Economic Daily Outlook




Senate Budget Panel to Take Up Deficit Plan

The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said on Tuesday that he would introduce the blueprint of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit reduction panel to his committee as the starting point for negotiations over a long-term debt plan.

But the committee chairman, Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, made it clear that he would not push the committee to vote on amendments to the plan from the Bowles-Simpson commission or on a final version until a bipartisan consensus was reached.

“It’s unlikely we will reach agreement until after the election,” he said. “That’s just reality.”

Mr. Conrad’s announcement surprised Republicans and Democrats, who were expecting him to produce a Democratic budget that, if passed by the committee, would have been the first detailed deficit reduction plan in three years. Mr. Conrad said that committee Democrats had tried to produce a marker for the budget debate, but that he had decided to fall back on his original plan, the Bowles-Simpson blueprint, named after the chairmen of the 2010 commission, the Democrat Erskine B. Bowles and the Republican Alan K. Simpson.


Regulators to Ease a Rule on Derivatives Dealers

As federal regulators put the finishing touches on an overhaul of the $700 trillion derivatives market, a major provision has been tempered in the face of industry pressure.

On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are expected to approve a rule that would exempt broad swaths of energy companies, hedge funds and banks from oversight. Firms would not face scrutiny if they annually arrange less than $8 billion worth of swaps, the derivative contracts tied to interest rates and commodities like oil and gas.

The threshold is a not-insignificant sum. By one limited set of regulatory data, 85 percent of companies would not be subject to oversight. After five years, the threshold would reset to $3 billion; it is the same amount suggested by a group of energy companies in a February 2011 letter, according to regulatory records.

When regulators first proposed the rules in late 2010, they set the exemption at $100 million. At that level, only 30 percent of the players would have been excused from the oversight, which was mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law.


Community Health Centers Under Pressure to Improve Care

Hundreds of the nation’s nearly 1,200 federally funded community health centers fall short on key quality of care measures, according to federal data analyzed by KHN and USA Today.  The centers’ performance most often lagged national averages on helping diabetics keep their blood sugar under control and screening women for cervical cancer.

A KHN-USA Today analysis of the 2010 health center data, obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, shows the level of care varies widely, including by region: Centers in the South generally perform worse than those in New England, the Midwest and California.

Overnight Health: House panels take another whack at Obama healthcare law

The Ways and Means Committee has found a simple way to meet its deficit-reduction target under the House Budget: the healthcare reform law’s insurance subsidies.

Instructed to save $53 billion over the next decade, the panel on Wednesday will mark up a proposal to save $43.9 billion by requiring people to pay back any excess insurance subsidies they receive under President Obama’s healthcare reform law.

Smaller “recapture” efforts have garnered bipartisan support in the past when they were used to pay for a “doc fix” delaying scheduled cuts to Medicare physician payments and eliminate the law’s 1099 tax reporting requirement. This one goes further, however, and would require people to repay the entire amount of overpayments.


OPINION: Goolsbee and the SPR (Douglas Holtz-Eakin & Catrina Rorke)

Looking to avoid the political perils of $4 gasoline, the White House is searching high and low for a chance to claim leadership on energy prices. That’s why one of their top allies in economics, Austan Goolsbee, took to the editorial pages last week to launch a clever — but too cute — argument to justify a politically motivated oil sale from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The politics are simple: Craft an argument that we have too much oil in the SPR and use it to justify a sale for strategic purposes, then convince the electorate you’re working to lower gas prices.


Fixing Education: The Problems Are Clear, but the Solutions Aren’t Simple

Panelists at the New York Ideas forum on public education agreed on one thing: Our schools need help. But they couldn’t agree on much else.

Much like the earlier discussion about bipartisan gridlock in Washington, putting former New York City Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein on the same stage with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is a recipe for going home unsatisfied. Unless you want to see two old rivals sparring, in which case, grab some popcorn.

If you wanted to find agreement on how to fix the problems of public school education, however, you might have been left spinning your wheels. All the guests on the education panel at New York Ideas agreed that the system needs help.


IMF Says Recovery Remains Fragile

Europe could suffer a prolonged economic downturn unless it takes stronger action to fight its debt crisis and prop up growth, the International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday.

The global economy is gaining strength, in part because European nations have taken several steps to reduce the threat of a financial meltdown and the U.S. economy has picked up. Still, the IMF said, the global recovery remains fragile.

“An uneasy calm remains,” IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard said. “One has the feeling that any moment, things could well get very bad again.”

The European debt crisis was a main concern among finance ministers and central bankers preparing to gather in Washington this week for semiannual meetings of the IMF and World Bank.

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