Domestic Policy

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  Supreme Court Allows Retiree Benefit CutsMarch 25, 2008 08:50 Why are we not moving toward a national health care system?

The Supreme Court on Monday gave employers a green light to reduce health benefits for millions of retirees who turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare. The justices turned away a legal challenge from AARP, the nation's leading senior citizens lobby, which had contended these lower benefits for older retirees violated the federal law against age discrimination.

The court's action upholds, in effect, a rule adopted last year by federal regulators that says the "coordination of retiree health benefits with Medicare" is exempt from the anti-age-bias law.

Advocates for companies and labor unions openly disagreed with AARP and applauded the outcome. They said this compromise rule will encourage employers to maintain health coverage for their retirees. Otherwise, employers might drop all benefits for their former employees, they said.

They said it will prove especially helpful to those younger retirees who were offered continued healthcare when they left full-time work.

In 2004, a survey cited by AARP found 49% of retirees age 55 to 64 had health insurance coverage from a former employer. Benefits experts for private employers say the proportion is lower. A survey in 2005 found only 13% of those who retired from private companies were promised continued healthcare.
  High Gas Prices Hit Small Town USAMarch 24, 2008 11:56 Corey Carter spends a quarter of his paycheck on gas.

The 30-year old Carter, who earns $7 an hour making car parts for a Hyundai factory near Montgomery, Ala., spends $65 a week on gas, double what it cost just a few years ago.

Paying $30 more for gas out of a $240 paycheck makes a big difference.

"Going out to eat, going to the movies, you can't do stuff like that," says Carter, filling up his Firebird at a BP station in Camden, a quiet southern town 80 miles southwest of Montgomery. "You're working for gas now."

Carter, and other residents that live around Camden, are having a particularly hard time - they devote more of their budget for gas than anyone else in the United States.

So, like Americans everywhere, people here are cutting back on spending, and that's threatening to send - or has already sent - a shaky economy into recession.

 
  Supreme Court Decision On Washington Primary Could Wipe Out Competitive RacesMarch 19, 2008 12:51 Tuesday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Washington state to hold “top-two” primaries could change the face of local and statewide politics.

The high court stopped eight years of bickering in the state when it ruled that the “top-two” primary, proposed in 2004 and opposed by the major political parties, is constitutional.

The 7-2 ruling allows for a replacement of the “blanket primary” system, which had allowed voters to cross party lines to participate in primary elections. The new system allows for the top two vote-getters to compete in the general election, even if they are from the same party.

Some party officials say they are concerned it could spell the end of competitive races, since several times in the past 36 years the highest vote-getting candidates in the primaries were from the same party.

“This is a very big deal for the state of Washington,” Secretary of State Sam Reed told The Seattle Times in Wednesday’s edition.

“Having everyone who is exactly the same isn’t a good thing for American politics,” added Paul Berendt, former Washington Democratic Party chairman. Berendt opposes crossover primaries because they upset the ability of a party to select its own candidates.

According to the Times, 10 examples, including three governor races, could be found of the top two vote-getters for statewide offices being from the same party. Nine examples were found for congressional or U.S. Senate races.

Tuesday’s ruling could also wipe out third-party candidates, who have little chance of competing in the general election unless their own primary winner can advance from within the ticket.
  Bush: Economy Facing 'Tough Times'March 14, 2008 10:59 President Bush acknowledged Friday the country was facing challenges both in the housing and financial markets, but said that the strength of the underlying economy would help it maneuver through this difficult period.

Speaking before The Economic Club of New York, Bush said he was confident that the government action take so far would help get the economy back on track.

"Theses are tough times," he said.

He also called on Congress to take additional steps to help alleviate the woes resulting from the housing crisis, including reforming government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He also pushed lawmakers to modernize the Federal Housing Administration and to extend tax cuts on capital gains and set to expire in the coming years.

At the same time, he said he opposed other proposals such as one that would give judges authority to rework mortgages of homeowners in bankruptcy.

Bush's remarks come as the nation's financial struggles show few signs of abating. Since erupting last summer, the credit crisis has spread far and wide.

Consumers have lost their homes, major U.S. financial institutions have suffered billions of dollars in losses and the municipal bond market has been thrown into turmoil. All the while, the broader economy has moved to the brink of a recession.
  Not A Lot Bush Can Do On Oil PricesMarch 07, 2008 10:09 There is "not a lot" President George W. Bush can do in the near-term to tame record high oil prices after OPEC declined to boost output, the White House said on Thursday.

"We did try to encourage (an increase in OPEC output). But if OPEC has decided they are not going to increase output, there's not a lot that the president can do. We don't control their decisions," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

U.S. oil hit a new record of $105.97 a barrel on Thursday, a day after members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) left their output policy unchanged, ignoring demands from consumers led by the United States for more oil.

White House officials say tight supply is the primary reason behind record-high oil prices, while OPEC ministers point to market speculation.

The sharp fall in the U.S. dollar, jitters in credit and equity markets and rising inflation worries have all driven funds into oil and other commodities, pushing them higher.
  Employers Slash Jobs By Most In 5 YearsMarch 07, 2008 10:00 Employers slashed 63,000 jobs in February, the most in five years and the starkest sign yet that the country is heading dangerously toward recession or is in one already.

The Labor Department's report, released Friday, also indicated that the nation's unemployment rate dipped to 4.8 percent as hundreds of thousands of people - perhaps discouraged by their prospects - left the civilian labor force. The jobless rate was 4.9 percent in January.

Job losses were widespread, with hefty cuts coming from construction, manufacturing, retailing, financial services and a variety of professional and business services. Those losses swamped gains elsewhere, including education and health care, leisure and hospitality and the government.

The latest snapshot of the nation's employment climate underscored the heavy toll of the housing and credit crises on companies, jobseekers and the overall economy.

To provide relief to persistent credit problems, the Federal Reserve announced Friday that it will increase the amount of loans it plans to make available to banks this month to $100 billion.

It has already provided a total of $160 billion in short-term loans to cash-strapped banks since the auctions began in December. The Fed's new step will involve making $100 billion available to a broad range of financial players through a series of separate transactions.