TUESDAY, MARCH 6, 2012
Obama holding full news conference; housing, politics, gas prices, foreign tests on tap
President Barack Obama is aiming mortgage relief at members of the military as well as homeowners with government-insured loans, the administration’s latest efforts to address a persistent housing crisis.
In his first full news conference of the year Tuesday, Obama was to announce plans to let borrowers with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration refinance at lower rates, saving the average homeowner more than $1,000 a year. Obama also was detailing an agreement with major lenders to compensate service members and veterans who were wrongfully foreclosed upon or denied lower interest rates.
Companies’ Pension Plea
Business groups are urging Congress to let employers put less money into their pension funds, saying that exceptionally low interest rates are forcing them to set aside too much cash.
A provision attached to the Senate highway bill would change the formula many large companies, including General Electric Co., Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., must use to calculate how much to add to their pension funds, potentially shrinking their combined contributions by billions of dollars a year.
Though its chances of becoming law aren’t clear, the measure holds appeal in Congress because it would increase the government’s near-term revenues, offsetting some of the costs of the highway bill. Setting aside less for pensions would leave companies with smaller tax deductions, requiring them to pay about $7.1 billion more in taxes over 10 years than under current law, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation.
U.S. Largely Going It Alone On Regulatory Reform
When it comes to financial reform, the gap between the U.S. and other countries appears to be widening.
That was the takeaway from a conference of international bankers here on Monday, with one attendee, speaking of the treatment of “too big to fail” institutions, calling the gulf a “Grand Canyon.”
In many respects, the Dodd-Frank Act catapulted the U.S. way ahead of the pack in overhauling regulation following the 2008 crisis, including swaps oversight, a facility for resolving failing firms and a ban on banks’ proprietary trading.
But participants at the Institute of International Bankers meeting raised questions about whether the global overhaul can work without nations speaking with one voice.
Democrats to CFTC: Rein In Speculative Oil Trades
Democrats are urging the Obama administration to take swift action to reduce speculative trading in the oil markets as crude prices hover around $107 a barrel and gasoline climbs to about $3.80 a gallon.
In a letter to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Monday, nearly 70 House and Senate lawmakers pressed the commission to enforce caps on speculative trading adopted in October under the Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law. The lawmakers said in their letter that it was irresponsible to delay enforcement in light of rising energy costs.
Digital Records May Not Cut Health Costs, Study Cautions
Computerized patient records are unlikely to cut health care costs and may actually encourage doctors to order expensive tests more often, a study published on Monday concludes.
Industry experts have said that electronic health records could generate huge savings — as much as $80 billion a year, according to a RAND Corporation estimate. The promise of cost savings has been a major justification for billions of dollars in federal spending to encourage doctors to embrace digital health records.
But research published Monday in the journal Health Affairs found that doctors using computers to track tests, like X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging, ordered far more tests than doctors relying on paper records.
Left contrasts healthcare law’s IPAB with GOP Medicare proposals
As a House panel moves to repeal a key cost-cutting panel in the healthcare reform law, Democrats and their allies are drawing a contrast against more aggressive Republican proposals for Medicare.
The liberal Center for American Progress released a new report Monday saying the panel — the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) — is “essential” to controlling government healthcare spending. And it said the IPAB would be better for seniors than GOP proposals to at least partially privatize the Medicare program.
“If the Independent Payment Advisory Board is repealed or hamstrung, the only alternative would be to ration care by privatizing Medicare, shifting costs to beneficiaries, and restricting eligibility,” the CAP analysis says.
Medicaid waivers pave way for reform
Millions and millions of dollars in Affordable Care Act grants aren’t the only way the Obama administration is helping states prepare for health care reform.
Some states are also bringing in billions through Medicaid waivers.
Medicaid waivers aren’t new. Nor were they created by President Barack Obama’s health law. But the waivers, which allow states some flexibility in how they deliver health care to the poor, can help the states prepare for the roughly 16 million people who will be newly eligible for Medicaid in 2014 under ACA. And the health care law did give states the opportunity to expand their Medicaid rolls early.
China Foothold in U.S. Energy
Fu Chengyu’s first attempt to buy a piece of the U.S. oil industry kicked up a storm of protest and ended in failure. Seven years later, the Chinese executive is pouring billions of dollars into the oil patch without even a whisper of trouble.
His new recipe for success: Seek minority stakes, play a passive role and, in a nod to U.S. regulators, keep Chinese personnel at arm’s length from advanced U.S. technology.
Fed Study of Student Debt Outlines a Growing Burden
A report released Monday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York renews concerns about the growing debt load of college students and graduates.
The report suggests that as many as 27 percent of the 37 million borrowers have past-due balances of 30 days or more.
“In sum, student loan debt is not just a concern for the young,” the report said. “Parents and the federal government shoulder a substantial part of the postsecondary education bill.”
The report, which was created by an analysis of Equifax credit reports, said the total balance of student loans was $870 billion. Of the 241 million with Equifax credit reports (there are 311 million people in the United States), 15 percent had student debt.
Forty percent of the people under 30 had outstanding student loans, and the average outstanding debt is $23,300. About 10 percent of borrowers owe more than $54,000 and 3 percent owe more than $100,000.
Obama Presses Netanyahu to Resist Strikes on Iran
With Israel warning of a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, President Obama urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday to give diplomacy and economic sanctions a chance to work before resorting to military action.
The meeting, held in a charged atmosphere of election-year politics and a deepening confrontation with Tehran, was nevertheless “friendly, straightforward, and serious,” a White House official said. But it did not resolve basic differences between the two leaders over how to deal with the Iranian threat.
Mr. Netanyahu, the official said, reiterated that Israel had not made a decision on striking Iran, but he expressed deep skepticism that international pressure would persuade Iran’s leaders to forsake the development of nuclear weapons. Mr. Netanyahu, according to the official, argued that the West should not reopen talks with Iran until it agreed to a verifiable suspension of its uranium enrichment activities — a condition the White House says would doom talks before they began.