On this western Good Friday (Eastern Orthodox Christians observe next Friday), President Obama will receive and deliver a status report on the economy. At 11am ET, he'll meet with his economic team, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, top economic adviser Lawrence Summers and FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair.
4931527The meeting "likely sets the stage for more aggressive White House action soon on the economy, despite emerging signs of hope," reports the Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon and Damian Paletta. "'He will make it clear that it took a long time to get into this crisis [and] will take time to get out,' a senior administration official said. 'He'll be briefed on progress of our aggressive efforts, and what more needs to be done.' ... At the meeting in the West Wing's Roosevelt Room, the president will be 'updated on a broad range of economic and financial topics including ongoing efforts to stabilize our financial system and get lending moving again so that it supports economic recovery,' the White House said in a statement late Thursday evening. 'These efforts include steps to stabilize the housing market, jumpstart securitization markets for auto, student and small business loans, clean up bank balance sheets by creating markets for legacy assets, and provide banks with a capital cushion to withstand a more severe economic downturn.'"
They note: "Following the meeting, Mr. Obama will make brief comments that should give more indication of the administration's outlook and next moves. The president suggested on Thursday that the administration sees more work to be done on the housing front, particularly in slowing foreclosures and rekindling the overall housing market. He held an event at the White House on Thursday morning to draw attention to administration programs that are helping homeowners take advantage of low interest rates to refinance their homes. He cited statistics showing that refinancings already are soaring. But he suggested millions more could benefit from refinancing, reducing their monthly payments and giving themselves more money to spend on other needs."
"From his perch in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, the president donned his salesman's hat and pitched the benefits — for you, and of course, for the American economy — of home mortgage rates at their lowest levels in 35 years," adds the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny. "Seldom has the president sounded so much like the host of a late-night infomercial, stopping just shy of imploring people to call the toll-free number at the bottom of their television screens. 'There are seven to nine million people across the country who right now could be taking advantage of lower mortgage rates,' Mr. Obama said, promising savings to average American families of $1,600 to $2,000 a year. 'That is money in their pockets.'"
Meantime, the Wall Street Journal's Phil Izzo reports that economists are pegging September 2009 as the end of the recession, though it'll take another year for unemployment to begin its rebound.
"Economists in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey expect the recession to end in September, though most say it won't be until the second half of 2010 that the economy recovers enough to bring down unemployment. ... 'The end of the decline isn't the beginning of the recovery,' said David Resler of Nomura Securities Inc. 'It's like a boxing match. Even if you win the fight, it's not going to feel as good when you get out of the ring as when you went in.'"
He adds: "The economists' forecasts indicate that the peak in the unemployment rate is likely to coincide with the midterm elections -- possibly bad news for Democrats. Even if the economy is growing, Americans still will be feeling the effects of the recession and could blame the incumbent. For example, when George H.W. Bush lost the presidency in 1992, the economy had been out of a recession for more than a year, but the unemployment rate didn't peak until June, and there was slow growth through the election. Even when the economy stops shedding jobs, the unemployment rate is likely to remain elevated for some time."
In addition, "The ailing financial and retail sectors showed tentative signs of strength yesterday, an encouraging shift for an economy whose prospects are tied to their recovery," report the Washington Post's Annys Shin and Renae Merle. "A resurgence among consumers and banks is a necessary precursor to a turnaround in an economy that has been battered on nearly every front -- housing, exports, employment -- in recent months. New data yesterday offered at least some hope that the darkest days of the recession could be ending, even if the economy remains fragile. Ahead of its official earnings report, Wells Fargo, one of the nation's largest banks, said that it earned record profits from January to March and that its mortgage business was 'exceptionally strong.' The San Francisco-based bank, which benefited from having acquired Wachovia late last year and writing down losses then, easily surpassed analysts' expectations."
They continue: "Financial markets surged on the news, partly because they have been braced for a dismal first-quarter earnings season. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 3.14 percent to land at 8083. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index and the tech-heavy Nasdaq were up nearly 4 percent after steep losses earlier in the week. For the fifth week in a row, stocks have ended in positive territory. In the month since the market reached a low in March, stocks have climbed more than 20 percent. The recession remains severe, and economists stress that the worst for U.S. workers is still to come. Americans are still claiming jobless benefits at record levels, with the number of people receiving unemployment insurance now approaching 6 million. The unemployment rate in March was 8.5 percent, and earlier this week, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas chief Richard W. Fisher said he thought it could surpass 10 percent by year's end."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said that without the funding, the U.S. would be forced to make sudden withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan."
"Obama urged lawmakers not to add "unnecessary spending" to the measure and to return it to him quickly. Congressional staffers said the White House asked lawmakers to pass the bill by Memorial Day," add the Washington Post's Mary Beth Sheridan and Scott Wilson. "Some antiwar Democrats were expected to balk at the multibillion-dollar request. But the measure was expected to pass with support from most Republicans and many Democrats."
Meantime, former RNC spokesman Alex Conant writes in The Huffington Post that while his funding request will likely be "well-received in Congress", that may not be the case the next time he asks for war money. "[H]e is out of sync with the American public. The NYT/CBS poll found that fewer than four in 10 Americans want to see more US troops in Afghanistan. To the contrary, a plurality wants the President to either decrease troop levels or hold them steady. And this is before this summer's warmer weather, a revitalized Taliban, and the presence of additional US troops could lead to even more casualties," writes Conant. "That is not to argue that President Obama's new strategy is wrong. In fact, Republican leaders were quick to offer their support. But Americans' instinctual opposition to wars without exit strategies leaves questions about how long the president can sustain the political support within his own party required to fund the massive, multi-year effort he is clearly envisioning."
Notable -- The Times of London's Deborah Haynes writes, "General Ray Odierno: we may miss Iraq deadline to halt al-Qaeda terror": "The activities of al-Qaeda in two of Iraq's most troubled cities could keep US combat troops engaged beyond the June 30 deadline for their withdrawal, the top US commander in the country has warned. US troop numbers in Mosul and Baqubah, in the north of the country, could rise rather than fall over the next year if necessary, General Ray Odierno told The Times in his first interview with a British newspaper since taking over from General David Petraeus in September. He said that a joint assessment would be conducted with the Iraqi authorities in the coming weeks before a decision is made. Combat troops are due to leave all Iraqi cities by the end of June. Any delay would be a potential setback for President Obama, who has pledged to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq by August 2010 as he switches his focus to Afghanistan. The ultimate decision on keeping or withdrawing troops would be taken by Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, handing him a big dilemma, given the desire by most Iraqis for the US military to leave the country."
"Vice President Biden and Attorney General Holder have both weighed in on the seizing of the US Maersk Alabama by pirates off the Somali coast," reports CBS News' Michelle Levi. "'The FBI is assisting the Navy with a crisis team. The FBI is in touch with the people in the Navy to try and assist in that situation,' Holder told reporters. In reference to whether the pirates may face criminal charges in the United States, the attorney general said, 'it is a little early tell, at this point. There has not been an act of piracy I think against a United States vessel in hundreds of years. So ah...I'm not sure exactly what would happen.' 'What we'd have to do is make sure the maritime life of this nation is is protected. Is what we have to do,' he elaborated. Biden was also asked about the pirate situation during an event to promote stimulus spending. 'We're not going to settle that here. I think what you should do is contact Jim Jones and the White House,' he said referring journalists to the national security advisor."
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal's Peter Spiegel reports, "In the waning days of the Bush administration, the National Security Council issued a detailed yet little-noticed plan for combating piracy off the coast of Somalia. The 14-page blueprint, issued in December, committed the U.S. government and its military to securing the sea lanes of the Gulf of Aden -- through which, the plan noted, nearly 12% of the world's oil is transported -- and laid out more than a dozen specific policy initiatives that the White House would take to make sure Somali pirates did not choke off the world's commercial shipping. But the vast majority of the tasks laid out in the plan either were aimed at making sure pirates never reached commercial vessels -- encouraging ships to travel at night, increasing intelligence sharing, destroying vessels that appear outfitted for piracy -- or ensuring that there were consequences for pirates that were ultimately caught. It was nearly silent, however, on what to do if a ship is taken by pirates and crew members are held captive. And what little guidance it provided was vague. U.S. naval forces were given authority to "terminate the act of piracy and any included hostage situation." Just how they were to do that was left unsaid. The reason for the plan's lack of guidance has now been made clear over the last two days off the coast of the Horn of Africa: The choices facing a hulking navy destroyer as it confronts a ragtag group of Somali pirates holding an American seaman hostage in a small, propulsion-free boat are extremely limited."
Washington Post's Alec MacGillis, "Stimulus Aid Being Doled Out Slowly"
Politico's Ben Smith, "GOP govs get dose of stimulus reality": "The list of governors threatening to decline federal stimulus money last month read like a list of Republicans considering running for president in 2012: Governors Mark Sanford, Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin led the anti-stimulus charge. But what began with a bang is ending with something closer to a whimper. All three of those governors have been forced to scale back their expectations, to varying degree, as the push of conservative philosophy gave way to the pull of political reality."
The State's John O'Connor, "TV ads to back Sanford's stimulus stand"
Wall Street Journal's John D. Stoll, Jeffrey McCracken and Kate Linebaugh, "U.S. Squeezes Auto Creditors"
USA Today's Haya El Nasser, "Open house, anyone? 1 in 9 homes sit empty"
Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler, "Emanuel Now a Backer of Immigration Action"
Washington Post's Kendra Marr, "In Boost for Detroit, Obama to Buy Fuel-Efficient Fleet for Uncle Sam"
CBS News' Brian Montopoli, "Prizes Offered For Helping Clinton Pay Off Debt"
Washington Post's Karen DeYoung, "CIA Has Quit Operating Secret Jails, Chief Says"
Bloomberg News' Kate Anderson, "Rogers Heats Up Obama Social Calendar That Economy Can't Chill"
LA Times' Judith Graham and Noam J. Levey, "The eldest Emanuel brother takes the stage": "Doctor and scholar Ezekiel Emanuel, sibling to more famous Rahm and Ari, is becoming a public figure himself as he tries to help the Obama administration overhaul America's healthcare system."
Associated Press' Robert Burns, "A weak gov't troubles Afghanistan at war"
McClatchy Newspapers' Lesley Clark, "Critics say U.S. lawmakers erred by meeting with Castro brothers"
Minneapolis Star Tribune's Kevin Duchschere, "GOP, DFL add dueling websites to the recount rhetoric"
St. Paul Pioneer Press' Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, "DFL urges Norm Coleman to give up; GOP urges Al Franken to 'fight' for voters"
Minnesota Post's Joe Kimball, "Senate recount's continuing forecast: blustery partisan winds from two directions"
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Oneonta Daily Star's Patricia Breakey, "Murphy up 8 as area reports"
2009 VA Governor: Richmond Times-Dispatch's Tyler Whitley, "Democrats attack McDonnell, GOP on rejecting unemployment funds"
2010 IL Governor: Chicago Tribune's Monique Garcia, "Gov. Pat Quinn wants candidates to start with zero in the bank"
2010 AR Senate: The Hill's Aaron Blake, "Sen. Lincoln raises $1.7M with Biden's help"
2010 FL Senate: USA Today's Jill Lawrence and Eugene Kiely, "Former N.H. senator plans Florida Senate bid"
2010 KY Senate: Associated Press, "Conway enters race for Bunning's US Senate seat"
New York Observer's Leon Neyfakh, "Meghan McCain's Book Sold to Hyperion for High Six Figures"
Politico's Andy Barr, "University won't award Obama degree": "Arizona State University will not award President Barack Obama an honorary degree when he speaks at commencement on May 13. The university decided against awarding Obama the degree because it is customarily awarded for 'lifetime achievement,' ASU spokeswoman Sharon Keeler told POLITICO."