Barack Obama
(Charles Dharapak/AP)
October 08, 2013

Obama: 'Stop The Excuses. Let's Take A Vote'

In a press conference that lasted more than an hour, President Obama said he was willing to talk about anything, as long as Republicans reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling, even if its for a short period of time.

"Let's stop the excuses. Let's take a vote in the House. Let's end this shutdown, right now; let's put people back to work" Obama said.

The president said he'd "even spring for dinner again" when it came to negotiations, but he would not do so while the "extreme" wing of the Republican party is forcing Speaker John Boehner to issue unreasonable demands.

"We can't make extortion routine as part of our democracy," Obama said, adding that "we're not going to pay a ransom for America paying its bills."

Obama spoke as the government entered its eighth day of being shut down and just a little more than a week before the Treasury runs out of money, potentially forcing a default for the first time in history.

He spoke as the two sides in this fight — the GOP-controlled House and the Democratically-controlled Senate — seemed just as far apart as when this started.

Earlier today, Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, and Obama — the two men most important to working out a solution to this standoff — spoke on the phone.

As Bill reported earlier, Boehner said that "by refusing to negotiate," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama were "putting our country on a pretty dangerous path."

Boehner went on to tell reporters: "Listen, there's never been a president in our history that did not negotiate over the debt limit, never, not once. As a matter of fact, President Obama negotiated with me over the debt limit in 2011."

NPR's Mara Liasson said Obama's comments during the news conference "moved the needle a little bit."

But the bottom line is Obama did not budge, although he did say he'd be willing to negotiate if Congress finds a short-term solution. NPR's Scott Horsley said while the substance of what Obama said was pretty much the same, the tone was different.

We live-blogged the news conference, so if you want a play-by-play, keep reading.

Update at 3:20 p.m. ET. Non-Standoff Question:

Obama was asked about the two raids that targeted alleged terrorists in Libya and Somalia.

Obama said the operations are in line with his assertion that the U.S. is moving away from wars and moving toward targeted operations to capture terrorists.

"We're going to have to continue to go after them," Obama said.

Update at 3:19 p.m. ET. 'Not Going To Do That Again':

President Obama said when the country almost defaulted in 2011, he realized that the government could not make the American people go through the same thing again.

"That's what we learned in 2011. We're not going to do that again," Obama said.

Update at 2:54 p.m. ET. No Lasting Damage:

If the government reopens and Congress works through lifting the debt ceiling in a timely manner, this showdown will not cause "lasting damage," Obama said.

This episode will just be blamed on the "usual messy process of American democracy."

He said that in the short term, this causes concern in the world at large, but as long as the U.S. deals with this in a timely manner, world leaders "will understand."

Update at 2:46 p.m. ET. The Clock Is Ticking:

Obama shot down theories that he could single-handedly solve the debt ceiling crisis. He can't "spin off a big coin" or invoke the Fourteenth Amendment, he said, because those two options would leave the Treasury shrouded in legal questions.

"Ultimately, what matters is what do the people who are buying Treasury bills think," Obama said. Those two options, said Obama, would just leave uncertainty.

Update at 2:43 p.m. ET. Democrats Have Negotiated:

Obama made the arugment that Democrats have negotiated. Case in point, they're willing to sign off on a short-term budget that continues funding the government at post-sequestration levels, or at a lower lever than most of them are happy with.

Update at 2:34 p.m. ET. Continue To Be Hopeful:

When asked if his administration would prioritize payments in the event that the country's borrowing limit is not extended, Obama said any default — whether it's to bondholders or retirees — would be damaging.

"I'm going to continue to be very hopeful that Congress will not put us in that position," Obama said.

He said trying to minimize the potential effects of a default is "irresponsible."

"No option is good in that scenario," Obama said.

Update at 2:28 p.m. ET. Can't Make Extortion Routine:

President Obama reiterated that he is ready to talk about anything.

"I'll even spring for dinner again," Obama said, but he will not do so while the "extreme" wing of the Republican party is forcing Boehner to issue extreme demands.

"We can't make extortion routine as part of our democracy," Obama said.

He added: "We're not going to pay a ransom for America paying its bills."

Update at 2:24 p.m. ET. Risks Recession:

Unlike what some Republicans have been saying, Obama said, failing to raise the debt ceiling would be bad for the country.

It would mean the "significant risk of a very deep recession," Obama said.

And economists agree, the president added. They've said letting the U.S. default on its debt would be "insane, catastrophic, chaos."

Update at 2:20 p.m. ET. Bring A Clean CR To The Floor:

Obama called on Speaker Boehner to bring a clean continuing resolution to the House floor, saying he has the votes — if he combines a minority of Republicans and all Democrats — to pass the measure and reopen the government.

"Let's stop the excuses. Let's take a vote. Let's end this shutdown, right now," Obama said.

Update at 2:15 p.m. ET. Happy To Talk About Anything:

Obama says he is happy to talk to Republicans about anything, as long as it does not involve "hanging threats of government shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of American people."

"That's not the way negotiations work," Obama said.

Update at 2:02 p.m. ET. Will President Obama Add Nuance?:

On NPR's special coverage, Mara Liasson says what we should be watching here is whether Obama will "add nuance to his 'I will not negotiate' line."

That is, Mara said, whether Obama will allow an opening for Boehner to "crawl off the branch" that he got himself on.

Just a bit of background: Remember, this started as a battle over the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Republicans attached conditions to defund or delay Obamacare to the bill that funds the government.

The government shut down over that fight and now, without a resolution to that first standoff, Congress is on to its next battle. This time, it's about the debt ceiling, as Republicans have shifted their focus to fiscal issues, instead of the health care law.

Mara says what Republicans need is a "fig leaf," or a small concession that allows them to save face.

Update at 1:37 p.m. ET. A Phone Call:

This press conference also comes after Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, and President Obama — the two men most important to working out a solution to this standoff — spoke on the phone.

As Bill reported earlier, according to a read-out of the call released by the White House, Obama told Boehner he was willing to negotiate about fiscal issues, just not while the government is shut down and while Congress hasn't approved a raising of the debt ceiling.

Boehner said that "by refusing to negotiate," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama were "putting our country on a pretty dangerous path."

He went on to tell reporters: "Listen, there's never been a president in our history that did not negotiate over the debt limit, never, not once. As a matter of fact, President Obama negotiated with me over the debt limit in 2011."

Pat Quinn
(Seth Perlman/AP)
October 07, 2013

Gov. Quinn Says More Layoffs Possible With Shutdown

Gov. Pat Quinn says if the federal government shutdown continues the state will have to lay off more workers whose paychecks come from federal funding.

Illinois has already issued nearly 100 such temporary layoffs. They include employees with the state Department of Military Affairs, economic analysts at the Illinois Department of Employment Security and employees with the Labor Department who handle workplace safety inspections. 

Quinn sent U.S. House Speaker John Boehner a letter Monday, urging an end to the shutdown.
 Quinn told reporters on Monday that whether you're a Republican or Democrat, it's a "severe blow'' to the economy of Illinois.
 The last time there was a federal government shutdown in 1995, the state issued roughly 1,200 temporary layoffs. Everyone eventually was rehired.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Des Plaines, testify during a House committee hearing at the Illinois State Capitol
AP Photo
October 04, 2013

Quinn Stops Short Of Endorsing Pension Deal

Gov. Pat Quinn says there are "a lot of good ideas'' in a pension reform proposal, but he's stopping short of a full endorsement of the deal.

The Chicago Democrat said the 10-member legislative panel working on a $138.9 billion savings plan needs to get details finished on the legislation so lawmakers can schedule a vote.
Quinn said he has seen a number of the plan details and has been "working back and forth'' with committee members. Quinn's Friday remarks follow Senate President John Cullerton's public endorsement of the plan.
The state faces a $100 billion unfunded pension liability due to lawmakers shorting or skipping payments.
Lawmakers say a vote may not happen during the October veto session. But Quinn said the pension crisis is an emergency that shouldn't be postponed.

September 20, 2013

BlackBerry To Lay Off 4,500 Employees

BlackBerry says it will lay off 4,500 employees, or 40 percent of its global workforce, as it reports a nearly $1 billion second-quarter loss in a surprise early release of earnings results.

The stock dropped 19 percent to $8.50 after reopening for trading. Shares had been halted pending the news.

BlackBerry had been scheduled to release earnings next week. But the Canadian company said late Friday afternoon it expects a loss of about $950 million to $995 million for the quarter, including a massive inventory charge due to increasing market competition.

The BlackBerry, pioneered in 1999, was the dominant smartphone for on-the-go business people and other customers before Apple debuted the iPhone in 2007. Since then, BlackBerry Ltd. has been hammered by competition from the iPhone as well as Android-based rivals like Samsung.

September 19, 2013

House Votes To Cut $4B A Year From Food Stamps

The U.S. House voted on Thursday to cut nearly $40 billion over the next decade in food stamps (or $4 billion a year).

The vote in the Republican-controlled House came on a party line vote of 217-200.

The bill's savings would be achieved by allowing states to put broad new work requirements in place for many food stamp recipients and to test applicants for drugs. Speaking on the House floor before the vote, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville), who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, voiced his support for the plan.

“Just as I believe we must take care of fellow Americans who truly need the help, I also believe that we must address fraud and abuse in the SNAP program and provide opportunities and encouragement to put people back to work,” Davis said. “When unemployment declines, the number of food stamp recipients still increases under our current system. This is simply unsustainable.”

Food stamps' cost has more than doubled in the last five years as the economy struggled through the Great Recession.

The bill also would end government waivers that have allowed able-bodied adults without dependents to receive food stamps indefinitely.

SNAP has traditionally been part of a larger, omnibus farm bill, but in July, House Republicans split food stamps from the rest of the agricultural measure.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the House plan, nearly four million people would lose food stamp benefits next year

The White House, in a statement, chided lawmakers for cutting "one of our nation's strongest defenses against hunger and poverty."

"These cuts would affect a broad array of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, including working families with children, senior citizens, veterans, and adults who are still looking for work," the statement said.

Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Wednesday that the House bill "will never see the light of day in the Senate."

September 19, 2013

Ill. Unemployment Remains At 9.2 Percent In August

The unemployment rate was unchanged at 9.2 percent in Illinois last month. That's one of the country's highest jobless rates.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security says Thursday that the state added 5,600 jobs in the educational and health services sector in August. But Illinois lost a net 4,100 construction jobs.

Employment Security Director Jay Rowell pointed out that even without a drop in the unemployment rate the state still added a net 5,900 private-sector jobs for the month. Government employers actually cut a net 1,100 jobs in August.

The federal government said earlier this month that the national unemployment rate for August was 7.3 percent.

The Federal Reserve headquarters is photographed at sunrise Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 in Washington.
September 18, 2013

Federal Reserve Holds Off Slowing Bond Purchases

The Federal Reserve said today that it is not slowing down its monthly purchase of $85 billion in bonds.

The program is intended to stimulate a sluggish economy and the Fed was widely anticipated to announce that in light of a recovering economy, it was tapering the bond-buying program. Today, it delivered a surprise.

In a statement issued after a meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed said it was awaiting more data on the health of the economy before making a decision on the stimulus program:

"Taking into account the extent of federal fiscal retrenchment, the Committee sees the improvement in economic activity and labor market conditions since it began its asset purchase program a year ago as consistent with growing underlying strength in the broader economy. However, the Committee decided to await more evidence that progress will be sustained before adjusting the pace of its purchases. Accordingly, the Committee decided to continue purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month and longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month."

In the past the Fed has spooked the markets, when it hinted that the program may be coming to an end. So, as you might expect, the markets reacted joyously at today's announcement.

The Fed also kept its short-term interest rate near zero and released its updated economic projections (pdf). The Wall Street Journal reports that most Fed officials expect the interest rate to rise in 2015 or later.

The paper adds:

"New Fed forecasts for the economy and monetary policy show most officials expect to keep interest rates low well into the future. Ten of 17 Fed officials said they expected the central bank's benchmark interest rate, which is called the fed funds rate, to be at or below 2% by the end of 2016. 14 of 17 officials said they don't expect the Fed to start raising the fed funds rate until 2015 or later.

"The forecasts also highlight the complex economic environment that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke confronts. Fed officials, who have been consistently disappointed by economic growth, nudged down their growth forecast for this year and next year, projecting growth between 2% and 2.3% in 2013 and between 2.9% and 3.1% in 2014. Yet Fed officials' view of unemployment hasn't changed much. They expect the jobless rate to keep falling to between 7.1% and 7.3% by the end of next year, which is little changed from their June projections."

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled for a press conference at 2:30 p.m. ET. We'll update this post with what he has to say.

Update at 2:54 p.m. ET. Not Set Calendar:

Sounding a lot like he did in July, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Fed's asset-buying program is not on a set calendar.

"We'll wait for data to make changes, possibly later this year," Bernanke said, adding that the Fed will decide on when to make changes to the program based on three measures — overall growth, the labor market and inflation.

Bernanke was also asked about his future — whether it was President Obama who had asked him not to serve a third term as chairman or if it was his decision.

"I prefer not to talk about my own plans," he said.

Copies of President Obama's proposed budget plan for fiscal year 2014 are prepared for delivery at the U.S. Government Printing Office in Washington in April 2013.
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
September 17, 2013

CBO Report Warns Of Long-Term Debt Problems

There's plenty of fodder for deficit hawks in a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. In short, the future looks grim.

The 2013 Long-Term Budget Outlook finds that although in the short term the deficit is expected to decline, it will grow again — and, ultimately, in a big way.

First, the good news: The CBO projects the deficit will shrink to $378 billion in 2015, or 2.1 percent of the size of the overall U.S. economy. Compared with just a few years ago when the budget gap ballooned as a result of the recession, this marks a nearly unprecedented improvement in the deficit picture. It's a rapid decline in budget shortfalls not seen since the end of World War II. The national debt will bottom out in 2018, at 68 percent of GDP.

The bad news: From there, the picture gets decidedly less rosy. Budget deficits gradually rise, "mainly because of increasing interest costs and growing spending for Social Security and the government's major health care programs (Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and subsidies to be provided through the health insurance exchanges)," says the report. By 2038, the national debt will reach 100 percent of GDP.

"With such large deficits, federal debt would be growing faster than GDP, a path that would ultimately be unsustainable," the report says.

There's actually not a lot new here. The CBO has been projecting long-term debt problems for some time now. Interestingly, the rise in health care costs has slowed recently, but that improving picture was offset by the permanent tax changes put in place by the fiscal cliff deal.

The gap between federal spending and revenues would widen steadily after 2015, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report. (Congressional Budget Office)

(John Moore/Getty Images)
September 10, 2013

Study Says America's Income Gap Widest Since Great Depression

The gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent is growing, according to an analysis of IRS figures by an international group of university economists, and it hasn't been so wide since 1928.

The incomes of the very wealthiest 1 percent of Americans increased by 31.4 percent from 2009 to 2012. By contrast, the bottom 99 percent saw their earnings in the same period go up by just 0.4 percent. In 2012, the top 1 percent collected 19.3 percent of all household income and the top 10 percent took home a record 48.2 percent of total earnings, The Associated Press reports.

The result, according to the analysis by economists from the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University, who looked at 1913 onward, is the broadest income gap between super-rich and everyone else since just before the Great Depression.

The AP says:

"The top 1 percent of American households had pretax income above $394,000 last year. The top 10 percent had income exceeding $114,000.

"The income figures include wages, pension payments, dividends and capital gains from the sale of stocks and other assets. They do not include so-called transfer payments from government programs such as unemployment benefits and Social Security.

"The gap between rich and poor narrowed after World War II as unions negotiated better pay and benefits and as the government enacted a minimum wage and other policies to help the poor and middle class.

"The top 1 percent's share of income bottomed out at 7.7 percent in 1973 and has risen steadily since the early 1980s, according to the analysis."

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