Washington Extra – It’s my party

January 7, 2011

It’s Friday, when some people start thinking PARTY! Even in Washington.

The first employment report of the year, which was for December, gave the administration something to party about. The unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent from 9.8 percent. That is the number that resonates with the public, so a four-tenths of a percentage point drop can be politically useful. OBAMA/SPERLING

“Now, we know these numbers can bounce around from month to month. But the trend is clear,” President Barack Obama said. “We saw 12 straight months of private sector job growth.  That’s the first time that’s been true since 2006.”

Gene Sperling has something to party about, he’s just got his old job back. Obama announced additions to his White House economic team and named Sperling as director of the National Economic Council (a post he held in President Bill Clinton’s administration).

We imagine the winners of the NFL playoffs that start this weekend will be dreaming of starring on big screen TVs at Super Bowl parties.

And closer to home, we’re giving Washington Extra’s FF (Founding Father), Simon Denyer, a party today to wish him all the best as he leaves for a new posting in India.

Cheers everyone.

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

Bernanke voices greater confidence in recovery

The economy may finally be hitting its stride even if growth remains too weak to put a dent in the jobless rate, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said. Offering no real clues on the direction of monetary policy, Bernanke sounded cautiously more upbeat than he had in recent public remarks. “We have seen increased evidence that a self-sustaining recovery in consumer and business spending may be taking hold,” he said in his first testimony to Congress since the Fed launched a plan to buy an extra $600 billion in government bonds.

For more of this story by Pedro da Costa, read here.

Jobs growth disappoints, but jobless rate falls

Employers hired fewer workers than expected in December and a surprisingly large number of people gave up searching for work, tempering the positive news of a big drop in the unemployment rate. “What we are seeing is a pace of hiring that is enough to keep us on track, where we stand, which has been a moderate recovery, but not really enough to point to an acceleration from here,” said one analyst.

For more of this story by Lucia Mutikani, read here.

The incredible, shrinking workforce

Even the “good” news had a dark lining in Friday’s employment report. The unemployment rate dropped to 9.4 percent in December, even though employers reported hiring a disappointingly skimpy 103,000 new workers. But the reason for the big drop from 9.8 percent in November is somewhat disconcerting. Even though the U.S. economy added jobs in every month in 2010, hundreds of thousands of people gave up looking for work.

For more of this snap analysis by Emily Kaiser, read here.

Obama reshapes economic team, taps another Clinton vet

President Obama reshaped his economic team, picking another veteran of the Clinton administration in a staff shake-up aimed at driving recovery and winning re-election in 2012. Obama named Gene Sperling as the new head of his National Economic Council after a report showed the country’s jobless rate had declined last month but still remained high. “He helped formulate the policies that contributed to turning deficits to surpluses and a time of prosperity and progress for American families in a sustained way,” Obama said.

For more of this story by Alister Bull, read here.

For a factbox on the White House staff shakeup, click here.

CFTC won’t seek tougher voting stake rules-sources

Regulators do not plan to toughen their proposal to limit banks’ voting power in derivatives clearing and trading venues, despite concerns by the Justice Department the rule may not combat anti-competitive practices, according to people familiar with the matter. A draft of a final rule, which is slated for a vote by the CFTC on Thursday, is very similar to one proposed by the agency in October.

For more of this story by Sarah Lynch, read here.

Regulators consider tiered Volcker rule-report

Regulators are considering using a three-part approach to determine if banks are complying with a ban on proprietary trading included in the new financial reform law, according to a report. This ban is known as the Volcker Rule, and it would prohibit banks from trading for their own profit in securities, derivatives and certain other financial instruments, and ban their investing in or sponsoring hedge funds or private equity funds.

For more of this story by Dave Clarke, read here.

Republicans acknowledge debt limit should rise

Republicans acknowledged they will have to sign off on more deficit spending to avoid a debt default that would roil financial markets and bring the government to a grinding halt. “Will the debt ceiling … have to be raised? Yes,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican. But he called for deep spending cuts in 2012, and the Pentagon announced it would trim its budget by $78 billion as both government and opposition in Washington vied to outdo each other in promises of tighter spending.

For more of this story by David Lawder, Andy Sullivan and Glen Somerville, read here.

Healthcare law repeal clears hurdle in House

Republicans in the House of Representatives cleared the way for a vote next week to repeal the healthcare reform law, moving toward fulfilling a campaign pledge even though Democrats have the power to eventually kill it. By a partisan vote of 236-181, the House approved rules for debating the repeal bill, with a vote expected on January 12. Only a handful of Democrats joined unified Republicans in voting to allow debate to proceed — one day after leaders in the Senate warned that the repeal would die in their chamber.

For more of this story by Richard Cowan and Kim Dixon, read here.

Top court to weigh drugmaker disclosures

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could impact how much drugmakers tell investors about complaints from people who take their medicines. Manufacturers of drugs, medical devices and dietary supplements are siding with Matrixx Initiatives in arguing that disclosure would cause confusion and harm rather than help investors or consumers. In a class-action lawsuit, investors argued Matrixx violated securities law by failing to disclose reports of people losing their sense of smell after using Zicam.

For more of this story by Lisa Richwine, read here.

Republican Pawlenty hints at 2012 presidential run

Republican Tim Pawlenty denounces “runaway spending” in Washington and blames the Obama administration for a mountain of debt in a new book that lays out his case for possibly running for president in 2012. “The fact is, the current administration, through the smoke-and-mirror effect of bailouts and big-government spending, has taken America’s future and leveraged it into a mountain of debt so large it’s nearly impossible for anyone to wrap their heads around,” he writes.

For more of this story by Steve Holland, read here.

From elsewhere…

Celeb tweets make impact on top stories in 2010

News organizations had the most influence on the top Twitter topics in 2010, but celebrities were not far behind. Researchers found that the Gulf oil spill, the earthquake in Haiti and the Chilean mine rescue were among the top events on Twitter. Lady Gaga, actor Mel Gibson and pop idol Justin Bieber were the most tweeted-about people. “For the topic of Haiti … singer Adam Lambert was the most influential tweeter. For the Chilean miner rescue topic, comedian Conan O’Brien was the most influential, and singer Ricky Martin was number two,” one researcher said.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Obama discusses the economy as Gene Sperling listens in background)

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