single Democrat voted for the rule.   That left Republicans to approve the rule on their own. For several minutes, there were more "nay" votes than "yes" votes by 210-213. Then, for a moment, it was tied at 213-213.  It was at that point Speaker Boehner (R-OH) intervened. Fellow lawmakers and reporters in the gallery could see Boehner personally lobbying conservatives who voted against the rule to switch their votes.  One of the lawmakers who switched was Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI), who lost his primary earlier this year and won't be returning in the new Congress.

December 10: The Daily Caller: Conservative Groups Oppose Boehner Spending Deal:
Conservative groups that routinely clash with the Republican leadership are making it clear they oppose the $1 trillion end-of-the-year spending package being debated in Congress this week.  The details of the massive spending bill were finally released late Tuesday, and Congress is expected to vote on it Thursday.  Opposing the legislation, some conservatives are pointing to the riders included in the bill, which they say amount to handouts to special interests.

“Christmas has come early for the big spenders in Congress who have been experiencing long-term withdrawal from the earmark ban,” Club for Growth VP of government affairs Andy Roth told lawmakers in a memo. At Heritage Action for America, spokesman Dan Holler said the bill should be opposed for not doing anything to stop Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration such as granting quasi-legal status, work permits and Social Security numbers to those who are in the country illegally. 

The bill also funds the Obamacare program through September 2015.

December 10: Breitbart News:
Boehner Drops 1,603 page spending bill on the table, Securing Obama’s Amnesty:

Election results in November notwithstanding, House Speaker Boehner is desperately turning to Democrats to pass his omnibus bill that enables Obama’s executive amnesty.  The full text of the bill, which was publicly introduced at about 8:20 p.m. on Tuesday after congressional leaders missed several self-set deadlines throughout the day, is 1,603 pages long. That means it will be impossible for any member of the House or Senate to read the entire bill before voting on it this week. 

The pure numbers in Congress suggest Boehner can’t get enough Republicans to pass his executive amnesty omnibus, something even his top lieutenants have admitted in recent days.  To pass this bill, Boehner needs to get 218 votes. There are 234 Republicans in the House but according to Matt Salmon (R-AZ) ,there are at least 50 Republicans—probably more—who won’t vote for this bill.  This means Boehner will need to enlist the help of House Democrats in order to pass the bill.  Salmon is not optimistic the number of Republicans in opposition will reach the number of Democrats voting for this bill at this time. Yet since there are so many liberal parts of the bill, once the text is introduced, anything can happen.  But even if the conservatives loose they aren’t relenting.  Dave Brat (R-VA), who was just elected to the House after beating now former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary, is leading a last-ditch effort to stop amnesty via the omnibus. He’s pushing an amendment with support from several House conservatives that would be added to the bill before it hits the floor—unless House Rules Committee chairman  Pete Sessions (R-TX) blocks the amendment, something that would surely spark substantial grassroots outrage against him in his conservative Texas district.

December 10: Reuters.com: What is in the 1,603 page Boehner spending bill:
The House bill cuts the budget of the EPA by $60 million and includes a number of provisions intended to "rein in regulatory overreach," GOP appropriators say.  It exempts livestock producers from some greenhouse gas emissions regulations, bolsters congressional oversight of EPA's review of mining permits, and blocks the Department of Interior from designating as endangered two species of sage grouse -- a move that could hamper oil and gas exploration and production in western states.  It also prohibits funding of the Energy Department's enforcement of controversial light bulb efficiency standards, which ban higher-wattage incandescent bulbs while requiring the Administration to report its spending on climate change programs.

The bill will also provide $380 million less than the President has requested for renewable energy projects and would instruct EPA and the Army to withdraw a rule that would have narrowed a Clean Water Act exemption for agricultural areas, which tend to produce more fertilizer runoff.  It also bars the U.S. Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corp from withholding funds from coal-fired other power-generation projects that do not cut greenhouse gas emissions, a move Republicans say will help boost U.S. exports of equipment and coal.

December 10: Reuters: OPEC expects lower demand for oil in 2015; It’s a matter of supply and demand:
Global demand for OPEC crude in 2015 is expected to fall to the lowest level in more than a decade and far below current output, the group said on Wednesday, pointing to a hefty supply surplus without OPEC output cuts or a slowdown in the U.S. shale boom.  In a monthly report OPEC forecast demand for the group's oil will drop to 28.92 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2015, down from its previous expectation and over 1 million bpd less than it is currently producing.  But the top OPEC exporter -- Saudi Arabia – noted that as prices fall it will help combat the growth in U.S. shale oil which needs relatively high prices to be economically viable.

December 9: The Hill: House/Senate Leadership strike $1 Trillion Deal, but what’s in it?
The Continuing Resolution (CR) was posted after 8 p.m. Tuesday and its passage would avert a partial government shutdown.  The delayed release of the funding bill could push the lame-duck schedule back, with lawmakers itching to wrap up work for the year and return home for the holidays.  House Rules could act on Wednesday with a vote in the House on Thursday or Friday.  Action would then move to the Senate. 

The bill includes $64 billion in overseas contingency operations funding, including $5 billion to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and it includes $5.4 billion to combat the Ebola epidemic.  The White House had requested $5.6 billion for anti-ISIS operations and $6.2 billion to fight Ebola.  The bill also provides $948 million for the unaccompanied children program, $80 million more than in fiscal 2014. The program allows the Department of Health and Human Services to provide health and education services to unaccompanied minors who enter the United States from Central America—a flow that had surged earlier this year.

 The leaders of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Kline (R-MN) and Miller (D-CA) are likely to propose an amendment for pension reform to permit trustees of underfunded plans to adjust benefits, thereby saving troubled plans without a federal bailout.   The bill also includes $73 million to bolster a national database designed to block gun sales to the mentally ill and other prohibited buyers – a $14.5 million increase over fiscal 2014 levels. And it includes a one-year extension of the Internet Tax Freedom Act which bans state and local government from imposing taxes on Internet sales and services.

In addition, the bill would force the EPA to withdraw a rule that outlined numerous exemptions to the Clean Water Act for farmers. The rule appeared to outlaw scores of common practices that were previously allowed. The GOP also attached a rider that would restrict the listing of the sage grouse as an endangered species because Republicans argue that would prevent oil-drilling projects.

December 8: The Daily Caller: Boehner’s approach to Govt. Funding Kind of Like Pelosi and Healthcare
– make it big with no time to digest it!

House Speaker John Boehner is releasing the huge, $1 trillion 2015 government budget on Monday, only three days before the vote on Wednesday, Dec. 11.  That delay jams GOP legislators, who won’t be able to identify or oppose many of the unpopular spending programs that are likely buried deep inside the complex budget, which was drafted by GOP and Democratic members of the appropriations committees.  “There’s no way this huge bill can be addressed effectively,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking GOP member of the Senate’e budget committee, said on Sunday. “There are going to be thousands of pages.”

Boehner has held the budget bill secret until the last days before much of the federal government shuts down for lack of cash on Dec. 12.  Boehner declined to describe or release the proposed budget last week, which would have allowed legislators — plus GOP voters and advocacy groups — time to identify and rally against spending programs that are opposed by their constituents and supporters.  Those spending allotments could fund new energy regulations, enforcement of rules requiring employers to fund abortions, and President Barack Obama’s award of work-permits to foreigners living illegally in the United States.

December 7: The Hill: Watch Dog Bracing for “Surprises” in Trillion Dollar Plus Spending Bill
Outside groups are bracing for surprises in the massive government-funding bill the Congress is expected to consider next week.  The $1.014 trillion bill funding most of the government through September 2015 is one of the last trains out of the station, as the 113th Congress is set to close shop on Friday.  That means it could be a final chance for lobbyists and lawmakers alike to find a vehicle for their priorities.  “We’re ready to be surprised,” said Steve Ellis, vice president at Taxpayers for Common Sense, which regularly highlights hidden measures included in funding bills. Democrats are watching for a GOP rider to prohibit federal funds from being used to subsidize insurance plans that provide abortion services.

Appropriators preparing the bill are keeping a tight lid on its contents. They are expected to release the legislation on Monday.  The government will shut down on Dec. 12 if Congress does not approve a new funding measure by then.  The House is expected to vote first on the “cromnibus,” which includes 11 appropriations bills funding agencies through the fiscal year, and a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the Department of Homeland Security for only a few months.

December 7: Politico: Tight Lid being put on $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill
Details were closely held given the tense political climate. But the formula for the compromise was direct: Freeze domestic appropriations at home and direct the most dollars and punch to counter new threats from overseas.  Almost all the big initiatives begin at the water’s edge: containing Ebola in West Africa, fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the Mideast, shoring up Europe against Vladimir Putin’s Russia, helping Central America counter the violence and poverty that sent thousands of children across the Rio Grande into Texas last spring.  By comparison, President Barack Obama’s domestic agenda — like Alice’s Red Queen — will have to run hard just to stay in place.

Even the president’s popular TIGER transportation grants are reduced to $100 million below 2014 and less than half of what Obama wanted in 2015. The National Institutes of Health will benefit from new Ebola funds for clinical trials, but its core $29.8 billion budget is expected to grow by just $150 million — not enough to keep pace with inflation.

Republicans resisted repeated efforts by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to allow some cap adjustment for NIH. Caught in the middle of this zero-sum game are two favorite Republican targets: the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.  The bill provides an estimated $10.9 billion for the IRS and $8.1 billion for the EPA — real cuts from current funding, especially for the IRS.

December 3: The Hill: Pelosi in tough spot as Dems Split on GOP Funding Bill
Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is facing conflicting pressures from rank-and-file Democrats ahead of a high-stakes vote over the GOP’s year-end government funding package.  Some Democrats are signaling support for the Republican proposal, viewing it as the best chance to secure long-term funding for most government functions while the Democrats still control the Senate. Others are calling for a united Democratic opposition to the “cromnibus” bill, both to highlight Republican divisions and to protest spending levels they deem too low. 

And still others are warning that a core element of the GOP’s spending strategy — a short-term funding extension for the Homeland Security Department (DHS) — threatens national security in an era of heightened terrorist threats.  But a number of conservatives are balking at Boehner’s strategy, arguing it doesn’t go far enough to counter President Obama’s move to defer deportations for millions of illegal immigrants.  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) urged House Republicans to “stand up” and say, “We will not allocate taxpayer dollars to lawless and illegal amnesty.”  Much will hinge on the precise contents of the package, which GOP appropriators are expected to release early next week. But Pelosi’s minority Democrats could decide the bill’s fate if Cruz’s message takes hold and Boehner is unable to rally 218 Republican votes.

December 3: The Hill: House Passes Bill to Extend Tax Breaks for Americans
The House on Wednesday passed a one-year renewal of more than 50 tax breaks that expired at the end of 2013, putting the measure on a path toward President Obama's desk. Passed 378-46, the measure would extend nearly all of the tax breaks until just the end of this year, at a cost of almost $42 billion. The dissenting votes were close to evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. In advance of the vote, Democratic tax writers in the Senate had been pushing for their preferred two-year extensions of the tax breaks.

November 26: Politico:  How Immigration Killed the Tax Deal
Immigration politics and Democratic infighting came together to doom the $400 billion deal even before it had made it into print. The brinksmanship threatens to disrupt the lives of millions of taxpayers who rely on the mishmash of expired provisions the plan was trying to revive. 

Interviews with the key players showed that the House and Senate tax-writing panels had for weeks been making solid progress toward a final tax package that looked like it would include the breaks for low- and middle-income people sought by the president. But the deal fell apart when the President took his unilateral immigration action.  His executive order worried Republicans  that undocumented immigrants might start to claim tax breaks.  Then the President issued a veto threat against the Reid-Camp brokered deal and the bottom fell out.  Nobody seems very happy, not Reid (D-NV), members of the Senate Democrat  caucus, and not the Republicans. The blowup brought negotiations to a standstill. Aides in both parties say they will take another run at cobbling together a deal after lawmakers’ Thanksgiving break, but neither side is very optimistic.  Both sides agree the most likely outcome is the one neither want: A simple one-year status quo extension of all the breaks.

November 8: Fox News: World’s largest solar plant applying for federal bailout
After already receiving a controversial $1.6 billion construction loan from U.S. taxpayers, the wealthy investors of a California solar power plant now want a $539 million federal grant to pay off their federal loan.  “This is an attempt by very large cash generating companies that have billions on their balance sheet to get a federal bailout, i.e. a bailout from us - the taxpayer for their pet project," said Reason Foundation VP of Research Julian Morris. "It's actually rather obscene."  When asked why the project did not produce the energy promised, the response was that the sun didn’t shine enough in the Mohave Desert to provide the anticipated electricity output!

October 24: Wall Street JournalRecord number of Americans renouncing citizenship:
Taxes Cited as reason

Significant numbers of people are continuing to renounce their U.S. citizenship or end their long-term U.S. residency.  There are 776 names on the Treasury Department list published Friday for the third quarter of 2014. That’s the third highest quarterly figure ever, according to Andrew Mitchel, an international tax lawyer in Centerbrook, Conn., who tracks the data. The total number of published renouncers so far in 2014 is 2,353, putting this year on pace to exceed last year’s record total of 2,999, adds Mr. Mitchel.

October 17: The Dallas Morning News: Texas breaks a 12 month record for job creation
Texas created enough jobs last month to help the state set a 12-month record.  The Texas economy added 36,400 jobs in September, according to data released Friday by the Texas Workforce Commission. Over the past 12 months, employers added 413,700 jobs — the most ever recorded by the state.  The unemployment rate fell to 5.2 percent in September, down from 5.3 percent in August. A year ago, the rate was 6.3 percent.  “We’re having a broad -based increase in job growth in Texas” said Trinity University economist David Macpherson.

Those strong September numbers preceded the recent decline in oil prices and the Ebola outbreak in Dallas, but economists said those occurrences aren’t expected to affect the Texas job market.  “People with long memories back to the 1980s are getting nervous about oil prices,” said Jim Glassman, senior economist at Chase Commercial Banking. The U.S. benchmark of crude oil, West Texas Intermediate, declined to $82 a barrel this week, its lowest level since 2012.  The state has been “spoiled” by stable oil prices and now people panic when it goes down a little, said Keith Phillips, senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.  “People shouldn’t forget that there’s an upside to the lower oil prices, even in Texas,” he said. “Lower gasoline prices could prompt consumer spending.”

October 17: CNBC News: Moody’s Down Grades Russian Debt Rating to Baa2
Moody's Investors Service cut Russia’s sovereign debt rating to 'Baa2' from 'Baa1', becoming the second ratings agency to cut the country's ratings this year, after S&P initiated a downgrade in April. Moody's said the prolonged crisis in Ukraine was weighing on Russia's medium-term growth prospects. "The military confrontation in Ukraine and escalating sanctions against Russia are likely to have an increasingly negative macroeconomic impact on Russia's investment climate," the ratings agency said on Friday.   The agency maintained its negative outlook on Russia. Moody's cited the ongoing erosion of Russia's foreign exchange buffers due to low oil prices and Russian borrowers' restricted access to international markets as key drivers for the downgrade.

October 3: The Daily Caller: Voters to Obama:  Hands Off Burger King!
A major business group reiterated Friday that Congress, not just the president, should tackle corporate tax laws.  A significant majority of likely voters, both nationally and in key Senate battleground states, believe that Congress and the president should work together when making changes to tax laws, according to recently released survey results.  The surveys were conducted nationwide in August, and in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, and North Carolina during September. Respondents were asked whether they would prefer to see unilateral action by the president, legislation passed by Congress, or cooperation between the two branches “if the federal government were to take action to change the tax laws.”  Responses to the state-level surveys were largely consistent with the national survey, in which 15 percent of voters expressed a preference for Congressional legislation, 5 percent supported unilateral action by the president, and 69 percent said the two should cooperate. “Only Congress can change tax rates but there are a slew of other loopholes and issues that should be tackled, and they should be addressed together,” the Daily Caller reported

September 25: Fox News:  Michigan Union Doesn’t Need to Pay Back Forced Payments from Non-Union Members; Court Says:
A Michigan court ruled that the state branch of the powerful Service Employees International Union does not have to pay back tens of millions of dollars in dues taken from home health care workers who were forced into unionization.  The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled last week that the SEIU Healthcare Michigan does not have to pay back more than $34 million in dues collected from over 40,000 home health care workers. Many of whom were forced into the union under state requirements that they join because they were taking care of sick family members at home.  The SEIU successfully lobbied for the plan in multiple states that classified unpaid family members as "home health care workers." Dues were then automatically collected from the care recipients' Medicare or Medicaid checks.  The Court of Appeals ruling was in favor of SEIU Healthcare Michigan’s motion to have the case dismissed because the union had paid back dues to Patricia Haynes and Steven Glossop, who had filed suit demanding dues they were forced to pay be returned. The court noted that Haynes and Glossop were paid back more than they requested in their lawsuit.  [So let’s get this straight; the plaintiffs were paid back, but tens of thousands other workers who had been coerced into paying dues they didn’t want to pay will get no reimbursement? Is that right?]

September 19: The Hill: President signs massive spending bill with funding to arm Syrian “Rebels”
Following the Senate’s passage on Thursday, Obama said he was “pleased” a majority of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress voted to support the plan to train and equip vetted members of the moderate Syrian opposition.  “As I said last week, I believe that we’re strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together. And I want to thank leaders in Congress for the speed and seriousness with which they approached this urgent issue — in keeping with the bipartisanship that is the hallmark of American foreign policy at its best,” Obama said from the White House State Dining Room.

The proposed plan is the president's next step in the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.  Lawmakers had planned to vote on the spending bill last week, but Obama’s request to include the authorization for Syrian rebels delayed the critical vote.   The bill prevents another government shutdown on Oct. 1, when fiscal 2015 begins. Last October, the government shut down for 16 days after the White House and House GOP disagreed over providing funding to Obamacare. GOP lawmakers hoped to avoid a similar situation with November’s midterms looming.  The bill also extends the charter for the Export-Import Bank through June 30, 2015, and it provides additional funding to combat the Ebola epidemic and for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Appropriators are aiming to combine 12 individual appropriations bills into an omnibus spending bill in the lame-duck session, after November’s midterm elections. 

September 14: Reuters: China growth worries rattle Asian stocks and Aussie dollar
Asian stocks stumbled to a five-week low on Monday after a batch of disappointing data out of China raised the specter of a sharp slowdown in the world's second-biggest economy. The Australian dollar, considered a liquid proxy for China, also took a hammering and slumped to a six-month low.  Data released on Saturday showed China's factory output grew at the weakest pace in nearly six years in August, while growth in other key sectors also cooled.

September 11: Fox News: Obama push to arm rebels throws wench into did to keep Govt. running:
The President’s push for new authority to arm and train Syrian rebels, while earning him rare bipartisan praise, could also imperil congressional efforts to pass a stopgap spending bill and avoid a partial government shutdown.  House Republican leaders, who want to move the bill before lawmakers hit the campaign trail, had already prepped a straightforward version to fund the government beyond the current fiscal year – which ends Sept. 30 -- when the president complicated matters by lobbying leaders to tack on additional authorities to confront the Islamic State.

That threw a wrench into plans for the chamber to pass the so-called “continuing resolution” as early as Thursday and give the Senate at least one full week to consider it before leaving town later this month.  "It's a complicated big-time change in policy,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers told reporters prior to the president’s speech. “I'd hate to see this attached to a continuing resolution at the very last minute. This is a complex, complicated policy change that needs to be fully vetted by the Congress."

September 7: The Hill:  Schumer Considering Bill to Roll Back Corporate Flight from 1994 to present:
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will reportedly unveil a new proposal that would overturn any corporate inversions since 1994.  Reports indicate Schumer is still deciding whether to introduce the legislation.  Democrats and President Obama have been criticizing companies that have inverted in recent months, a policy that include a company changing its headquarters address to take advantage of lower tax rates overseas.  On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will speak in Washington and could unveil new administration policies aimed at making inversions less attractive.

Here is a brilliant idea:  Why not lower the corporate tax rate thereby making it more attractive for U.S. firms to stay here while drawing more foreign firms to our shores because of the attractive economic climate?

August 28: Fox News: Census Bureau: More than One third of Americans are on Welfare
Fifty years after the “war on poverty” was first waged, things haven’t improved all that much.  Newly released Census data reveals nearly 110 million Americans – more than one-third of the country – are receiving government assistance of some kind.  The number counts people receiving what are known as “means-tested” federal benefits, or subsidies based on income. This includes welfare programs ranging from food stamps to subsidized housing to the program most commonly referred to as “welfare,” Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

At the end of 2012, according to the stats, 51.5 million were on food stamps, while 83 million were collecting Medicaid – with some benefitting from multiple programs.  Though the programs were created to help those in need, some analysts worry that the way they’re designed is, increasingly, incentivizing people not to work. They note that when recipients combine several government assistance programs, in many cases they pay better than going to work.  The Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner said that in the eight most generous states, the benefits can be tantamount to a $20 minimum wage – which would exceed the $7.25 minimum wage in most states.

August 26: The Washington Post: Why Burger King wants to move its headquarters to Canada – 40% U.S. tax rate:
Yet another American company is aiming to move its headquarters out of the country.  International fast food behemoth Burger King Worldwide Inc. confirmed Tuesday that it will pay about $11 billion to buy Canadian chain Tim Hortons Inc., which sells coffee, donuts, and other breakfast food fare. The deal would merge America's second-largest burger chain, which is valued at nearly $10 billion, with the Canadian equivalent to Dunkin' Donuts, which is valued at more than $8 billion. It would also move the new company's headquarters to Canada, where corporate taxes are significantly lower.  On the surface, the reason for a headquarter shift across the country's northern border is simple: lower corporate taxes.

As we have noted before, when a company reincorporates abroad, as the practice is known, what it's really doing is shifting its corporate citizenship; and when a company shifts its corporate citizenship, what it's really doing is trying to pay less in taxes. The nominal corporate tax rate in the U.S., which combines national, state, and city-level tax rates, is nearly 40 percent—the highest across all 34 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries. Canada's, by comparison, is just over 26 percent. 

August 25: The Wall Street Journal: Buffett to help finance Burger King’s move to Canada to avoid high U.S. corporate tax rates:
One of the President’s strong supporters, investor Warren Buffet is helping finance Burger King Worldwide Inc.'s planned takeover of Canadian coffee-and-doughnut chain Tim Hortons Inc., according to people familiar with the matter, in a surprise twist that thrusts the billionaire into a debate over U.S. taxes.

August 20: Roll Call:  Ryan Rules Out another Government Shutdown:
 House Republicans won’t shut down the government in September, Heritage Action is “constructive at the end of the day” and a person can write a book without necessarily running for president.  Those were some of the points Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., hit home during an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call Wednesday afternoon from the ornate Union League Building in downtown Philadelphia.

July 23: The Daily Caller: West Virginia Senator says corporations moving overseas to avoid high U.S. Corporate Taxes should be illegal
Even though his daughters are doing it, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) thinks it should be illegal for U.S. companies to move overseas in order to avoid the high U.S. corporate tax rates. Manchin made his stance known, hesitantly, in an interview with the National Journal. The publication reported last week that the Democrat senator’s daughter, Heather Bresch, who is CEO of the generic drug maker Mylan, announced that the company would be moving its headquarters to the Netherlands.  By renouncing its U.S. citizenship, Mylan would be taking advantage of a “tax inversion” loophole.

“I think basically inversion should be absolutely repealed,” said Manchin, adding that he has been “begging for” tax reform.  The move overseas makes economic sense for Mylan given the tax benefits that the move will bring. The Netherlands’ corporate tax rate is capped at 25 percent while the U.S.’s top rate is 35 percent, plus any taxes levied at the state level.

July 23: The Daily Caller: Seattle’s Minimum Wage Referendum Effort Fails
An effort in Seattle, Washington, to put a city council passed minimum wage bill before the voters failed to garner the required 16,500 petition signatures. Their goal was to place the increase to a $15 an hour minimum wage on the November 2014 election ballot.   Supporters of the referendum argued that the minimum wage increase was rushed through without proper debate and input from the public.  They are not necessarily opposed to increasing the minimum wage but want to do so in a way that “raises the standard of living of the poorest workers” while also protecting  “independent businesses, nonprofits, and all the citizens who rely on them.”

Recent moves by the Obama Administration and local jurisdictions to increase the minimum wage reject the notion that by doing so, the increased costs are passed directly on to the consumer and that businesses have often responded by either firing current employees or not hiring additional workers in an effort to mitigate the higher labor costs so they can remain competitive in the marketplace.

July 17: USA Today: Microsoft to cut 18,000 jobs over the next 12 months
Microsoft confirmed it will cut up to 18,000 jobs over the next year, part of the tech titan's efforts to streamline its business under new CEO Satya Nadella.  In a statement Microsoft says about 12,500 of the professional and factory positions will be cut as part of its $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia's handset business, which the company closed in April.  "My promise to you is that we will go through this process in the most thoughtful and transparent way possible," Nadella said to employees in a memo. He also said  the "vast majority" of employees affected by layoffs will be notified within the next six months. They will also earn severance and job transition help in many locations. All cuts will be completed by next June.  The cuts were expected but far more in scope than generally anticipated.

July 5: Fox News: Panning for Gold in Defiance of EPA Regulations!
The American West was settled in part by gold miners exploring a new frontier, and now modern-day prospectors are fighting to keep that tradition alive.  A group of miners began illegally dredging for gold this week in Idaho’s Salmon River to challenge what they call federal government overreach into the waterway, Reuters reported. They are protesting regulations by the EPA that forbid suction dredging and other mining in the river in order to protect the habitat of an “endangered fish.”  "This is the United States of America, not the 'United State' of America. The feds can't come in here like storm troopers and start running our lands and rivers," organizer John Crossman, the head of the Southwest Idaho Mining Association in Boise, told Reuters.

The EPA last year ruled that suction dredgers need permits to operate in the state. Permit regulations forbid suction dredges in streams with threatened or endangered species such as salmon, steelhead and bull trout.  However, the miners said they refuse to get a permit because they do not recognize the authority of the EPA to regulate the rivers. About 60 miners came out to a demonstration on Tuesday, according to Reuters, and the week-long protest will culminate in a July 4 rally.  Crossman said people are traveling from all across Idaho and the West to show their support against “government tyranny.”  "It's a matter of states' rights," he said.

July 3: CNS News: Massive Number of People Have Left the Job Market
The number of Americans 16 and older who did not participate in the labor force climbed to a record high of 92,120,000 in June, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  This means that there were 92,120,000 Americans 16 and older who not only did not have a job, but did not actively seek one in the last four weeks.
The figures released this week also show that about 500,000 full time jobs were lost last month while 799,000 part time jobs were added.  But still the Administration either doesn’t understand or refuses to admit that ObamaCare is causing the loss of full time employment opportunities as companies hire more part timers in order to avoid healthcare costs or fines.

July 2: Money News: Donald Trump Tells Americans to Prepare for “Financial Ruins”
The United States could soon become a large-scale Spain or Greece, teetering on the edge of financial ruin.   That’s according to Donald Trump, who painted a very ugly picture of where this country is headed. Trump made the comments during a recent appearance on Fox News’ “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.”  Trump said the United States is no longer a rich country. “When you’re not rich, you have to go out and borrow money. We’re borrowing from the Chinese and others. We’re up to $16 trillion in debt.”  He goes on to point out that the downgrade of U.S. debt is inevitable. “We are going up to $16 trillion [in debt] very soon, and it’s going to be a lot higher than that before he gets finished. When you have [debt] in the $21-$22 trillion, you are talking about a downgrade no matter how you cut it.”

Not mentioned was the vote for a Continuing Resolution (CR) last year which did away with a debt ceiling until after the November 2014 elections, thereby doing away with one of the restraints on our out of control spending.  Senator Cornyn (R-TX) played a key role in clearing the CR for consideration  through a procedural move in the Senate.

June 2: Fox News: Coal-state lawmakers rally against power plant emissions crackdown:
Coal-state lawmakers, accusing President Obama of using a back door to impose strict emissions limits on power plants, are rallying to slam that door shut -- claiming the plan would cost jobs and jack up electric bills.  In Kentucky, West Virginia, and other states that rely on coal to fuel their own economies -- and that help generate power for everybody else -- officials vowed Monday to introduce legislation halting the newly announced EPA plan.   Under the draft regulation unveiled Monday, carbon emissions at fossil fuel-burning power plants would be cut 30 percent by 2030. 

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called the move an "assault" on the economy and an "illegal use of executive power." Meanwhile on the House side, Democratic West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall announced he would introduce legislation, along with Rep. David McKinley (R-WVA) to stop the EPA plan. "We will introduce bipartisan legislation that will prevent these disastrous new rules from wreaking havoc on our economy in West Virginia," Rahall said in a statement. 

The 645-page plan, expected to be finalized next year, is a centerpiece of Obama's climate change agenda, and a step that the administration hopes will get other countries to act when negotiations on a new international treaty resume next year.   "We have a moral obligation to act," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, in announcing the plan Monday morning. While the proposed regulation drew praise from environmental groups, the coal industry and coal-state lawmakers were apprehensive. 

May 20: The Hill: White House Picking Up the Pace on Independent Executive Actions:
The White House will be “picking up the pace on executive actions,” as Congress focuses its efforts on the newly formed select committee investigating Benghazi, senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer declared Tuesday.  In an op-ed piece, Pfeiffer argued that congressional Republicans are not interested in engaging on the economy, instead spending time “obsessively trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act” and “ginning up politically motivated investigations.”  “Given this dynamic, President Obama has only one option — use every ounce of his authority to unilaterally improve economic security,” Pfeiffer said.  “Next week, as congressional Republicans spend their energy on yet another partisan investigation, we'll be picking up the pace on the executive actions to help the economy,” Pfeiffer added.

The White House has dismissed the select committee investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, announced earlier this month by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) as redundant and politically motivated. Republicans have argued that the special panel was necessary after the release of a previously undisclosed email from White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes showing involvement in drafting then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's infamous talking points.

The veteran White House aide did not detail exactly how the president would exert his executive authorities in the coming days, although Obama is expected to take at least two major actions on the environment.  EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy hinted Monday that one might be the Presiden's new carbon emissions limits on coal-fired power plants. The White House has said that announcement would come in early June.

May 20: CNS News: Those on Disability Hits New Record – Larger than the population of Greece
The total number of disability beneficiaries in the United States rose in April, setting a new all-time record, according to newly released data from the Social Security Administration.  The number of Americans receiving disability benefits continues to exceed the populations of Greece, Tunisia and Portugal, and is approaching the population of Cuba, which according to the CIA World Factbook is 11,047,251.

May 7: The Washington Free Beacon: Economy Not Keeping Up – 58 Million Working Age People Have Left the Workforce
Despite adding more than 8 million people to the working-age population since 2007, total employment has declined by half a million, according to an analysis by the Senate Budget Committee.  The bottom line is that fewer people have jobs now then when Obama took office.  “This statistic highlights an alarming trend that has embodied the president’s economic policies: more and more people are leaving the workforce entirely,” according to the analysis, which was released by Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee Jeff Sessions (R-AL). “There are 58 million working-age people who are not working, and the labor force participation rate stands at 62.8 percent, the lowest level in 36 years.”

May 5: The Washington Post: U.S. Businesses are being destroyed faster than they are being created:
The American economy is less entrepreneurial now than at any point in the last three decades. That's the conclusion of a new study out from the Brookings Institution, which looks at the rates of new business creation and destruction since 1978.  Not only that, but during the most recent three years of the study -- 2009, 2010 and 2011 -- businesses were collapsing faster than they were being formed, a first. Overall, new businesses creation (measured as the share of all businesses less than one year old) declined by about half from 1978 to 2011.

The authors don't mince words about the stakes here: If the decline persists, "it implies a continuation of slow growth for the indefinite future." This lack of economic dynamism, particularly the steep drop since 2006, may be one reason why our current recovery has felt like much less than a recovery.

May 1: Fox Business: Weekly Jobless Claims Rise
The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, but the underlying trend continued to point to improving labor market conditions.  Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 344,000 for the week ended April 26, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the highest level since February.  Claims for the week ended April 19 were revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported. And of course these figures do not include those who have dropped out of the job market entirely because of a lack of employment opportunities.

Apr. 30 Fox News: “Obamanomics” Under Fire as Economy slows to 0.1 percent growth rate:
The U.S. economy slowed to an anemic pace in the first quarter of the year, according to new Commerce Department estimates, renewing Republican claims that Obama administration policies are slamming the brakes on the recovery.   The department estimated that growth slowed to a barely discernible 0.1 percent annual rate between January and March. That was the weakest pace since the end of 2012 and was down from a 2.6 percent rate in the previous quarter.   "This report is more than a low number; it is a reflection of the real economic despair that persists in the sixth year of the Obama presidency," said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.

According to the White House the slowdown, while worse than expected, is likely to be temporary as growth rebounds with warmer weather. They pointed to "historically severe winter weather" as a factor, and noted that these figures are subject to revision.   But Republicans, who even before the report was released were hammering the administration over policies they claim are holding back job growth, said weather is not the only factor. They've long argued that a heavy regulatory hand, and various mandates attached to ObamaCare, are hurting the economy.   Rep. Kevin Brady, R-TX, the Joint Economic Committee Chair, said "the only people doing well in this recovery are those who have benefited from the Federal Reserve's continued monetary morphine that has juiced profits on Wall Street, while family incomes have stagnated."   He, like other Republicans and some moderate Democrats, pushed again for the approval of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone pipeline, which the administration has so far declined to make a decision on. 

Apr. 30: The Hill: $10.10 Minimum Wage Set to Die in the Democrat-controlled Senate today:
Despite an intense push by President Obama and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans haven’t budged and will reject the measure that would increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The procedural roll call to advance the bill is expected to fail on a party-line vote, short of the 60 votes needed.  The legislation is coming up for a vote after weeks of delay, but a multipronged pressure campaign against Republicans has failed to fracture the GOP — in sharp contrast to prior election years.

Democrats could bring the bill back to the floor many times between now and the midterm elections, but the small window for a bipartisan compromise or a GOP capitulation has all but shut. The GOP-led House, meanwhile, is adamantly opposed to the Senate measure.

During this Congress, some Senate Republicans have felt the need to move high-profile Democratic bills through the upper chamber, including immigration reform and, more recently, an extension of jobless benefits. Both are sitting in the House, where action is unlikely.  But instead of relying on the House to be the backstop on minimum wage, Senate Republicans — who need to pick up six seats to claim the majority this fall — are willing to kill the bill themselves.  Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said Tuesday, “Most of the Republicans are pretty united on this. It’s bad for the economy. It’s bad for jobs.”

Apr. 28: The Daily Caller: Recession over? Retirement age climbs from 60 to 62:
The age of retirement has shot up by two years since 2012, according to a new survey by Gallup.  Since 2012, after President Barack Obama declared the government-fostered recession had ended, the average age of actual retirement has climbed from 60 to 62, according to the April 28 Gallup report.  The average age of retirement was age 60 from 2005 to 2012, except for a one-year drop in 2010, to age 59. That drop was likely caused by the retirement of many older Americans during the recession.  Since 2010, the public’s prediction about when they expect to retire has climbed from 65 to 66, says the report.

Apr. 28: CNS News: Men Who Work Full-Time Earn Less than forty years ago:
The real median income of American men who work full-time, year-round peaked forty years ago in 1973, according to data published by the U.S. Census Bureau.  In 1973, median earnings for men who worked full-time, year-round were $51,670 in inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars. The median earnings of men who work full-time year-round have never been that high again.  In 2012, the latest year for which the Census Bureau has published an estimate, the real median earnings of men who worked full-time, year-round was $49,398. That was $2,272—or about 4.4 percent—below the peak median earnings of $51,670 in 1973.

Apr. 4: The Wall Street Journal: The Unemployment Puzzle: Where have All the Workers Gone, Long Time Passing?
A big puzzle looms over the U.S. economy: Friday’s jobs report tells us that the unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7% from a peak of 10% at the height of the Great Recession. But at the same time, only 63.2% of Americans 16 or older are participating in the labor force, which, while up a bit in March, is down substantially since 2000. As recently as the late 1990s, the U.S. was a nation in which employment, job creation and labor force participation went hand in hand. That is no longer the case.  The question is why so many people have left the worker pool.  Are they disillusioned over weeks/months/years of being unemployed that they have just plain given up?  It is because of retirements by older workers?  Is it disincentives being floated by the administration such as mandatory health care coverage for full time employees (those who work 30 hours a week or more)?  Some contend these issues are getting too little attention in Washington.

Apr. 2: Business Insider: Obama: Ryan Budget is a “Stinkburger”
President Barack Obama compared the GOP budget plan unveiled by Paul Ryan (R-WI) this week to a "stinkburger" and a "meanwich" during a speech Wednesday afternoon in Michigan.  Referencing plan.   Obama repeatedly attacked Republicans during his speech at the University of Michigan.
A spokesman for the House Budget Committee said he didn't want to offer a response but Ryan is saying his budget proposal would cut $5.1 trillion in government spending over the next 10 years and he claims his plan would balance the U.S. books over that period.

Mar. 27: The Weekly Standard: Economic Growth Half of what Obama said his policies would deliver:
"In 2009, President Obama predicted his policies would produce 4.2 percent growth in 2013—more than double the actual, anemic growth rate of 1.9 percent. Since making that projection, President Obama has had much of his economic agenda implemented: the $870 billion stimulus bill, Dodd-Frank financial regulations, Obamacare, restrictions on American energy, $1.7 trillion in higher taxes, unfettered regulation, etc. Our debt has soared from $10.6 trillion to $17.5 trillion on the promise that this would stimulate the economy and produce prosperity, yet now we’re left with none of the prosperity and all of the debt," the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee says.

But this was not a one-time error used to sell bad policies. For 2013, the average of all four white House budget projections from 2009–2012 was 3.9 percent—still almost double the actual growth rate. These are not just academic figures—weakened growth means millions of lost jobs and reduced incomes. While debt has grown 64 percent since 2009, median household income has declined 4.5 percent—or $2,268 per household.

Mar. 20: The National Journal:
Worst-Case Scenario: Fed sees $501 Billion in Losses at Nation’s Biggest Banks

If the economic worst happens—the worst being defined as a deep recession in the United States, steep declines in home prices, and recessions in the euro area as well as Japan—30 major banks in the U.S. would lose a total of $501 billion dollars over nine quarters, according to the latest round of stress testing from the Federal Reserve. That's compared with $355 billion in the slightly-less-scary "adverse" scenario laid out by the Fed.

The central bank noted, as usual, that the "severely adverse" and slightly-less-scary "adverse" scenarios it tests are "not forecasts, but rather hypothetical scenarios designed to assess the strength of banking organizations and their resilience to an adverse economic environment." The Fed released its actual economic forecasts on Wednesday, and sees moderate growth on the horizon. This is the fourth year the Fed has done stress tests on the country's biggest financial institutions. It looked at 30 institutions this year, up from 18 in previous years.

Mar. 19: FEE (The Freeman)Economic Freedom Helps the Poor More than Government Aid:
Economic freedom does more to alleviate poverty than government aid, says Julian Adorney for the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).  The study analyzes economic freedom and income inequality in the United States, finding that economic freedom decreases inequality, benefiting the poor and middle class more than the wealthy. Looking at the 50 states the study found that most gains went to the wealthy during the initial stages of economic freedom. However, at a certain point (and 21 states had already hit this point by 2004), that result shifts, leading income inequality to decline as states grow more and more free.  What is behind this decline?  Is it a loss of wealth by the rich or an increase in wealth to the poor?   The research showed it was the latter. 

Mar.18: MoneyMorning: Schiff Predicts 2/3's of America may lose everything in the looming crisis:
According to Peter Schiff, a record breaking stock market is distorting a frightening reality: The U.S. is being eaten alive by a horrific cancer that will ultimately destroy the economy and impoverish the vast majority of its citizens.  Schiff, the best-selling author and CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, delivered his harsh warning to investors in a recent interview on Fox Business.  "I think we are heading for a worse economic crisis than we had in 2007," Schiff said. "You're going to have a collapse in the dollar...a huge spike in interest rates... and our whole economy, which is built on the foundation of cheap money, is going to topple when you pull the rug out from under it."

Schiff says that, despite "phony" signs of an economic recovery, the cancer destroying America stems from a lethal concoction of our $17.2 trillion federal debt and the Fed's never ending money printing.  Currently, Yellen and The Fed are buying $65 billion per month of Treasury and mortgage bonds and will increase or decrease this number as they see fit.  According to Schiff, this " strategy" is not credible and will unravel.  Eventually interest rates will rise... and when they do, Schiff says, stocks will tank and bonds dip to nothing. Massive new tax hikes will be imposed and programs and entitlements will be cut to the bone.

Mar. 16: National Public Radio:
Venezuela In Turmoil for Basics – A perfect example of a planned economy!

Although the NPR story doesn’t make the connection between planned economies and the lack of available goods; for those with eyes to see it’s a perfect description of what happens when the free market is thrown out the window.  The story goes like this…

Alvaro Villarueda starts his morning the same way every day — putting in a call to his friend who has a friend who works at a Caracas, Venezuela, supermarket. Today, he's looking for sugar, and he's asking his friend if he knows if any shipments have arrived. As he talks on the phone, his wife Lisbeth Nello, is in the kitchen.  There are 10 mouths to feed every day in this family — five of them children. The two youngest are still in diapers.  "The things that are the scarcest are actually what we need the most," Nello says. "Flour, cooking oil, butter, milk, diapers. I spent last week hunting for diapers everywhere. The situation is really tough for basic goods."

Mar. 13: Fox News: Obama directs overhaul of overtime pay rules:
President Obama on Thursday directed an overhaul of overtime pay rules, in a move to allow potentially millions more workers to qualify for time-and-a-half pay.  Business groups already are warning the decision could backfire on workers, but Obama pledged to work with both businesses and workers as the new rules are crafted.  Obama signed a presidential memorandum directing the Labor Department to propose rules that expand the number of employees who benefit from overtime pay. It marked one of Obama's widest-reaching executive actions so far. 

The rules would be aimed at salaried workers who make more than $455 a week and those who are ineligible for overtime because they are designated as management even though their supervisory duties are minimal.  The rules do not require congressional action but could take more than a year to implement. Obama's attention to overtime dovetails with his emphasis on correcting wage disparities, a theme that he has said will be central to the remainder of his presidential term. It also serves his political ends during a midterm election year, giving him a populist issue along with his calls for a higher minimum wage and better pay for women. 

Mar. 13: The Daily Caller: Data shows 50 million Americans falling out of the workforce:
The number of native-born, working-age Americans who aren’t working has shot up by almost 9 million since 2007, and by almost 15 million since 2000, according to a new report by the Center for Immigration Studies, an anti-immigration group.  By late 2012, roughly 50 million native-born working-age Americans weren’t working, up from 40 million in 2000, according to the March 13 report, titled “Still No Evidence of a Labor Shortage.”  The army of idle Americans is important for the immigration debate, because advocates for greater immigration say foreign workers are needed to fill slots that can’t be taken by Americans.  The 50 million idle Americans include many who are studying, have chosen not to work or have retired early.  But the government data shows that 16.7 million native-born Americans wanted — but did not have — full-time work in 2013, up from 10.5 million in late 2007, and 7.8 million in 2000.

Mar. 12: Stateline – PEW Charitable Trust News Service:
States Push Drug Testing for Welfare Applicants and Save Money:

Nearly half of U.S. states are considering measures to drug-test welfare applicants. This issue first began to gain steam about five years ago. Proponents argue that taxpayers shouldn't have to fund drug habits and that the tests would encourage those drug users on public assistance to get help.

Utah instituted a questionnaire and drug testing policy, spending $30,000 in its first year, resulting in 12 positive tests. In all, 250 people were denied benefits, the majority being because they did not complete the testing process. The state saved $350,000 in unpaid benefits

Feb. 22: Fox News: Governors face off in Washington over Minimum Wage Hike:
President Obama and fellow Democrats are trying to use the annual Washington meeting of governors to rally support for increasing the federal minimum wage, as their Republican counterparts argue the idea is a jobs killer.  "I'm not for increasing the minimum wage because I'm concerned it would destroy jobs, especially for small business owners," said Oklahoma GOP Gov. Mary Fallin, chairman of the National Governors Association. "The market will take care of itself." 

The annual winter meeting officially begins Saturday morning, but both sides have already jockeyed for position, as the Democrat-controlled Senate prepares to debate the Obama-backed plan to incrementally increase the federal minimum wage from to $7.25 to $10.10 an hour by 2016.  On Friday, Obama met with Democratic governors at the White House to build momentum for his effort.

The bipartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that as many half a million jobs could be lost if the minimum wage is increased and has admitted that this could be a low estimate.  In addition, some economists have pointed out that those who may lose their jobs are those who can least afford to do so.

Feb. 18: Fox News: Congressional Budget Office: Hiking the Minimum Wage would lift pay but cost jobs
A plan by President Obama and fellow Democrats to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would cost roughly 500,000 jobs but increase wages for roughly 16.5 million Americans, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday.  The CBO also said the half million job estimate could be a low figure.  The report was immediately met with sharp Republican criticism for the wake hike plan.  “While helping some, mandating higher wages has real costs, including fewer people working,” said a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH. “With unemployment Americans' top concern, our focus should be creating -- not destroying -- jobs for those who need them most.”  The CBO analysts said their estimate of employment losses was approximate. They said the actual impact could range from a very slight employment reduction to a loss of one million workers.

Feb. 18: CNS News: Obama has more than doubled U.S. Debt, now up 106% and rising
The marketable debt of the U.S. government has more than doubled--climbing by 106 percent--while President Barack Obama has been in office, increasing from $5.749 trillion at the end of January 2009 to $11.825 trillion at the end of January 2014, according to the U.S. Treasury's latest Monthly.

Feb. 15: CBS Evening News: Food Prices soar as incomes stand still
Writer Jen Singer, the mother of two teenage boys, wrestles with her grocery list every week to keep the household budget from getting away from her.  "I'd like the government to stop by my house, come food shopping with me and see where the real costs are," she said.  The adage "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" is impossible, thanks to apple prices, she said.   "We go through one of these every few days," she said, holding a loaf of bread. "It's a big part of my take home pay."

It's is not her imagination. While the government says prices are up 6.4 percent since 2011, chicken is up 18.4 percent, ground beef is up 16.8 percent and bacon has skyrocketed up 22.8 percent, making it a holiday when it's on sale.   "The things that are going up in price are the things I absolutely need to buy," she said. "It's the meat, it's the milk, it's the eggs and it's getting out of hand."

Feb. 12: Breitbart.com: Cornyn votes for consideration of a bill to eliminate the debt ceiling for one year:
Spend what you want with no restraint! $18.2 Trillion in Debt expected!

The Senate passed the "clean" debt ceiling bill, sending the legislation to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law. The bill suspends the debt limit altogether until March 15, 2015.   The vote to pass the bill was 55-43. An earlier procedural vote to advance debate passed 67-31, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) joining mostly Democrats to invoke cloture.   Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas forced the 60-vote procedural vote. Two GOP Senate aides told Breitbart News that McConnell forcefully urged him not to do so at a closed-door meeting yesterday.

According to an analysis by the Senate Budget Committee Republican staff, the national debt will rise to $18.2 trillion while the debt limit is suspended.  February 11th the House has passed a “clean” bill to extend the debt limit until March, 2015 by a vote of 221-201.  The vast majority of Republicans voted against the bill, while nearly 200 Democrats carried it across the finish line. 28 Republicans voted “yes.”  Speaker John Boehner, who usually does not vote, voted "yes," as did Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Whip Kevin McCarthy. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan voted "no."  Cantor blamed the debt ceiling increase on Democrats. "House Republicans need more responsible and willing partners in Washington so we can finally and boldly address our long term debt crisis," he said in a statement. 

Feb. 12: National Review: Cruz Warns GOP Establishment: Come November the People will Remember:
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Wednesday issued a warning to “establishment politicians from both parties” following the Senate’s vote to raise the debt limit without any spending cuts attached.  Earlier in the day, 12 Republicans, including party leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) voted with Democrats to end debate on the measure. Cruz, who had insisted on a 60-vote threshold, said Wednesday’s vote was an affront to “Americans of all political stripes understand that we cannot keep spending money we don’t have.” 

Some lawmakers, Cruz charged, are “willing to mortgage our children’s future” because they “care so much about being praised by the Washington media,” and don’t think voters are paying attention.   “There are too many members of Congress who think they can fool people and they will forget about it the next week,” Cruz said. ”But sometimes, come November, the people remember.”  

Today’s vote is yet another example that establishment politicians from both parties are simply not listening to the American people.  Outside the beltway, Americans of all political stripes understand that we cannot keep spending money we don’t have.  Some members of Congress care so much about being praised by the Washington media that they’re willing to mortgage our children’s future. They pretend we don’t have a problem and can just kick the can down the road.  Let’s be clear about the motive behind this vote — there are too many members of Congress who think they can fool people and they will forget about it the next week. But sometimes, come November, the people remember.

Feb. 11: The Washington Post: How John Boehner decided to give up the debt limit fight:
This week’s debt-limit drama ended as it began: with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH), standing alone before his colleagues, seeking consensus but receiving only silence and stares in return.  “Listen – we’re going to move forward,” Boehner said. Instead of bringing up the leadership’s plan, which would link a restoration of recently cut military benefits to a debt-ceiling extension, he would push a “clean” bill, averting default more than two weeks before the Treasury Department’s debt-limit deadline.  “We’re going to get this done,” Boehner continued, according to several people present for his remarks. No strings attached, he added.  He was going to do what he thought was best for the GOP, in spite of the widespread angst.

Ahead of the midterm elections, Boehner argued that now is not the time to get drawn into weeks of dramatic headlines and fiscal battles with President Obama. “We’re not going to make ourselves the story,” he said. He spoke about the need for the party to not get mired in damaging endeavors. Boehner’s delivery was crisp; his decision was final.  The room of Republicans sat up, stunned… But they didn’t speak up or clap. Boehner just stood there for a moment after he finished, eyed the room, and walked toward his seat.

Feb. 7: The Hill: Treasury Secretary sets deadline for debt ceiling debate:
The Treasury Department will all but completely exhaust its abilities to pay the nation's bills by Feb. 27 unless Congress raises the debt ceiling, according to a new letter sent to lawmakers Friday by Secretary Jack Lew.    “Based on our best and most recent information…we are not confident that the extraordinary measures will last beyond Thursday, February 27,” he wrote. “At that point, Treasury would be left with only the cash on hand and any incoming revenue to meet our country’s commitments.”   Lew warned that it will be incredibly difficult to predict exactly how long Treasury's cash would last before the government would miss a payment.

At this time of year, the government’s cash flow is especially hard to predict given tax filing season. Furthermore, he warned the government would diminish its meager cash reserves very quickly as the IRS cuts a large numbers of tax refund checks.  The nation’s borrowing cap took effect once again on Friday after the Government shutdown deal eliminated the debt ceiling altogether for three months, thereby doing away with any restraint on spending for that period of time.

Feb. 5: The Hill: House GOP leaders struggle for debt-ceiling plan that appeals to Democrats:
Republican leaders are scrambling for a debt-limit plan that can win Democratic votes after determining that none of their original ideas would gain enough GOP votes to pass the House.  After canvassing members early in the week, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and his lieutenants on Wednesday abandoned plans to tie an increase in the nation’s authority either to the repeal of a provision in ObamaCare or to the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.  The leadership had wanted to find a plan that could win 218 Republican votes, but they determined on Wednesday that was not possible. 

Lawmakers spent the day floating ideas back and forth. Among those said to be under consideration were plans to restore cuts to military pensions enacted in the December budget agreement, legislation granting Congress more power over regulatory decisions and a change to payments for Medicare providers known as the “doc fix.”  “There are a lot of different options that are under discussion,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told The Hill in a brief interview. “All options are on the table right now.”

Feb. 1: USA Today: States see record high in long-term joblessness
In 28 states, a third or more of the unemployed have been without a job for six months or longer, leaving them with no unemployment insurance safety net following the expiration of extended benefits in December.  In New Jersey, Florida and the District of Columbia, nearly half of the unemployed have been out of work for longer than 26 weeks, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among all 50 states and D.C., the average is 33%.

Before the Great Recession, the highest the long-term joblessness share ever reached was 26% in mid-1983, according to the EPI analysis. Today, 41 states and D.C. have shares of long-term unemployment above that level.

Jan. 31: The Daily Caller: 22 Senators say Obama Climate Change will hurt the poor:
If President Obama is serious about tackling income inequality, he should reconsider his plan to tackle global warming (now called climate change as the ice caps expand and the temperatures are getting colder), 22 senators argue.    The poorest Americans will be hit the hardest by Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the senators note, which aims to cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2050. Obama’s climate plan would ban new coal-fired power plants unless they use costly, unproven carbon capture technology.

One study found that energy prices will increase up to $4 per megawatt hour for on-peak hours as coal plants are retired. Prices could be driven up by as much as 15 percent if natural gas-fired plants replace all of the retiring coal plants in the coming decade, forcing energy prices up to $11 per megawatt hour during peak hours.  The poorest households — those earning less than $30,000 a year — already spend 20 percent of their income on electricity. The senators argue that raising their power bills would be especially harmful to them since such costs can’t be easily offset by welfare, subsidies or other government benefits.

Jan. 26: Politico: Pfeiffer & McConnell forecast battle over debt ceiling debate:
In back-to-back interviews Sunday, White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took opposite positions on what Congress should do as the nation approaches the upcoming debt ceiling.  An issue that played a role in the government shutdown in October, Pfeiffer said on "Fox News Sunday" that President Barack Obama will maintain the same position when the debt ceiling is reached in upcoming weeks as he did then, which is he will not allow anything to be attached to raising the debt ceiling.   “Nothing has changed in our position. I hope Republicans follow the lead of your next guest, Sen. McConnell, who said right afterwards that they would not go down this path again.”

Appearing in his own Fox interview after Pfeiffer's, the Kentucky senator called the president "irresponsible" and "unreasonable" for his position, saying Republicans would want to get something attached to the borrowing limit increase. "Some of the most significant legislation passed in the last 50 years have been in conjunction with the debt ceiling," McConnell said. "I think for the president to ask for a clean debt ceiling when we have a debt the size of our economy is irresponsible. So we ought to discuss adding something to his request to raise the debt ceiling that does something about the debt or produces at least something positive for our country.”

But McConnell did stand by past statements that he and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) would not allow a default, saying those two things are not inconsistent.  “We need not have a default -- we're never going to default. The speaker and I have made that clear," McConnell said. "We've never done that. But it's irresponsible not to use the discussion, the request of the president to raise the debt ceiling to try to accomplish something for the country.”

Jan. 25: The Hill: Ryan lays out anti-poverty agenda:
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) criticized liberals Saturday for seeking to expand programs he said have adversely affected the poor, laying out reforms he said will reverse the course of the country’s 50-year effort to lift people out of poverty.  “For all its professed concern about families in need, Washington is more concerned with protecting the status quo than with pursuing what actually works,” Ryan wrote in The Wall Street Journal.  “For years, politicians have pointed to the money they’ve spent or the programs they’ve created,” he continued. “But despite trillions of dollars in spending, 47 million Americans still live in poverty today. And the reason is simple: Poverty isn’t just a form of deprivation; it’s a form of isolation. Crime, drugs and broken families are dragging down millions of Americans. On every measure from education levels to marriage rates, poor families are drifting further away from the middle class.”

Ryan proposed collapsing various welfare programs into a universal credit that tapers off, giving parents more means to educate their children, and job training programs that match employers with those seeking employment.  Ryan said the policies currently coming out of Washington are only “deepening the divide” between the wealthy and the poor.

Jan 22: The Hill: Sec. Lew: The Debt Ceiling Limit will be reached the end of February:
Congress will likely need to raise the debt limit by late February to avoid a missed payment, according to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.  In a letter sent to lawmakers Wednesday, Lew said the timeline for a borrowing boost has moved up slightly. When he first pressed Congress to increase the debt cap in December, he estimated a default could occur as late as early March now it is late February.  In the letter, Lew says,  “I respectfully urge Congress to provide certainty and stability to the economy and financial markets by acting to raise the debt limit before February 7, 2014, and certainly before late February.”

Speaker John Boehner's office said that any debt ceiling increase needs to include concessions from President Obama.  "The Speaker has said that we should not default on our debt, or even get close to it, but a 'clean' debt limit increase simply won't pass in the House.  We hope and expect the White House will work with us on a timely, fiscally-responsible solution," spokesman Michael Steel said. 

October’s deal to end the government shutdown unfortunately suspended the nation’s $16.7 trillion borrowing cap until Feb. 7. On that date, the borrowing limit will be automatically increased to cover all governmental borrowing done during the suspended period.  The takeaway from all that is that Congress will likely need to act sometime in the next four weeks to boost the debt limit or risk a damaging default.

Jan. 21: The Washington Examiner: Wall Street advisor: Actual unemployment is 37.2% with the “Misery Index” the worst in 40 years:
Don't believe the happy talk coming out of the White House, Federal Reserve and Treasury Department when it comes to the real unemployment rate and the true “Misery Index.” Because, according to an influential Wall Street advisor, the figures are a fraud.  In a memo to clients, David John Marotta calculates the actual unemployment rate of those not working at a sky-high 37.2 percent, not the 6.7 percent advertised by the Fed, and the Misery Index at over 14, not the 8 claimed by the government.

Marotta said that the government isn't being honest in how it calculates those out of the workforce or inflation, the two numbers used to get the Misery Index figure.  “The unemployment rate only describes people who are currently working or looking for work,” he said. That leaves out a ton more.  The 37.2%  obviously includes some people who are not or never plan to seek employment. But it does describe how many people are not able to, do not want to or cannot find a way to work. Policies that remove the barriers to employment, thus decreasing this number, are obviously beneficial,” he said.   He added that “officially-reported unemployment numbers decrease when enough time passes to discourage the unemployed from looking for work. A decrease is not necessarily beneficial; an increase is clearly detrimental.”

Jan. 21: CNSNews.com: Record 20% of households were on Food Stamps in 2013
A record 20% of American households, one in five, were on food stamps in 2013, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  The numbers also show there was a record number of individuals on food stamps in 2013 and that the cost of the program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was at an all-time high.  The USDA says that there were over 23 million households on food stamps in the average month of fiscal 2013, an increase of 722,675 from fiscal year 2012, when there were 22.3 million on food stamps in the average month.

Jan. 16: Roll Call:The Omnibus $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill sails through the Senate:
The allure of recess won out Thursday as senators sped up the timeline and cleared a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill.  Passage completes the process on Capitol Hill of keeping the government funded through the end of the fiscal year at the end of September. Appropriators completed a rather herculean lift of getting all 12 regular appropriation bills included in the package, and then guided the bill through the House and Senate less than 72 hours after revealing it to the public.  Senators voted 72-26 to limit debate on the measure before passing it by the same vote count.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers was “almost giddy” after the lopsided House vote with 359 supporters. Rogers’ Senate counterpart and negotiating partner, Barbara A. Mikulski, D-MD., hoped for a similar result.  “The vote in the House, which I hope will be parallel here in the Senate, shows what working together based on civility, listening to each other, being willing to compromise but not capitulate on principle but negotiating on what are the appropriate fiscal levels, show we can get the job done,” Mikulski said. “In today’s era of shutdowns, slowdown, slam-down politics where negotiating occurs on cable TV rather than in committee rooms, we work together, setting aside partisan differences, working across the aisle and across the Dome, we looked to find how we could put together a bill that both sides of the aisle in both houses could agree upon.”

Jan. 16: Fox News:What’s in the $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill? 
[On this Website we try to provide just a summary and then let you go to the actual source for the details, but in this case we include more details because of the importance of this issue]
The huge bill funds every agency of government, pairing increases for NASA and Army Corps of Engineers construction projects with cuts to the Internal Revenue Service and foreign aid. It pays for implementation of Obama's health care law; a fight over implementing "Obamacare" sparked TEA party Republicans to partially shut the government down for 16 days last October.  Also included is funding for tighter regulations on financial markets, but at levels lower than the president wanted.

The compromise-laden legislation reflects the realities of divided power in Washington and a desire by both Democrats and Republicans for an election-year respite after three years of budget wars that had Congress and the White House lurching from crisis to crisis. Both parties looked upon the measure as a way to ease automatic spending cuts that both the Pentagon and domestic agencies had to begin absorbing last year – the only real spending and deficit reduction that was occurring in Washington, DC!
All 53 Democrats, two independents and 17 Republicans voted for the bill. The 26 votes against it were all cast by Republicans.  Shortly before the final vote, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, delivered a slashing attack on Senate Democrats, accusing them of ignoring the problems caused by the health care law. "It is abundantly clear that millions of Americans are being harmed right now by this failed law," Cruz said.

The 1582-page bill – which is rumored few actually read -- was really 12 bills wrapped into one in negotiations headed by Rep. Rogers, R-KY., and Sen Mikulski, D-MD, respective chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees.  The bill, which cleared the House on a vote of 359-67, increases spending by about $26 billion over fiscal 2013, with most of the increase going to domestic programs. Almost $9 billion in unrequested money for overseas military and diplomatic operations helps ease shortfalls in the Pentagon and foreign aid budgets.

The nuts-and-bolts culture of the appropriators is evident throughout the bill.  Lower costs to replace screening equipment, for example, allowed for a cut to the Transportation Security Administration. Lawmakers blocked the Agriculture Department from closing six research facilities. And the Environmental Protection Agency is barred from issuing rules on methane emissions from large livestock operations.

Another provision exempts disabled veterans and surviving military spouses from a pension cut enacted last month. House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, signaled in a brief hallway conversation with The AP that he would oppose a broader drive to repeal the entire pension provision, which saves $6 billion over the coming decade by reducing the annual cost-of-living adjustment for working age military retirees by 1 percentage point.

The National Institutes of Health's proposed budget of $29.9 billion falls short of the $31 billion budget it won when Democrats controlled Congress. Democrats did win a $100 million increase, to $600 million, for so-called TIGER grants for high-priority transportation infrastructure projects, a program that started with a 2009 economic stimulus bill.

Civilian federal workers would get their first pay hike in four years, a 1 percent cost-of-living increase. Democrats celebrated winning an addition $1 billion over last year for the Head Start early childhood education program and excluding from the bill a host of conservative policy "riders" advanced by the GOP.

Rogers won two provisions backed by the coal industry. One would block the EPA and Corps of Engineers from working on new rules on "fill material" related to the mountain top removal mining. Another would keep the door open for Export-Import Bank financing of coal power plants overseas.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, a TEA party favorite, didn't mention the measure's funding of Obamacare in a floor speech earlier in the week; instead he complained at length that the measure dropped funding of a federal program that sends payments to Western states in which much of the land is owned by the federal government and therefore can't be taxed by local governments.

Jan. 14: Reuters:$1.1 Trillion Omnibus spending bill passes the House:
[On this Website we try to provide just a summary and then let you go to the actual source for the details, but in this case we include more details because of the importance of this issue]
The spending measure fills in the details of a budget agreement passed in December in the aftermath of a 16-day shutdown of many government agencies in October. The shutdown was prompted largely by disputes over funding for "Obamacare" health insurance reforms.

Although many programs will get a slight increase over 2013 levels and avoid steep cuts previously slated for this year (the only real cuts we were seeing in Washington), the proposed bill does not provide any increase for implementation of ObamaCare.  According to a House Republican summary, a public health fund will be reduced by $1 billion to prevent Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from "raiding" these funds to spend on Obamacare insurance exchanges.

The chairs of the Senate and House of Representatives Appropriations Committees said in a joint statement that the deal will eliminate the economic instability caused by Congress' recent funding battles.  "As with any compromise, not everyone will like everything in this bill, but in this divided government a critical bill such as this simply cannot reflect the wants of only one party," Mikulski (D-MD) and Rogers (R-KY) said in a statement.

White House Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the measure will help fund critical investments in education and infrastructure.  "This legislation adheres to the funding levels in the budget agreement enacted in December, unwinds some of the damaging cuts caused by sequestration," she said in a statement.

The military avoids about $22 billion in the across-the-board cuts, with total non-war spending of about $520.5 billion under the bill, while agencies focused on domestic programs will get $491.8 billion, representing an increase of about $22 billion over sequester levels.

But some controversial budget items took a hit. The spending measure provides no funds for high-speed rail projects, and it again denied a funding transfer needed to pay for critical reforms to the International Monetary Fund.  Both Republicans and Democrats touted a provision in the bill that reverses planned military pension cuts for disabled veterans, a controversial part of the December budget deal that helped pay for about $6 billion in new spending. Military retirees of working age were to see smaller cost-of-living increases in their pensions starting in 2015 but it was later discovered that the change was inadvertently applied to disabled veterans and survivors of deceased veterans as well.  While the spending bill will reverse the cuts for disabled veterans and survivors, many Republicans in Congress still want to cancel the cuts for all retired military service members.

Republicans got a policy provision into the measure that prohibits funding of the Obama administration's "light bulb standard," which prohibits the manufacture of incandescent light bulbs in favor of newer technologies that reduce energy consumption. 

Passage of the measure would leave just one more significant fiscal policy hurdle during the current fiscal year which ends on September 30 - an increase in the federal debt limit. This will likely be needed by March or April to avoid a default on the Treasury's debt and the resulting market turmoil.

Jan. 14: The Wall Street Journal: America’s Dwindling Economic Freedom Drops U.S. out of the Top Ten:
World economic freedom has reached record levels, according to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, released Tuesday by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. But after seven straight years of decline, the U.S. has dropped out of the top 10 most economically free countries.  For 20 years, the index has measured a nation's commitment to free enterprise on a scale of 0 to 100 by evaluating 10 categories, including fiscal soundness, government size and property rights. These commitments have powerful effects: Countries achieving higher levels of economic freedom consistently and measurably outperform others in economic growth, long-term prosperity and social progress. Botswana, for example, has made gains through low tax rates and political stability.

Those losing freedom, on the other hand, risk economic stagnation, high unemployment and deteriorating social conditions. For instance, heavy-handed government intervention in Brazil's economy continues to limit mobility and fuel a sense of injustice.   It's not hard to see why the U.S. is losing ground. Even marginal tax rates exceeding 43% cannot finance runaway government spending, which has caused the national debt to skyrocket. The Obama administration continues to shackle entire sectors of the economy with regulation, including health care, finance and energy. The intervention impedes both personal freedom and national prosperity.

But as the U.S. economy languishes, many countries are leaping ahead, thanks to policies that enhance economic freedom—the same ones that made the U.S. economy the most powerful in the world. Governments in 114 countries have taken steps in the past year to increase the economic freedom of their citizens. Forty-three countries, from every part of the world, have now reached their highest economic freedom ranking in the index's history.

The record of increasing economic freedom elsewhere makes it inexcusable that a country like the U.S. continues to pursue policies antithetical to its own growth, while wielding its influence to encourage other countries to chart the same disastrous course. The 2014 Index of Economic Freedom documents a world-wide race to enhance economic opportunity through greater freedom—and this year's index demonstrates that the U.S. needs a drastic change in direction.

Jan. 14: ABC NewsDozens of Trade-Offs in $1.1 Trillion Budget Bill
A massive $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund the government through October and finally put to rest the bitter budget battles of last year is getting generally positive reviews from House Republicans eager to avoid another shutdown crisis with elections looming in 10 months.  Veteran Republicans said the favorable response to the all-encompassing spending bill reflected the desire of the rank and file to avoid a repeat of the politically damaging budget standoffs with the White House that led to last year's 16-day partial government shutdown. The government closure sent congressional approval numbers plummeting and roughed up Republicans in particular. They've regained support amid the troubled rollout of President Barack Obama's health care law.

"The shutdown educated — particularly our younger members who weren't here during our earlier shutdown — about how futile that practice is," said House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-KY. "There is a real hard determination now that we will reacquire and use the power of the purse that the Congress constitutionally has been given."  Rep. Steve Womack, R-AR, said the bill would get "our country off this notion of shutting the government down" and would allow Republicans to "keep the spotlight on some other issues that affect the other side that we think are very important," a reference to the health care law that's weighing politically on Democrats.

Jan. 10: The Hill: Senator Reid backs down in unemployment fight:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he is now open to considering Republican amendments to a bill extending emergency unemployment benefits through most of 2014.  On Thursday, Reid clashed with several Republicans after saying he didn't want to consider any changes to an amended version of the bill. Reid's amendment paid for an 11-month extension by extending the sequester for another year, into 2024.  Republicans have other ideas on how to pay for the benefits, but Reid dismissed them.  "We get nowhere with dueling amendments," Reid said. "We have learned that in the past. Dueling amendments don't do the trick."

But on Friday, a spokesman for Reid said Democrats would allow some limited number of germane amendments to the bill when it comes up next week.  "Senator Reid has continued speaking with his Republican colleagues since yesterday afternoon and informed them that he is absolutely willing for the Senate to consider a reasonable number of relevant amendments from Republicans," spokesman Adam Jentleson said. Six Republicans joined Democrats in a procedural vote to advance the unemployment bill earlier this week. But Reid's objection to any amendments seemed to threaten their support for advancing the bill any further.

Jan. 10: The Hill:Hoyer says House Democrats are ready to swallow $9 billion in food stamp cuts
A bipartisan proposal to cut food stamps by $9 billion would likely pass the lower chamber with support from Democrats, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said this week.  "If that is the figure, and if other matters that are still at issue can be resolved, I think the bill will probably pass, and it will pass with Democratic — some Democratic — support," Hoyer said Thursday during the taping of C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, which will air Sunday. "Not, certainly, universal Democratic support. … But I think it will pass."

Bipartisan negotiators from both chambers are said to be nearing a deal on a farm bill that would include roughly $9 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.  The deal would break a years-long impasse over a five-year renewal of the farm bill that had centered largely around the parties' widely different approaches to SNAP funding. While House Republicans have pushed for a $39 billion cut to the program over a decade, Senate Democrats had proposed $4 billion.

Jan. 8: The Hill: Appropriations fight the clock, Short term CR may be inevitable:
Lawmakers scrambled Wednesday to maintain their momentum and complete writing an omnibus spending bill by Friday.   House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY), however, acknowledged that some sort of short stopgap measure will now be likely to avoid a Jan. 16 shutdown.   “Because of the Senate procedures we are probably going to have to do a couple of days [continuing resolution],” Rogers said. He added that such a measure could run through Jan. 17 when Congress departs for another week-long recess.

Yet Rogers said negotiators are clearly making progress, with eight of the 12 parts of the omnibus done.  “We probably have eight or so that are absolutely done,” he said. “We’re reducing the number of items that are in disagreement.”  That represents progress from Tuesday when Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said six out of 12 were done.  Getting the bill written by Friday would allow Congress to vote next week on the $1 trillion measure containing hundreds of pages of funding details.  Sources said that the Labor, Health and Education measure which involves ObamaCare and union-related provisions remained a problem on Wednesday. ObamaCare funding issues shut down the government for 16 days in October.

Jan. 8: The Hill: Reid delays jobless vote as Senators seek deal
The Democratic campaign to extend federal jobless benefits for three months was put on hold Wednesday evening as a group of bipartisan lawmakers sought a way to pay for it.    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) postponed a procedural vote on a three-month bill to buy time for negotiations over an offset.  Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) was working with Democrats on finding savings to cover the cost of a three-month extension in hopes that a stopgap could lead to a larger overhaul of the program.   “There will be no roll call votes tonight,” Reid said on the chamber floor. “Several senators are having productive conversations on possible offsets.”

The shift comes after a weeks-long campaign by Reid, President Obama and other Democratic leaders to pressure GOP leaders into accepting the three-month extension without offsetting the $6.4 billion cost.   Most Republicans have balked at the proposal, opposing either the underlying policy or the lack of an offset, and the provision was excluded from December's bipartisan budget package.   But a procedural vote on the short-term extension hopped a key hurdle Tuesday, when six Republicans, including Portman, joined with Democrats to advance the bill in the face of a filibuster.  Portman made clear that his vote Tuesday was designed only to buy the time for more debate on an offset and broader program reforms without providing Democrats with ammunition to blame Republicans for the bill's failure.

Jan. 5: Politico:Budget battle nears the finish line:
House-Senate negotiators are slated to meet Monday in hopes of narrowing their last differences over a $1 trillion-plus omnibus spending bill that attempts to fill in the blanks after December’s budget deal and avoid another shutdown next week.  If last month’s agreement said how much Congress can spend this year, the giant appropriations measure now spells out where the dollars will go. Hundreds of pages long, it literally touches every corner of the government. But its very scope also invites conflict over everything from Wall Street’s banks to Appalachia’s coal industry — championed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY).  The challenge now is to find balance — and be fast about it.

Funding levels for President Barack Obama’s new health care law remain an open issue, for example. But with the Supreme Court already poised to step into the contentious debate over contraceptive coverage, negotiators would prefer to avoid legislative riders on the same mandate.  The Pentagon’s base budget, which is expected to end up near $488 billion, represents its own middle ground: $24 billion less than the House approved in July but $20 billion more than what sequestration once threatened this month.  At the same time, non-defense appropriations will be restored to $492 billion — roughly the same level as before the March automatic cuts but less than what President George W. Bush enjoyed in the last years of his administration.

Jan. 5: Politico: Budget battle nears the finish line:
House-Senate negotiators are slated to meet Monday in hopes of narrowing their last differences over a $1 trillion-plus omnibus spending bill that attempts to fill in the blanks after December’s budget deal and avoid another shutdown next week.  If last month’s agreement said how much Congress can spend this year, the giant appropriations measure now spells out where the dollars will go. Hundreds of pages long, it literally touches every corner of the government. But its very scope also invites conflict over everything from Wall Street’s banks to Appalachia’s coal industry — championed by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).  The challenge now is to find balance — and be fast about it.

Funding levels for President Barack Obama’s new health care law remain an open issue, for example. But with the Supreme Court already poised to step into the contentious debate over contraceptive coverage, negotiators would prefer to avoid legislative riders on the same mandate.  The Pentagon’s base budget, which is expected to end up near $488 billion, represents its own middle ground: $24 billion less than the House approved in July but $20 billion more than what sequestration once threatened this month.  At the same time, non-defense appropriations will be restored to $492 billion — roughly the same level as before the March automatic cuts but less than what President George W. Bush enjoyed in the last years of his administration.

Jan. 3: CNS News: Uncle Sam’s New Year’s Binge: Borrowing $1,088 Per Household in one day:
Uncle Sam—AKA your federal government—went on a New Year’s Eve binge, adding a net of $125,202,709,546.99 to its total debt in just the one day of Dec. 31, 2013, according to the U.S. Treasury.  That equals approximately $1,088 for each of the 115,013,000 households the Census Bureau currently estimates are in the U. S.   Overall, in the first quarter of fiscal 2014, which ended on Dec. 31, the total debt of the federal government jumped $613,787,258,252.83 which equals $5,336 for each household in the country.

Go to the 2013 Chronology of News Coverage on the Economy