Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – 9 below

March 4, 2011

Don’t underestimate the PoliPsych impact of the unemployment rate falling below 9 percent for the first time in nearly two years.

That number is the one which resonates with the public when candidates talk about jobs on the campaign trail. USA-ECONOMY/JOBS

The economy is still shaking off the doldrums so the White House did not want to be seen as publicly reveling in what must have been a privately gleeful moment after the 8.9 percent February unemployment rate was revealed.

President Barack Obama said the employment report showed progress in the economy, “but we need to keep building on that momentum.”

Republicans were certainly not going to praise economic data with a Democrat in the White House and a presidential election next year.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the unemployment rate “is still too high and we need to continue our efforts to make sure private sector employers have sure footing to invest in new employees and expand their businesses.”

Congress will be looking for creative ways to cut the deficit.

We came across a GAO report that finds replacing the one-dollar note with a one-dollar coin would save the government about $5.5 billion over 30 years (pocket change when the deficit is $1.6 trillion).

Perhaps the government could sweep up after a Justin Bieber haircut – one lock from the performer went for more than $40,000 on eBay (for charity).

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Senate to debate rival spending bills next week

Senate Democrats pushed for a vote next week on their new proposal to trim $6 billion from spending while protecting President Obama’s healthcare overhaul and other priorities. Democrats offered their measure as an alternative to a bill passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives last month that would cut about $61 billion in spending. Both are expected to fall short of the needed 60 votes to clear procedural roadblocks, which would increase pressure on both sides to find a compromise and avert a government shutdown.

For more of this story by Andy Sullivan and Thomas Ferraro, read here.

Finally, jobs data showing some consistency

Mystery solved? For the first time in months, the Labor Department’s job market assessment matches up with private surveys showing a pick-up in employment that is finally fast enough to put a substantial dent in the unemployment rate. Construction, manufacturing and services all contributed to the slightly stronger-than-expected February payroll gain of 192,000 jobs.The dip in the jobless rate to 8.9 percent also shows a strengthening labor market.For the Federal Reserve, the improvement will likely be seen as a welcome sign of a self-sustaining recovery, but the jobless rate remains far above normal, which means interest rates will stay extraordinarily low.

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

U.S. employment rebounds from winter gloom

Employers hired workers at the fastest pace in nine months in February and the jobless rate slipped to a nearly two-year low of 8.9 percent, showing the economy is finally kicking into a higher gear. Employment rose pretty much across the board — from factories to construction to most service industries. The loss of 30,000 state and local government jobs was an exception. “It’s belated evidence the expansion is finally beginning to make a dent in the jobs problem that the country has,” said one analyst. “It’s encouraging but it also highlights how far we have to go to regain our footing.”

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

Jobs outlook in public sector grows dimmer

The jobs outlook is growing dimmer and dimmer for the U.S. public sector. Federal employment data shows state and local governments shedding thousands of jobs even as Republican political leaders say more layoffs are on the way. “State budgets are in bad shape and that means you’re going to see more cutbacks,” said David Wyss of Standard & Poor’s. “The biggest impact will be in the fall, because ‘back to school’ is going to be ‘back to school with fewer teachers.’”

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

Gates warns Air Force to prepare for range of threats

The U.S. military will face a complex array of security threats long after the Afghan conflict ends, and the Air Force cannot fall back into the habit of planning mainly for the wars of the 20th century, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned. In a speech that touched on some of his most difficult decisions as defense secretary, Gates bid farewell to the U.S. Air Force Academy and urged cadets to embrace “a comprehensive and integrated view of the service’s future needs “with equal emphasis on all its varied missions.”

For more of this story by David Alexander, read here.

U.S. flies aid to Tunisia, plans refugee airlift

The U.S. military was flying aid supplies to Tunisia on Friday and will return there on Saturday to evacuate refugees who fled violence in neighboring Libya, the Pentagon said. A spokesman said two C-130 transport planes were bringing 4,000 blankets, 40 rolls of plastic sheeting and almost 10,000 water containers from U.S. facilities in Europe to the Tunisian city of Djerba. An organized international airlift has started to help some of the tens of thousands of foreign workers who have fled into Tunisia.

For more of this story, read here.

Treasury touts success of TARP as oversight ends

The Treasury’s last man in charge of the $700 billion financial sector bailout program has two words for congressional overseers: It worked. Testifying at the Congressional Oversight Panel’s final hearing, Treasury’s bailout chief Timothy Massad said the program “brought stability to the financial system and laid the foundation for economic recovery.” The much-maligned TARP is estimated to cost taxpayers as little as $25 billion — a far cry from initial projections — and even some of the program’s harshest critics admit it helped pull markets “back from the abyss.”

For more of this story by Rachelle Younglai, read here.

Government says BP’s Atlantis platform is safe

A government probe of BP Atlantis production platform in the Gulf of Mexico found no evidence of significant safety breaches, the Interior Department said.  A former contractor, Kenneth Abbott, filed a lawsuit in 2009 charging that the Atlantis oil and natural gas platform lacked key final engineering documents.  The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said that, while its investigation of the allegations did uncover problems with the way BP organized and stored its engineering documents, there was no proof that these deficiencies “created specific unsafe conditions” on the platform.

For more of this story by Ayesha Rascoe, read here.

FDA: migraine drug ups risk for oral birth defects

An epilepsy drug also used to help prevent migraines can increase the risk for oral birth defects in babies born to women taking the medication, health officials said. The FDA said new data shows expecting mothers taking the drug, sold generically and as Johnson & Johnson’s Topamax, are about 20 times more likely to have their infants develop cleft lips or cleft palate deformities than those who are not treated.

For more of this story by Susan Heavey, read here.

EADS: won’t protest “lowball” Boeing tanker deal

Airbus parent EADS conceded defeat in an epic, decade-long contest to sell aerial tankers to the Pentagon and confirmed it would not protest the award of a $30 billion contract to Boeing. EADS North America Chairman Ralph Crosby expressed disappointment after Boeing won the contract on the third attempt, but said the company had undercut the bid to use European Airbus aircraft by a total of $2 billion. “It’s clear that there is no foundation for protest,” he said.

For more of this story by Andrea Shalal-Esa, read here.

Geithner to visit Germany ahead of EU summit

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will make a quick trip to Germany for economic talks, days ahead of a key European Union summit about beefing up a rescue fund for debt-strapped bloc members. Treasury said the one-day trip was “to discuss the global economic outlook and progress on international financial reform” as well as events in Libya and Iran. Geithner told Congress that European growth was trailing that of emerging-market countries and the United States, and he said the region needed to do whatever was necessary to help its most indebted members.

For more of this story by Glenn Somerville, read here.

Watchdog probing if SEC lawyer had Madoff conflict

The top watchdog at the SEC has launched an investigation into whether the agency’s senior lawyer should have been allowed to handle Bernard Madoff matters even though his deceased mother had invested with the convicted swindler. SEC Inspector General David Kotz confirmed the probe just a day after House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican Charles Grassley announced their own inquiry.

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

From elsewhere…

Harry Potter London studio tour opens in 2012

Harry Potter fans can catch a glimpse of how the movies were made starting in spring next year, when Warner Bros. opens the doors of its Leavesden facilities where much of the franchise was filmed. Called Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter, the tour will feature original sets, costumes, props and effects used in all eight “Harry Potter” movies. Among the exhibits on the three-hour tour is the set for the Great Hall at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and headmaster Dumbledore’s office.

For more of this story, read here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson (sign at store in New York, March 3, 2011)

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