Domestic Policy

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  U.S. Economy Slows To 0.6% Growth In Fourth QuarterJanuary 30, 2008 11:56 The U.S. economy barely grew in the fourth quarter, pulled down by a worsening slump in housing and heightened caution by consumers and businesses, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
The 0.6% annualized growth rate in gross domestic product was lower than the 1.1% expected by economists surveyed by MarketWatch. The drag from inventories was larger than expected. See Economic Calendar.
"The GDP hit stall speed," wrote Joseph Brusuelas, chief U.S. economist at IDEAglobal.
GDP hadn't been any slower since the end of 2002, when the economy was struggling to recover from the recession a year earlier.
Consumer spending and business investments slowed slightly in the fourth quarter, while investments in houses fell at the fastest rate in 26 years. Businesses reduced their inventories. Exports grew at a slower pace as well. Read the full government report.
The economy grew at a 4.9% pace in the third quarter.
For all of 2007, GDP grew 2.2%, the slowest growth since 2002. GDP increased at a 2.9% rate in 2006.
Economists expect tepid growth to persist through the first half of the year.

  O'Malley Attacks Epa Greenhouse Gas DecisionJanuary 24, 2008 21:22 Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) joined other governors and several U.S. senators yesterday in criticizing a recent decision by the Environmental Protection Agency blocking California and effectively a host of other states from cutting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

Testifying before the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, O'Malley said Maryland had been prepared to follow California's lead and cut vehicle emissions about 30 percent by 2016. But now that plan is in limbo, O'Malley said, because California was denied an EPA waiver required to set its own emissions standards.

"I find this decision . . . shameful, outrageous and irresponsible," O'Malley said. "It amounts, in essence, to the EPA saying to the states, 'How dare you make greater progress against climate change' " than the federal government?

During the hearing, there were contentious exchanges between senators and EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, who was making his first appearance on Capitol Hill since announcing the decision Dec. 19.

"The federal government is not doing nearly enough to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) told Johnson. "It should, at the very least, stay out of the road that many state governments are taking."

Two senators said they believed the decision was based on a desire to protect businesses instead of the environment.

"You're going against your own agency's mission," said Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee chairman. "And you're fulfilling the mission of some special interests."
  Bush, Congress Strike Deal On Economic PlanJanuary 24, 2008 21:19 President George W. Bush and congressional leaders agreed on Thursday on a $150 billion package of tax rebates and business incentives meant to ward off a recession in the world's largest economy.

The deal between the White House and leaders of the House of Representatives provides for tax rebates of up to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for married couples. Families with children would receive an additional $300 per child.

It marked a rare show of election-year cooperation between Bush and the Democratic-led Congress who want to pump money into the softening economy in hopes of countering the blow from a mortgage crisis, credit crunch and a surge in oil prices.

"This agreement was the result of intensive discussions and many phone calls, late-night meetings and the kind of cooperation that some predicted was not possible here in Washington," Bush told reporters.

The hope is that the package will help calm fears of a U.S. recession and encourage consumer and business spending to boost economic growth.

The legislation is intended to work in tandem actions by the Federal Reserve, which cut a key interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point on Tuesday. Financial markets appear to have been buoyed by the developments.
  France Best, Us Worst In Preventable Death RankingJanuary 08, 2008 23:07 France, Japan and Australia rated best and the United States worst in new rankings focusing on preventable deaths due to treatable conditions in 19 leading industrialized nations, researchers said on Tuesday.

If the U.S. health care system performed as well as those of those top three countries, there would be 101,000 fewer deaths in the United States per year, according to researchers writing in the journal Health Affairs.

Researchers Ellen Nolte and Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine tracked deaths that they deemed could have been prevented by access to timely and effective health care, and ranked nations on how they did.

They called such deaths an important way to gauge the performance of a country's health care system.

Nolte said the large number of Americans who lack any type of health insurance -- about 47 million people in a country of about 300 million, according to U.S. government estimates -- probably was a key factor in the poor showing of the United States compared to other industrialized nations in the study.
  White House Told To Answer E-Mail QueryJanuary 08, 2008 22:55 A federal magistrate has ordered the White House to reveal whether copies of missing e-mail messages written from 2003 to 2005 during an investigation into the disclosure of the name of a C.I.A. operative are stored in computer backup files.

The order was issued Tuesday as the White House tried to win dismissal of lawsuits by two private groups that are seeking the missing messages.

Two federal laws require the White House to preserve all records, including e-mail; but, in asking that the two lawsuits be dismissed, the White House asserts that the president’s record-keeping practices under the Presidential Records Act are not subject to review by the courts.

The administration also asserts that the Federal Records Act does not allow such far-reaching action as demanded in the suits by the two private groups, the National Security Archive and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The federal magistrate, John Facciola, gave the White House five business days to say whether computer backup files contained the missing e-mail.

A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, declined to comment on the judge’s order.
  Voter Id Case Could Affect Election LawsJanuary 06, 2008 20:42 — The League of Women Voters has tried to put names and faces on the people who could be hurt by a strict Indiana voter-identification law that the Supreme Court will take up Wednesday.
The league, in a court filing, refers to Mary Wayne Montgomery Eble, 92, who had no driver's license or ready access to the birth certificate she needed to get an alternative ID.

Ray Wardell, a stroke victim, made one trip to a state office for an alternative ID in vain. He did not have the proper document and returned home on foot with the aid of his walker.

Kim Tilman, a mother of seven whose husband, a janitor, is the family's sole source of income, found it would cost $26-$50 to round up the necessary papers for a proper ID.

The league is among the groups backing Indiana challengers to the law who say it impinges on the right to vote and mostly hurts elderly, disabled, poor and minority voters. A Republican-controlled Legislature passed the measure in 2005.

  Bush Defends Oil Reserve Boost As Gao Probe SoughtJanuary 03, 2008 12:51 President George W. Bush said on Thursday adding oil to the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve wouldn't have much impact on available supplies, but a senator wants the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether the president's policy violates U.S. law.

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, who asked for the GAO probe, said the administration's plan is distorting the market just as crude tops a record $100 a barrel.

The government plans to deliver 12.3 million barrels of oil to the reserve in the first half of this year at a rate of about 70,000 barrels a day.

But Bush said the crude volumes going into the emergency stockpile would not have much market impact.

"I'm not sure that's going to have much of an effect anyway when you think of the total supply of crude oil consumed on a daily basis and the rate at which the SPR is being filled up," Bush told Reuters in an interview.

U.S. oil demand averages about 21 million barrels a day. The amount of oil going into the reserve will be about 1.9 million barrels for January alone.

Schumer said the administration is skirting a 1995 energy law passed by Congress that requires the government to minimize the cost of acquiring the oil for the reserve, including oil that energy companies turn over in lieu of paying cash royalties for drilling on federal leases.

  States Urge Environmental Protection Agency To Actually Protect EnvironmentJanuary 03, 2008 12:49 The EPA’s decision has been described as a victory for the auto industry. Automakers opposed the California rules as too strict, saying they would “reduce their selection of vehicles and raise prices in states that adopted California’s standards.” So in other words, it’s better to have a ton of cheaper cars to choose from, regardless of how badly they’re polluting the air we breathe.

Now if that ain’t like driving off a cliff in a brand new beemer, I don’t know what is…

For formality’s sake, here are some (I hope, not too annoyingly obvious) thoughts on why this lawsuit a) is important and b) further demonstrates the importance of our civil justice system as a means for checking corporate/government cronyism and the bad policies that are produced as a result:

Tort “reformers” argue that if aggrieved individuals and groups want things to change, they should change the rules of the game through legislation. First they say, “So sue me!” But if they actually get sued, they insist that the issue is better suited for the legislature than the courtroom. They paint this picture of whiney, attention-seeking plaintiffs making an overblown fuss about corporations letting off a wee bit too much smoke for their overly sensitive, air-greedy little lungs. (Geez, people can get so dramatic about their ability to breathe.)

But here’s what’s interesting in this scenario: there are clearly no whine-bags here. Here we have a bi-partisan effort, which legitimately went through the legislative process and was signed by the Governor. We have standards that have the support of at least 15 other states. Yet this effort was obstructed by the government agency charged with protecting our environment, although in the past the EPA has granted California’s waivers to impose stricter environmental standards.
  California Sues Epa Over Greenhouse Gas RegulationsJanuary 02, 2008 17:28 California has sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for denying its first-in-the-nation greenhouse gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs.

The lawsuit challenges the Bush administration's conclusion that states have no business setting emission standards.

New Mexico, which adopted the Clean Car standards in November, will join the lawsuit.

Governor Richardson says the state is doing so because the federal government is showing a lack of legal and moral leadership when it comes to climate change.

Richardson says the states will not stand by and do nothing while the EPA fails to protect the health and welfare of the citizens.

New Mexico and 11 other states have adopted the California emissions standards.

And governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah have said they plan to adopt them.