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   WASHINGTON (AP) — The Secret Service sent three agents home from the Netherlands just before President Barack Obama's arrival after one agent was found inebriated in an Amsterdam hotel, the Secret Service said Tuesday.
   The three agents were benched Sunday for "disciplinary reasons," said Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan, declining to elaborate. Donovan said the incident was prior to Obama's arrival Monday in the country and did not compromise the president's security in any way.
   Still, the incident represents a fresh blemish for an elite agency struggling to rehabilitate its reputation following a high-profile prostitution scandal and other allegations of misconduct. An inspector general's report in December concluded there was no evidence of widespread misconduct, in line with the service's longstanding assertion that it has no tolerance for inappropriate behavior.
   The agents sent home from Amsterdam were placed on administrative leave, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the disciplinary action. The newspaper said all three were on the Counter Assault Team, which defends the president if he comes under attack, and that one agent was a "team leader."
   One agent was discovered highly intoxicated by staff at a hotel, who reported it to the U.S. Embassy, said a person familiar with the situation, who wasn't authorized to discuss the alleged behavior on the record and demanded anonymity. The other two agents were deemed complicit because they didn't intervene despite being in a position to assist the drunken agent or tamp down his behavior, the person said.
   "It wasn't like a big, crazy party," the person said.
   Obama arrived in the Netherlands early Monday on the first leg of a weeklong, four-country trip. He departed for Brussels on Tuesday night, and there were no known security issues during his stay in the Netherlands.
   Before Obama travels anywhere abroad, a slew of Secret Service and other government officials are dispatched in advance to prepare the intense security operation needed to protect the president in unfamiliar territory. Typically, counter assault teams travel with the president in his motorcade and if he came under fire, the team would be called upon to engage any attackers while the president was hustled to safety.
   Stricter rules implemented in the wake of the prostitution scandal in Colombia bar agents from drinking alcohol within 10 hours of starting a shift. It's unclear whether the other two agents were drinking heavily or what time any of them would have been expected to show up for a shift.
   The Secret Service's reputation for rowdy, fraternity-like behavior snowballed in April 2012 in the run-up to another Obama foreign trip, this one in the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena, Colombia, where 13 agents and officers were accused of carousing with female foreign nationals at a hotel where they were staying before Obama's arrival.
   After a night of heavy partying in bars and clubs, the employees brought women, including prostitutes, back to their hotel. Six of the employees eventually resigned or retired, while others had their security clearances revoked or were removed from duty.
   Seeking to turn a page on that chapter in the service's famed history, Obama last year named veteran Secret Service agent Julia Pierson as the agency's first female director and signaled his desire to change the culture at the male-dominated service. Less than a year later, two additional officers were removed from Obama's detail following allegations of sexually-related misconduct that came to light after an incident at an upscale hotel next to the White House.
   A 145 page report issued late last year by the Homeland Security Department inspector general determined there was no evidence of widespread misconduct within the Secret Service. Following the South American prostitution scandal, the agency put new procedures in place, including a ban on bringing foreign nationals to hotel rooms where agents and officers are staying.
Published in National News
Friday, 07 February 2014 03:13

Obama Explains Putin's Tough Guy "Shtick"

   President Obama thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin's "shtick" is to try to look like a "tough guy."
   Putin, after all, has carefully crafted a no-nonsense public image as a rugged outdoorsman. He’s been photographed hunting, fishing and riding horses, all while bare-chested.
   Despite appearing standoffish in meetings with Obama, the U.S. president said his Russian counterpart has always treated him with "respect" and that "there's a surprising amount of humor" in their interactions.
   "He does have a public style where he likes to sit back and look a little bored during the course of joint interviews," Obama told NBC News as the network kicked of its Olympic coverage. "I think that's where some of these perceptions come up."
   "My sense is that's part of his shtick back home politically as wanting to look like the tough guy," he said. "U.S. politicians have a different style. We tend to smile once in a while."
 
Published in National News
   WASHINGTON (AP) — Aiming to help rural communities deal with climate change, the Obama administration is creating seven regional "climate hubs" that will serve as clearinghouses for information and outreach about extreme weather across the U.S.
   Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was to announce the new hubs Wednesday at the White House. The hubs fulfill one aspect of a broader climate change plan that President Barack Obama unveiled last year.
   Based at existing Agriculture Department facilities, the hubs aim to help farmers and rural communities fight climate change and adapt to weather changes. The hubs will assess local climate risks, such as drought and wildfire, then develop plans for dealing with them, such as improved irrigation techniques.
   Citing environmental changes such as longer fire seasons and intense droughts, the Agriculture Department said the hubs would help mitigate the unique implications that climate change poses for rural areas and the people who live there. The goal is to synchronize the federal government's preparation and resources with what other entities, such as universities, tribal communities and state governments, are doing to prepare for shifting temperatures.
   The seven regional hubs will be housed in forest service stations or government research labs in Ames, Iowa; Durham, N.H.; Raleigh, N.C.; Fort Collins, Colo.; El Reno, Okla.; Corvallis, Ore.; and Las Cruces, N.M. Three smaller, additional "sub-hubs" will be created in Houghton, Mich.; Davis, Calif.; and Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.
 
Published in National News
   WASHINGTON (AP) — Even proponents of President Barack Obama's new retirement savings program readily concede it won't be a cure-all for a nation of people who are saving far too little for their golden years. Many Americans won't be able to participate initially, and those who do may find the benefits are modest.
   Yet the Obama administration is hoping that the savings program — dubbed "myRA," for "my IRA" — will serve as a call to action, spurring Congress to take more sweeping steps to shore up retirement security as company pensions become a thing of the past. Given a presidential boost, like-minded lawmakers are already pushing new legislation to vastly expand the number of Americans who put away cash for retirement.
   "This is a small first step," said Nancy LeaMond, AARP's executive vice president. "We think it is starting to generate a debate. Our hope is there can be action."
   Aiming to help the roughly half of Americans with no retirement plan at work, Obama announced in his State of the Union speech Tuesday that the Treasury would create new "starter" savings accounts. The program is geared toward low- and middle-income Americans who lack the upfront investment that many commercial IRAs require. Starting with as little as $25, savers could invest a little each month in Treasury bonds and then convert the accounts into traditional IRAs once the savings grow.
   The idea is actually contained in a broader retirement proposal that Obama has been asking Congress to take up for years in his annual budget request. Obama wants all workers to be automatically enrolled in IRAs unless they specifically opt out. Under one scenario, monthly paycheck deductions would be invested in bonds unless workers choose another option.
   But Congress hasn't acted on the proposal. So Obama is carving out the part he can accomplish without Congress and hoping that by raising the issue, lawmakers will feel pressure to act and the remaining pieces will fall into place.
   Call it a "me first, now your turn" strategy — not dissimilar from the approach Obama is taking on wages. The president is ordering a higher minimum wage for federal contractors in hopes that Congress will take the next step by raising the wage for all Americans.
   "I could do more with Congress, but I'm not going to not do anything without Congress," Obama told workers at a Pennsylvania steel plant on Wednesday as he signed a presidential memo creating the myRA program.
   Yet as with the minimum wage, the retirement program illustrates the severe limitations in what Obama can do to alter the economic reality for Americans when Congress refuses to go along.
   Workers will only be able to open myRA accounts if their employers agree to participate in the program, at least initially. Although myRA has been in the works for years, the Obama administration said Wednesday it hasn't yet secured any commitments from businesses to offer it, and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew offered no prediction for how many Americans might participate.
   The White House said it was optimistic that since the program won't cost much to employers, businesses will be glad to take part. But because the program relies on paycheck deductions, businesses that don't use automatic payroll systems will be excluded unless and until the administration develops a new system for them to participate.
   Leading providers of retirement accounts, including Fidelity and Vanguard, said Wednesday they were supportive of Obama's myRA program even though they were still studying the details. Still, there's scant evidence that Congress will take up the baton from Obama by making IRAs automatic.
   Seeking to build on Obama's momentum, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Senate's pension panel, plans to introduce a far-reaching bill Thursday that includes automatic IRAs. Previous attempts have stalled in both the House and Senate.
   Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., who has been pushing automatic IRA bills for years, said he's already seen new interest in the wake of Obama's announcement.
   "A couple of Republicans have already spoken to me this morning about it. They'd love to figure out how to embrace it," Neal said, declining to name the Republicans.
   But after the calamitous rollout of Obama's health care law, skepticism is running high in Washington about big, new government programs — especially those that touch Americans' personal finances. And businesses are concerned about their own liability if employees who are enrolled involuntarily grow dissatisfied with how their investments perform.
   "Similar to the concerns with health care, where you're trying to expand coverage, when you mandate options, you drive people to something that's not as good as what the private market is offering," said Aliya Wong, who heads retirement policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Published in National News
   Several elected officials around the St. Louis area have issued responses to President Obama's State of the Union address.  Leaders from both Missouri and Illinois shared their thoughts. They vary widely in their impressions, and as one might expect, seem to fall along party lines.
 
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL): 
   "Tonight the President gave an optimistic speech about opportunity for American families, an economy on the rise and leveled a call to action to ensure this is a year of progress for the middle class.
   "From programs to grow the economy and create jobs like the launching of new manufacturing institutes and infrastructure investments to efforts to strengthen the middle class like raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit along the lines of a bill introduced with Senator Brown, and making college more affordable, tonight's speech focused on creating more opportunities for American families.
   "Improving opportunities for American families requires innovation and action and I plan to work with my colleagues to build on the work we've done in my Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to reverse the devastating cuts to federally funded research and development and grow these programs for years to come.
   "Finally, tonight's speech challenged us in Congress to set aside the partisanship and gridlock that is preventing us from improving the lives millions of Americans. We must now rise to the occasion."
 
U.S. Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay (D) MO:  
   "Tonight, President Obama laid out a bold, optimistic agenda that challenged us to reward hard work, renew economic security for middle-class families and keep faith with our senior citizens.
   "I strongly support the President's call to raise the minimum wage; pass comprehensive immigration reform; renew the Voting Rights Act; continue expanding access to affordable healthcare for all, and eliminate barriers to higher education that are keeping millions from achieving their dreams.
   "He also laid out a clear path that would continue our nation's remarkable progress towards achieving energy independence and creating millions of new jobs in the emerging 21st Century green economy. 
   "I am hopeful that Congress can build on recent bipartisan agreements to move this progressive agenda forward to benefit all Americans."
 
 
 
U.S. Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO):
   "The people of the 2nd District are tired of the same old failed speeches and policies from President Obama.  The Show-Me state wants to know, ‘where are the jobs!’   It's time the President started working with Congress and not around us. 
   "The President called for a ‘year of action.’  I don't know where the President and Senate Democrats have been for the last year, but House Republicans have taken action on solutions that will make your lives just a little better, a little easier to manage. 
   "In fact, the House has passed over 170 pieces of legislation in the last year that have been ignored by the United States Senate and the President.  The House has passed solutions that will increase the size of your paychecks, increase upward mobility, restore your individual liberties and lower costs on everyday items that you depend on every day like groceries, gasoline and the cost of your health care.   These common-sense solutions offer the American people a better future versus a failed present.
   "It's time we turn the page and begin a new era focused on empowering the American people and not the government." 
 
 
 
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D) MO:
   "We've made a lot of progress these past few years, creating millions of jobs and pulling our economy out of the ditch—but there are an awful lot of commonsense ideas still sitting on the table that could build on that success, if elected leaders stop kowtowing to the political extremes and start working toward compromise to get things done. Raising the minimum wage for working families, building innovative private-public partnerships to invest in our roads and bridges, making the tax code fairer, and fixing our broken immigration system aren't partisan initiatives. They're commonsense goals that we should all be ready to rally behind to strengthen America's middle class families."
 
 
 
U.S. Congressman John Shimkus (R) IL:
   "These speeches are always more political than whoever the President is wants to make it seem.  President Obama – in an election year – took a more liberal, activist tone.  I happen to disagree with many of his ideas.
   "Promises made in speeches are also not automatically the law of the land.  However, President Obama wants to start using executive authority to take more actions without Congress’ involvement.  This is an unprecedented challenge to Congress by a President.
   "While the President talks about energy security, his EPA has taken several steps that will hinder what was becoming a growing coal industry.  I'm afraid of what his pen or his EPA might do to other energy issues that benefit Illinois.
   "The President talks about jobs, yet his Administration has taken more steps to stymie job growth than to create jobs.  The House has sent hundreds of bills over to the Senate that would directly or indirectly help job creation.
   "Finally, I want to say that the failures of Obamacare go beyond a website that doesn't work.  Here in Illinois, we are prime examples of the fiasco of Obamacare – we have had thousands more people receive cancellation notices from insurance companies than we have signed up on the website."
Published in Local News
Wednesday, 29 January 2014 02:18

Questions and answer about Obama's wage plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — Relatively few Americans — less than 5 percent of hourly workers — toil for the minimum wage today.
 
Yet President Barack Obama's push to offset years of inflation by raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would ripple through the economy and touch the lives of millions more workers and their families.
 
Here are some questions and answers about Obama's proposal:
 
___
 
Q: How much is the U.S. minimum wage now?
 
A: It's $7.25 an hour, or about $15,000 per year for full-time work. For a worker supporting a family of two, that falls just below the federal poverty line.
 
A minimum wage of $10.10 would mean earning about $21,000 per year.
 
___
 
Q: How many Americans work for minimum wage?
 
A: About 1.6 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are a smaller share of the workforce than in previous decades.
 
Another 2 million people are paid even less, because of various exceptions in the law. Many are waiters, bellhops and others whose wages are augmented by tips from customers. Their minimum is lower — $2.13 an hour — and hasn't gone up for more than two decades. Obama supports boosting the minimum for tipped workers to $7.07.
 
Together, both groups make up 4.7 percent of workers paid by the hour, and even less of the workforce when salaried workers are included.
 
___
 
Q: Are these the only workers who would get a boost from Obama's plan?
 
A: No. Millions more people who earn less than $10.10 an hour would get an automatic raise. Many of them work in states that have imposed a minimum wage that's higher than the current federal one.
 
And some people who already make more than $10.10 would get raises, too, as businesses adjusted their pay scales upward.
 
Democratic lawmakers pushing for the increase predict it would lead to raises for some 30 million people. Republican opponents counter that it could force companies to reduce hiring or even lay off some workers.
 
___
 
Q: How many states have a minimum wage higher than the federal one?
 
A: Twenty-one states, plus the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
 
None is as high as the wage Obama seeks. Washington state's is highest at $9.32 an hour, adjusted annually for inflation. California's minimum wage is set to climb to $10 in 2016.
 
State lawmakers aren't waiting for a divided Congress to act. Democratic legislators are pushing minimum-wage increases in more than half of the states this year, although several are political longshots.
 
___
 
Q: Who makes minimum wage?
 
A: Most are workers in part-time jobs. They tend to be in the service industry, especially in restaurant and sales jobs.
 
Most are adults. But teens and young people make up a disproportionately large share: half of minimum-wage workers are under age 25.
 
Nearly three-quarters have a high school degree or more education. More than three-quarters are white.
 
Nearly 2 out of 3 are female.
 
___
 
Q: Where did the minimum wage come from?
 
A: It started at 25 cents per hour in the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Since then, Congress has raised it 22 times. Its value peaked in the 1960s, but the wage hasn't kept up with inflation since then.
 
The last increase was in 2007, during the presidency of George W. Bush. It was phased in to reach $7.25 in 2009.
 
Obama wants the wage to be indexed to inflation, so it would rise automatically in the future.
 
___
 
Q: Why not raise the minimum wage?
 
Q: Many congressional Republicans and other opponents say that would dampen hiring or even spark layoffs at a time when the nation is struggling with high unemployment. They argue that much of the cost would be passed along to consumers as higher prices. And they say it isn't an efficient way to help the poor, because many people earning the minimum wage are part of a middle-class or higher-earning households.
 
___
 
Q: So what do Obama and Democratic supporters say?
 
A: They say that raising the minimum wage would boost the economy and create jobs, because cash-strapped workers tend to spend any extra money that comes in. Supporters argue that boosting low wages would help narrow the gap between the nation's poorest and richest families. And they say full-time workers with families shouldn't have to live in poverty.
Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) — It seems to be something of an occupational hazard for President Barack Obama: When he talks about his health care law, he's bound to hit a fact bump sooner or later.
 
So it went Tuesday night, when he declared Medicare premiums have stayed flat thanks to the law, when they've gone up. As for an even bigger theme of his State of the Union address, the president's assertion that "upward mobility has stalled" in America runs contrary to recent research, while other findings support him.
 
A look at some of the facts and political circumstances behind his claims, along with a glance at the Republican response to his speech:
 
OBAMA: "Because of this (health care) law, no American can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, back pain or cancer. No woman can ever be charged more just because she's a woman. And we did all this while adding years to Medicare's finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors."
 
THE FACTS: He's right that insurers can no longer turn people down because of medical problems, and they can't charge higher premiums to women because of their sex. The law also lowered costs for seniors with high prescription drug bills. But Medicare's monthly premium for outpatient care has gone up in recent years.
 
Although the basic premium remained the same this year at $104.90, it increased by $5 a month in 2013, up from $99.90 in 2012. Obama's health care law also raised Medicare premiums for upper-income beneficiaries, and both the president and Republicans have proposed to expand that.
 
Finally, the degree to which the health care law improved Medicare finances is hotly debated. On paper, the program's giant trust fund for inpatient care gained more than a decade of solvency because of cuts to service providers required under the health law. But in practice those savings cannot simultaneously be used to expand coverage for the uninsured and shore up Medicare.
 
___
 
OBAMA: "Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled."
 
THE FACTS: The most recent evidence suggests that mobility hasn't worsened. A team of economists led by Harvard's Raj Chetty released a study last week that found the United States isn't any less socially mobile than it was in the 1970s. Looking at children born between 1971 and 1993, the economists found that the odds of a child born in the poorest 20 percent of families making it into the top 20 percent hasn't changed.
 
"We find that children entering the labor market today have the same chances of moving up in the income distribution (relative to their parents) as children born in the 1970s," the authors said.
 
Still, other research has found that the United States isn't as mobile a society as most Americans would like to believe. In a study of 22 countries, economist Miles Corak of the University of Ottawa found that the United States ranked 15th in social mobility. Only Italy and Britain among wealthy countries ranked lower. By some measures, children in the United States are as likely to inherit their parents' economic status as their height.
 
___
 
OBAMA: "We'll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer.  But I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible."
 
THE FACTS: Cutting rules and regulations doesn't address what's holding up most transportation projects, which is lack of money. The federal Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August without action. To finance infrastructure projects, Obama wants Congress to raise taxes on businesses that keep profits or jobs overseas, but that idea has been a political nonstarter.
 
The number of projects affected by the administration's efforts to cut red tape is relatively small, said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a think tank. "The reason most of these projects are delayed is they don't have enough money. So it's great that you are expediting the review process, but the review process isn't the problem. The problem is we don't have enough money to invest in our infrastructure in the first place."
 
___
 
OBAMA: "More than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage."
 
THE FACTS: That's not to say 9 million more Americans have gained insurance under the law.
 
The administration says about 6 million people have been determined to be eligible for Medicaid since Oct. 1 and an additional 3 million roughly have signed up for private health insurance through the new markets created by the health care law. That's where Obama's number of 9 million comes from. But it's unclear how many in the Medicaid group were already eligible for the program or renewing existing coverage.
 
Likewise, it's not known how many of those who signed up for private coverage were previously insured. A large survey released last week suggests the numbers of uninsured gaining coverage may be smaller. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found that the uninsured rate for U.S. adults dropped by 1.2 percentage points in January, to 16.1 percent. That would translate to roughly 2 million to 3 million newly insured people since the law's coverage expansion started Jan. 1.
 
___
 
OBAMA: "In the coming weeks, I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour, because if you cook our troops' meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn't have to live in poverty."
 
THE FACTS: This would be a hefty boost in the federal minimum wage, now $7.25, but not many would see it.
 
Most employees of federal contractors already earn more than $10.10. About 10 percent of those workers, roughly 200,000, might be covered by the higher minimum wage. But there are several wrinkles. The increase would not take effect until 2015 at the earliest and it doesn't apply to existing federal contracts, only new ones. Renewed contracts also will be exempt from Obama's order unless other terms of the agreement change, such as the type of work or number of employees needed.
 
Obama also said he'll press Congress to raise the federal minimum wage overall. He tried that last year, seeking a $9 minimum, but Congress didn't act.
 
___
 
REP. CATHY McMORRIS RODGERS of Washington, in her prepared Republican response: "Last month, more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one. Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the president's policies are making people's lives harder."
 
THE FACTS: She leaves out a significant factor in the high number of people who aren't looking for jobs: Baby boomers are retiring.
 
It's true that a large part of the still-high unemployment rate is due to jobless workers who have given up looking for a job. There are roughly three people seeking every job opening, a circumstance that can discourage others from trying. But one big reason people aren't seeking employment is that there are so many boomers — the generation born in the immediate aftermath of World War II — and therefore more than the usual number of retirements.
 
 ___
 
Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Christopher S. Rugaber, Joan Lowy, Sam Hananel and Tom Raum contributed to this report.
 
EDITOR'S NOTE _ An occasional look at political claims that take shortcuts with the facts or don't tell the full story.
Published in National News
   JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — A change-of-plea hearing is scheduled for a man charged with sending poison-laced letters to President Barack Obama and other officials.
   James Everett Dutschke is scheduled for a hearing in U.S. District Court in Oxford on Friday afternoon, according to court documents.
   Dutschke, 42, previously pleaded not guilty and denied sending the letters. He also denied a later charge that, while incarcerated, he tried to recruit someone else to send a ricin-tainted letter.
   Dutschke has been jailed since April on charges of sending ricin-tainted letters to Obama, Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, and a Mississippi judge. The judge was the only one to receive a letter, though she was not harmed. The letters to Obama and Wicker were intercepted.
   Authorities first arrested Elvis impersonator Paul Kevin Curtis for allegedly sending the letters, which contained statements that Curtis had often used on his Facebook page, including the line, "I am KC and I approve this message." The letters also contained the phrase "Missing Pieces," the same title as an unpublished book Curtis wrote about his belief that there's a black market for body parts in the United States.
   But charges against Curtis were dropped when the investigation shifted to Dutschke. Curtis says the men have feuded for years.
   Dutschke is accused of trying to frame Curtis, both before and after Dutschke's own arrest. An indictment filed in November alleges that while incarcerated, he tried to recruit someone else to send a ricin-tainted letter.
   According to the indictment, Dutschke wanted the latest letter to say: "It doesn't matter the Fife types have the wrong one. D. had to be sacrificed to show the corruption in the system. I tried to warn you. Ha. K."
   Dutschke is a former martial arts instructor in the north Mississippi town of Tupelo, Elvis Presley's birthplace.
   He faces up to life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, the production of a biological weapon.
Published in National News

HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama is urging Congress to reinstate jobless benefits for more than a million Americans.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama says the unemployment insurance is a "vital economic lifeline" for many people. And he says failure to reinstate the benefits will cause the economy to slow for all Americans.

A bipartisan proposal in the Senate would restore the benefits for three months. Obama says if lawmakers pass the measure, he will sign it.

Obama is due to return from vacation in Hawaii on Sunday.

Mississippi Congressman Gregg Harper delivered the Republican weekly address. He calls on the Senate to pass the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act. It seeks to boost funding for pediatric research at the National Institutes of Health.

The measure passed the House in December.

Published in National News
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 04:50

AP-GfK poll: Low approval of Congress, Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) — Heading into a congressional election year, Americans hold Congress in strikingly low regard, and nearly two-thirds say they would like to see their House member replaced, a new poll finds.

 

Even though Americans are feeling somewhat better about the economy — and their personal finances — elected officials in Washington aren't benefiting from the improved mood, the Associated Press-GfK poll found.

 

President Barack Obama's approval rating was negative: 58 percent disapprove of the job he's doing as president, while 42 percent approve.

 

Obama isn't running for office again, however, whereas all 435 House seats and one-third of the Senate's seats are on the ballot next November. And nearly 9 in 10 adults disapprove of the way lawmakers are handling their jobs.

 

The low opinions of Congress don't necessarily signal major power shifts next year in the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate. House Democrats need to gain at least 17 net seats to claim the majority. But many House districts are so solidly liberal or conservative that incumbents can withstand notable drops in popularity and keep their seats.

 

Republicans hope to gain six Senate seats overall to retake control of that chamber for the last two years of Obama's presidency.

 

On one major issue, most Americans continue to favor providing a path to legal status for millions of immigrants living here illegally. Fifty-five percent support it, and 43 percent oppose. The Senate passed a major immigration bill that would provide a legalization path. But the House has sidelined the issue so far.

 

Despite the relatively low opinions of Congress and Obama, the national mood is not quite as bleak as it was in October, when partisan stalemate led to a 16-day partial government shutdown and fears of a possible default.

 

More Americans now say things are heading in the right direction and the economy is improving, the AP-GfK poll found. But those figures are still fairly anemic, below 40 percent.

 

Congressional approval stands at 13 percent, with 86 percent of adults disapproving. That sentiment holds across party lines: 86 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of independents disapprove.

 

Democrats have a slim edge as the party Americans would prefer to control Congress, 39 percent to 33 percent. But a sizable 27 percent say it doesn't matter who's in charge.

 

In a sign of public discontent, 62 percent of registered voters say they'd like someone new to win their congressional district next year, while 37 percent support their incumbent's re-election.

 

That's a worrisome trend for incumbents' campaigns. Four years ago, polls by NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Marist found fewer than half of Americans wanting their own representative ousted.

 

When elected officials are dropped from the equation, the public mood brightens a bit, the new poll found. The share of adults saying things in this country are heading in the right direction has climbed 12 percentage points since the government shutdown, to 34 percent. Still, almost twice as many, 66 percent, say things are heading the wrong way.

 

Independents, who can be crucial in general elections when persuaded to vote, share the modestly growing optimism. Whereas 82 percent of independents said the country was headed in the wrong direction in October, the number now is 69 percent.

 

Ratings of the economy have also improved since October. Still, 68 percent of adults say the U.S. economy is in bad shape, down slightly from 73 percent in October.

 

More adults now say they expect improvement in their household's financial standing in the coming year: 30 percent, compared with 24 percent in October. More also say it's a good time to make major purchases, although the number is an unimpressive 19 percent.

 

Megan Barnes of Columbia, Md., is among those who see an uptick in their own finances but give scant credit to politicians.

 

"I think the economy seems to be fairly stable, and for my family in the future, it's going to be OK," said Barnes, 32, a stay-at-home mom married to a software engineer.

 

She said she strongly disapproves of Congress and leans toward disapproval of Obama.

 

In Congress, Barnes said, "I'd like to see people put their jobs on the line to get things done, and not worry about the next election." A moderate Republican, Barnes said she would like to see someone replace her congressman, Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings.

 

As for Obama, she said it's troubling that he seemed to know little about the National Security Agency's spying on international allies or the serious problems in the rollout of his sweeping health care law. "He also doesn't seem to really work with the Congress a lot, even with his own party, to build consensus and get things done," Barnes said.

 

Americans have grown skeptical of some of the personal attributes the president relied on to win re-election in 2012. The new poll finds just 41 percent think he's decisive, 44 percent see him as strong and 45 percent call him inspiring. On honesty, he's lost ground since October. Now, 56 percent say the word "honest" does not describe Obama well.

 

Nearly half of American adults have an unfavorable impression of Obama, and 46 percent have a favorable impression.

 

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Dec. 5-9 using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based online panel. It involved online interviews with 1,367 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all respondents.

 

Using probability sampling methods, KnowledgePanel is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed for this survey online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

 

___

 

Online: AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

Published in National News
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