Millions Face Loss of Unemployment Insurance

On Nov. 18, the House failed to pass a three-month extension of unemployment insurance (UI), putting the benefits of nearly 2 million Americans in jeopardy. With funds for federal benefits set to expire Nov. 30, the failure to enact an extension sets up a post-Thanksgiving battle between UI extension advocates and deficit hawks. Complicating matters, the debate over extending the Bush tax cuts will likely encroach upon the UI benefits extension dispute, increasing the likelihood that many citizens will be cut off from help as the holiday season begins.

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In Lame-Duck Session, Emboldened Republicans Face Tough Fiscal Choices

While the 2010 midterm elections swept in a significant Republican majority in the House and a larger Republican minority in the Senate, Congress will face a great deal of important fiscal legislation that it must address before the newly elected members begin their terms in 2011. With annual appropriations bills and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts pending in the upcoming lame-duck session, the focus will be on the Republican minority in the Senate and whether it decides to block key legislation or work with Democrats to address unfinished business.

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Commentary: In Case of Bailout, Break Glass for Transparency

With the unpopular bank bailout, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), coming to a close, policymakers should begin looking back at the program to glean lessons from its creation and execution. When TARP was created by an act of Congress in 2008, the imperative was speed, not transparency. Unfortunately, that lack of transparency and other problems plague the program nearly two years later.

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Congress Sends Aid to States, Gaps Remain

With all of the attention placed on federal budget problems, it can be easy to forget that state budgets are facing similar troubles. Since almost every state has some form of a balanced budget requirement, states can be extremely susceptible to swings in the economy, and the recent recession is a perfect example. In an effort to help ameliorate the states' fiscal situation, President Obama recently signed into law a $26 billion state aid bill passed by Congress in a rare August session. The bill, which includes $10 billion in education funding and $16 billion for state Medicaid programs, is expected to save some 300,000 jobs. Still, it pales in comparison to the actual size of the fiscal problem facing the states.

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Commentary: Federal Debt and Its Implications for Economic Stability

When the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) produced a brief in late July on the nation’s debt levels and the risk they present to the economy, those pushing for immediate deficit reduction jumped on the report as evidence that the U.S. is about to go over a financial cliff. Upon closer inspection, though, the greatest threat facing the country is still the Great Recession and the lingering effects thereof.

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Americans for a Fair Estate Tax Urges Senators to Co-Sponsor the Responsible Estate Tax Act

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2010—Americans for a Fair Estate Tax (AFET), a coalition of national and state organizations, sent a letter to the Senate today asking members to co-sponsor the Responsible Estate Tax Act, S. 3533. Over seventy organizations, including major labor, religious, social equity, and good government groups, are urging senators to support the bill. OMB Watch is a member of AFET and signed on to the letter.

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Congress Burdened By Must-Pass Legislation

With fewer than 30 working days left before Congress adjourns for its August recess, the legislative branch is once again faced with a pile of must-pass legislation and a ticking clock. Before the end of 2010, Congress must pass a spate of bills to renew a set of expiring tax provisions, prevent stiff pay cuts for Medicare doctors, fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and prevent the expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the middle class. Congress is likely to truncate its legislative calendar so that members can return to their districts to campaign for this year's elections, lowering the odds of passing other "big-ticket" legislation like climate change policy and immigration reform.

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Commentary: Budget Cuts Imperil Vital Federal Role

Around the time that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Recovery Act) was being developed, a report co-authored by Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein indicated that passage of such an economic stimulus package could avert economic calamity. Yet now, with the unemployment rate hovering close to 10 percent, the president is setting about cutting federal spending by hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming years. The president's cuts are imprudent in the short run, given their potential to smother the burgeoning economic recovery before it can fully take hold, and could impair the federal government's ability to respond to economic or environmental disasters.

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Senate Passes Limited "Audit the Fed" Amendment

During the ongoing Senate debate on the financial reform bill, Federal Reserve transparency briefly took center stage. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced an "Audit the Fed" amendment to the bill during the week of May 16, which the Senate approved in a 96-0 vote after the amendment was greatly scaled back. The amendment would instruct the Government Accountability Office to "conduct a one-time audit of all loans and other financial assistance provided during the period beginning on December 1, 2007 and ending on the date of enactment of this Act."

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Commentary: Fiscal Hawks Shaping Focus of Debt Commission

On April 27, President Obama’s fiscal commission convened its first meeting, kicking off a seven-month discussion among 18 panelists on ways the federal government can reduce the federal budget deficit and shrink the national debt. The next day, many of those same panel members, including co-chairs Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), attended a "Fiscal Summit" organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to discuss the same issues. Talk about how to overcome deficits and the debt at the Peterson event, which centered on eviscerating the nation's social safety net, mirrored discussion at the commission meeting.

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