Tales from the Trail

U.S. government shutdown bad for courts, judges warn

Nearly all trials and other federal court proceedings might come to a halt if the U.S. government shuts down because Congress cannot agree on the budget, the federal judiciary’s policy-making body warned.

The 27-member group, which is made up of judges from around the country and which meets twice a year, received a report warning of “potentially dire consequences” for the federal judiciary if a funding measure is not adopted soon. USA/

David Sentelle, chief judge of the U.S. appeals court in Washington, D.C., told reporters a shutdown would mean court personnel, jurors, pretrial services and others in the judiciary would not get paid.

“Litigation might be grinding to a halt for awhile,” he said after the meeting, in which members of Congress briefed the group on efforts to reach an agreement on spending.

A stopgap funding measure to keep the government operating through April 8 is expected to be approved by Congress this week. But a deal has yet to be reached on keeping the government funded through the rest of the fiscal year.

Washington Extra – Podium pieces

We learned a thing or two from briefings around town.

– White House spokesman Jay Carney has a sister, and today is her birthday. He announced it from the podium. “I spoke with her this morning, and we are very close.” LIBYA-USA/

– State Department spokesman Mark Toner is interested in the Georgetown basketball game. “Anybody got the latest score on Georgetown?” he asked, to break up some of the back-and-forth with reporters on questions about Libya.

– Republicans have noticed that Vice President Joe Biden hasn’t been around. House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy complained that Biden is supposed to be lead negotiator in government funding talks and no one will say who is filling in for him. “The vice president is out of the country. We’ll have to prepare for another two weeks but that’s not where we want to go.”

Washington grow up? Don’t hold your breath

President Barack Obama said he wants a mature discussion between politicians of all stripes as the White House and members of Congress try to make tough decisions on spending and taxes necessary to run the government and deal with a ballooning budget deficit.obama1

“My hope is that what’s different this time is, is we have an adult conversation where everybody says here’s what’s important and here’s how we’re going to pay for it,” Obama told a news conference Tuesday.

Don’t hold your breath.

Obama campaigned for the presidency in 2008 with a pledge to seek common ground between Democrats and Republicans, but his time in office has been marked by bitter fighting and few issues garnering bipartisan support.

A Senate Christmas tale

(UPDATES with new Reid comments).

Christmas bells are ringing. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn’t seem to be listening. Much to the chagrin of staffers and more than a few senators, Reid is threatening to keep the Senate in session until Christmas Eve and beyond to finish all the legislative work that Congress failed to complete before the November elections.USA/

That amounts to just about a whole year’s worth of lawmaking. Congress never got around to passing any of the 12 spending bills that fund the government. So the Senate is expected to take up a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill after senators voted to extend Bush-era tax cuts by two years and extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for a year.

Reid earlier this week said “…we are going to complete our work, no matter how long it takes, in this Congress.”

Health expenditure around the world

Health at a Glance 2009, a report by the OECD, shows that the United States spends more on healthcare than any other country.
Here are some figures on what leading economies spend on health care per capita, both in public and private schemes. The latest figures are from 2007 and are adjusted for purchasing power parity.
table.tableizer-table {border: 1px solid #CCC; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;} .tableizer-table td {padding: 4px; margin: 3px; border: 1px solid #ccc;} .tableizer-table th {background-color: #104E8B; color: #FFF; font-weight: bold;} COUNTRY TOTAL PUBLIC PRIVATE HEALTH SPENDING
AS PCT OF GDP United States $7,290 $3,307 $3,982 16.00% Norway $4,763 $4,005 $758 8.90% Switzerland $4,417 $2,618 $1,799 10.80% Luxembourg * $4,162 $3,782 $380 7.30% Canada $3,895 $2,726 $1,169 10.10% Netherlands $3,837 $3,126 $711 9.80% Austria $3,763 $2,875 $888 10.10% France $3,601 $2,861 $739 11.00% Belgium $3,595 $2,701 $894 10.20% Germany $3,588 $2,758 $830 10.40% Denmark $3,512 $2,968 $545 9.80% Ireland $3,424 $2,762 $661 7.60% Sweden $3,323 $2,716 $607 9.10% Iceland $3,319 $2,739 $580 9.30% Australia (2006/7) $3,137 $2,124 $1,012 8.70% United Kingdom $2,992 $2,446 $547 8.40% OECD Average $2,984 $2,193 $791 8.90% Finland $2,840 $2,120 $720 8.20% Greece $2,727 $1,646 $1,081 9.60% Italy $2,686 $2,056 $630 8.70% Spain $2,671 $1,917 $753 8.50% Japan (2006) $2,581 $2,097 $484 8.10% New Zealand $2,510 $2,010 $500 9.20% Portugal (2006) $2,150 $1,538 $612 9.90% Korea $1,688 $927 $761 6.80% Czech Republic $1,626 $1,385 $241 6.80% Slovak Republic $1,555 $1,040 $516 7.70% Hungary $1,388 $980 $408 7.40% Poland $1,035 $733 $302 6.40% Mexico $823 $372 $451 5.90% Turkey (2005) $618 $441 $177 5.70%

* Health expenditure is for the insured population rather than resident population.
Sources: Reuters/OECD Health Data 2009.

from MacroScope:

Watch out for the G20 spin

Be careful this week about buying wholeheartedy into any G20-related spin about supposedly savvy, free-spending Britain and America doing more to combat the world economic crisis than supposedly stubborn, overly cautious Germany and France. The actual figures show it is much more complex than that.

A Reuters calculation on discretionary fiscal stumuli and the International Monetary Fund's assessment show that, if anything, Britain is the significant laggard and that German spending almost matches the United States over the next two years. Here are the IMF's numbers (% of GDP):

                                                          2009                     2010

from Global News Journal:

Obama gets rockstar welcome at town hall meeting

President Barack Obama on Wednesday stepped out from behind the podium, took off his suit jacket and dispensed with the teleprompters to defend his budget, attack Republicans who label him a tax-and-spend Democrat and express outrage at the bonuses paid at insurance giant AIG.
Obama, who has made no secret of the fact he chafes in the White House "bubble" and enjoys engaging directly with Americans, headed west to California to hold a town hall meeting in Costa Mesa, a town of about 113,000 in Orange County that has been hard hit by the recession. 
Obama's critics say his comments expressing outrage at the AIG bonuses and other Wall Street scandals lack passion because they are often scripted and read from a teleprompter.
But on Wednesday, Obama sounded like he was back on the election campaign trail as he rounded on Republicans for criticizing his $3.5 trillion 2010 budget, which he says is crucial to tackling the worst economic crisis in decades.
"Most of these critics presided over a doubling of the national debt. We are inheriting a $1.3 trillion deficit. So they don't have the standing to make this criticism, I think, given how irresponsible they've been,"  he said.
Under the glare of hot lights in an uncomfortably warm hall at Costa Mesa's state fairgrounds, Obama invited his audience to ask him questions and feel free to take him to task and tell him if he was a "bum and doing a bad job".
But there was little danger of that. When he entered the hall, he received a rockstar welcome.
Obama at times spoke with passion, his voice rising above the cheers, while he was at times professorial, explaining credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities and breaking his promise to keep his answers short as he explained how and why America's economy had plunged to such depths.
Despite the fact that he has only been in office two months, one of the first questions he fielded was from a woman asking him if he would run for re-election in four years' time.
"I would rather be a good president taking on the tough issues for four years than a mediocre president for eight years," he replied.
And if he fails to deliver on his promises on health care, education and fixing the economy, then it will be the voters and not he who decides whether he runs again.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama at town hall meeting in California)