Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: $829 billion — and that’s the good news

KOREA/You’ve no doubt heard the old saying about money and Washington: a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. That seems to be the case for fixing U.S. healthcare.

President Barack Obama got some good news from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office yesterday, which estimated that a healthcare plan by the Senate Finance Committee would cost $829 billion. CBO said this plan would cut the budget deficit by $81 billion over 10 years.

There was good news this morning too, as the Labor Department reported new unemployment claims at a nine-month low.

These moves are so recent they haven’t shown up in polls tracking whether Americans approve of how Obama is doing his job. The president’s job approval rating has been wiggling around 52 percent for the last three weeks, according to an average of poll results by RealClearPolitics.com. Disapproval ratings for the same period floated around 42 percent.

He’s still doing far better than Congress as a whole, which generally gets dismal poll ratings. It certainly is now, with the RealClearPolitics average approval rating at 25.8 percent, with a 66.5 disapproval rating.

The First Draft: Economy steadying?

Slowly but surely, more economists and experts are expressing some optimism about the economy, saying the worst might be over. New indicators released this morning support that sentiment.USA-UNEMPLOYMENT

Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker told the Danville Register & Bee newspaper that he thought the economy was leveling out and there was “reason for hope.”

Government data released today showed the U.S. economy contracted more slowly than expected in the second quarter of the year. Other figures showed the number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits dropped last week and those collecting long-term unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level since April.

The First Draft: Obama’s travels of no help at home

President Barack Obama remains hard at work at the summit of G8 wealthy industrialized nations in Italy on Thursday, while his top domestic initiatives stumble and misfire at home.

Obama’s top legislative priority, a massive overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system, has lurched through weeks of intensive horse-trading and positioning on Capitol Hill, where five different committees in Congress are trying to fashion workable proposals that can win initial approval by the August recess.

That timeline appears to be slipping as the effort to attract Republican support, pare the bill’s price tag of at least $1 trillion and find ways to pay for it without broad tax increases has left even some Democrats restive.

The First Draft: missiles, jobs and a soldier captured

USA-SUMMIT/PROTESTAs sometimes happens in Washington, much of the news reverberating around town this morning started someplace else.

From the other side of the world, reports that North Korea has test-fired short-range missiles, including two surface-to-ship missiles, from its east coast. From Afghanistan, the Pentagon confirmed a U.S. soldier has been captured, and Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility. What is not known now is why and how.

There is some domestic news on this getaway morning — the official U.S. Independence Day holiday starts tomorrow, one day ahead of July Fourth celebrations — and it brings some gloom to the picture: U.S. employers cut 467,000 jobs in June, more than analysts expected. That brings the U.S. unemployment rate to 9.5 percent, the highest since 1983.

The First Draft: the Supreme Court and the Spelling Bee

SPELLING BEE/KIDSWith Congress gone this week and President Barack Obama out of town for most of today, Washington turns to its two traditional inside-the-Beltway sporting events: handicapping a Supreme Court nominee’s chances of confirmation, and watching the nerve-wracking finals of the National Spelling Bee.

Sonia Sotomayor, picked by Obama on Tuesday, is already being praised in an ad by liberal groups and vilified as a racist by conservatives, including radio talk jock Rush Limbaugh, whom the White House has tried to style as the de facto head of the Republican Party. Obama himself stumped for his choice on a Western swing yesterday to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The president returns to Washington for a late afternoon meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

First Draft: Jobs, jobs, jobs

USA/Today, as ever, it’s all about jobs. War, pestilence (in the form of the H1N1 flu), a big gas explosion at a shopping mall outside Washington, the re-opening of the Statue of Liberty’s crown – all these take a back seat to jobs, especially in a recession. And especially after this week’s “stress test” results for banks, when the unemployed might well be asking, “OK, the big banks got their bailout. Where’s ours?”

The latest jobless numbers offered some signs of relief: U.S. employers cut 539,000 jobs in April, thousands fewer than the 590,000 jobs analysts predicted. But the unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent from 8.5 percent in March, the highest in more than a quarter-century.

President Barack Obama is largely out of sight today, but is due to emerge for a late-morning speech on job creation and job training.

New York, California want rejected stimulus dough

Watch out Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, New York and California would love those dollars you turn down from the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.
A few governors, namely Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, South Carolina’s Mark Sanford and Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, have all said that they may turn down some of the stimulus money for their states, particularly aid aimed at bolstering unemployment benefit programs.
“We can’t pay for the benefits already in the program, but to get the stimulus money, we’ve got to increase the program’s size and scale,” Sanford said on “Fox News Sunday”.
That has some other states hard hit by the deepening recession calling for the money to be sent their way, especially New York where Wall Street has been laying off workers by the thousands.MARKETS-STOCKS/
“If any governor — Democrat or Republican — leaves stimulus money on the table, then we respectfully request that funds be distributed to New York,” the state’s two Democratic senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, said in a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday.
Another New York lawmaker, Representative Anthony Weiner, plans to offer legislation that would redirect rejected stimulus funds to other states. 
“If some governors decide to reject the money, 45 other states should be able to use it to create thousands of jobs. We have plenty of projects across the country that will put people to work and help achieve long term economic growth and stability,” Weiner said in a statement.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

- Photo credit: Reuters/Mike Segar (Wall Street in New York City.)

First draft: Back on the trail again

Just three weeks into his presidency, Barack Obama heads back out on the campaign trail today. This time he’s going to a hard-hit part of Indiana where unemployment has soared, to try to build support for an $800 billion economic stimulus package.USA-OBAMA/

Obama, who excelled in the presidential campaign at ramping up support at rallies through emotional speeches, will be holding a town-hall type meeting in Elkhart, Indiana — where unemployment has jumped to 15.3 percent from 4.7 percent over the past year.

The Obama administration is focusing all its effort on getting lawmakers to approve the economic stimulus plan. In fact, yesterday the Treasury Department announced it would delay the announcement of a separate, keenly awaited bank rescue plan by a day until Tuesday so the focus could stay on the stimulus package on Monday.