Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 9:35 am
When I was coming of age in the late 1970s, as an African-American high-schooler and college student, I had two certainties: Nelson Mandela would die in prison in apartheid South Africa and no black person would become U.S. president in my lifetime.
So much for my youthful powers of prediction.
Little could I have known then that I would become a journalist who would one day get to cover events I once thought would never happen, at least not during my time on Earth.
So the lowest unemployment rate in five years, down to 7 percent. To talk about the economic picture and more from this week's news, I'm joined by our regular Friday political commentators, David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Welcome back to you both.
At the start of the year there was widespread expectation among Latinos that 2013 would bring with it a new immigration law. That hasn't happened and immigration activists in North Carolina are frustrated.
The world wants Syria's chemical arsenal destroyed. But so far, no country has offered to do the dirty work on its soil. Over the past week, an alternative has gained ground: Carry out the destruction at sea. The plan taking shape is complicated and untested, but it just might work.
Workers rallied in 100 cities on Thursday to raise awareness for increasing pressure to raise wages. The push comes as 19 cities and states already raised minimum wages. A report from Berkeley economists finds the low-wage fast food jobs are costing taxpayer billions of dollars in public assistance — everything from food stamps to Medicaid.
Congress still has a long to-do list and not much time left. The House hopes to wrap it up next week — just as the Senate returns from a Thanksgiving break. On many lawmakers' lists are efforts to complete a farm bill before milk prices go off the "dairy cliff." That on top of tough budget negotiations.
For the past three years, there's been a shortfall in the payroll taxes collected for Social Security. And as more baby boomers join the ranks of the 57 million people already receiving benefits, that deficit is bound to keep growing.
At the same time, the overall share of wages being taxed for Social Security is shrinking as the higher wages that are exempt have soared. The Social Security Board of Trustees predicts a nearly $3 trillion trust fund built up over decades will vanish within 20 years.
Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 5:08 pm
The White House has acknowledged that as a student at Harvard Law School in the 1980s, the president briefly lived with his Kenyan-born uncle, after it first denied the two had ever met.
Earlier this week, Onyango Obama, 69, faced a deportation that resulted from a 2011 drunken-driving arrest. At the hearing, which he won, the judge asked about his family, and Onyango replied that he had a nephew named Barack Obama, adding, "He's the president of the United States."
Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 11:26 am
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell is more than a little aggravated with the Senate Conservatives Fund, and who can blame him.
The youngish but well-financed Tea Party organization has targeted McConnell, a five-termer from Kentucky and highest-ranking Senate Republican, by helping to bankroll a primary challenger and using the race as an intraparty, us vs. them proxy.
Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 9:07 am
It's Day 4 of the White House's new messaging push for the Affordable Care Act. Today the goal is to tell the stories of people with pre-existing conditions who are now entitled to coverage under the new health care law.
One such story comes from within the White House.
Michael Robertson, deputy assistant to the president and deputy cabinet secretary, was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer 16 months ago. He was 35.
The IRS is taking aim at the growing political role of tax-exempt social welfare groups. It's a category of American politics where spending has increased 80-fold in the last decade. Donors can give as much money as they want to these groups, and their names are not disclosed to the public. The IRS wants to roll back the social welfare politicking, after a summer of controversy over the way it treated Tea Party groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 7:44 am
A new report says the Justice Department regularly coerces defendants in federal drug cases to plead guilty by threatening them with steep prison sentences or stacking charges to increase their time behind bars.
And for the first time, the study by Human Rights Watch finds that defendants who take their fate to a judge or jury face prison sentences on average 11 years longer than those who plead guilty.
Want to understand why House Republicans aren't onboard with an immigration overhaul? Take a close look at the districts they represent.
Hispanics today make up 17 percent of the nation's population and are the fastest-growing ethnic group. But an NPR analysis of U.S. census data shows they live disproportionately in districts represented by Democrats. The average Democratic district is 23 percent Latino; the average Republican district, less than 12 percent.
Originally published on Wed December 4, 2013 12:48 pm
After voting for him in large numbers in 2008 and 2012, young Americans are souring on President Obama.
According to a new Harvard University Institute of Politics poll, just 41 percent of millennials — adults ages 18-29 — approve of Obama's job performance, his lowest-ever standing among the group and an 11-point drop from April.
In the debate over whether to cut the food stamp program, members of Congress are looking at two pretty arcane provisions in the law. People who want to cut food stamps call the provisions loopholes. People who don't want to cut food stamps say they're efficient ways to get benefits to those who need them most.
1. Categorical Eligibility
People who qualify for one means-tested program — like welfare — can automatically qualify for other programs — like food stamps. This is called "categorical eligibility."
The Obama administration is renewing its sales push for the president's signature health care law. On Wednesday, officials host a "youth summit" at the White House, where young people will be encouraged to sign up for insurance coverage. Their participation is crucial to help balance out the cost of insuring older, sicker people.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill face a lengthy to-do list before they head home for the holidays. Near the top is an issue deemed a priority after last year's election — immigration reform. So far, only the Senate has passed a bill.
Despite the standstill, supporters of immigration reform are pushing to keep the issue alive on a crowded legislative slate.
The leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees are meeting Wednesday as they continue to try to work out the differences between their respective farm bills. If they fail, the country faces what's being called the "dairy cliff" — with milk prices potentially shooting up to about $7 a gallon sometime after the first of the year.
Here's why: The nation's farm policy would be legally required to revert back to what's called permanent law. In the case of dairy, that would be the 1949 farm bill.
With HealthCare.gov able to handle an increasing number of users, the Obama administration finally went on the offensive to urge Americans to sign up for new health insurance. The administration had planned a massive advertising and social media campaign to support the Affordable Care Act back in October, but the push was delayed for two months after the health insurance exchange website failed in its debut. The effort comes as the deadline for people to sign up for coverage starting next year looms.
While conceding that "more problems may pop up as they always do when you're launching something new," President Obama on Tuesday said the troubled HealthCare.gov website "is working well for the vast majority of users" and his Affordable Care Act "is working and will work into the future."
"We may never satisfy the law's opponents," Obama added during an afternoon event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. But, he said, "we know the demand [for health insurance] is there and we know the product on these marketplaces is good."
The writer Yuval Levin contends that our divisive political culture comes down to two competing ways for Americans to view their country.
YUVAL LEVIN: You look at the world, it's imperfect. There are good things and bad things. Are you struck first and foremost by the good or are you struck first and foremost by the bad? Do you think this is something to build on or do you think we've got to start over?