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Friday, August 3, 2012

In Tennessee, House Freshmen Fend Off Primary Challenges


Thursday was a good day for Tennessee incumbent lawmakers, all of whom won their congressional primaries in the Volunteer State. But it was a particularly good day for Representatives Chuck Fleischmann and Diane Black, House freshmen and Republicans who survived tough challenges from both the moderate and conservative wings of their party.

Mr. Fleischmann's top opponents mounted a strong, well-financed fight for the Third District, an eastern area of the state that includes Chattanooga. Scottie Mayfield, the president of his family's dairy business, had raised about $800,000, about $163,000 of which he gave to his own campaign, in his bid to unseat Mr. Fleischmann. Mr. Mayfield had hoped to capitalize on frustrations with Washington, trying to tie Mr. Fleischmann's House votes to President Obama.

Weston Wamp, 25, the son of former Representative Zach Wamp, also gave Mr. Fleischmann a challenge. Mr. Wamp discussed r unning against Mr. Fleischmann early in his term and eventually raised more than $625,000.

Both Mr. Mayfield and Mr. Wamp ran just to the left of Mr. Fleischmann, calling for bipartisanship in Congress and posing a threat to the Tea Party movement that pushed Mr. Fleischman to victory two years ago. But with about $1.16 million in his war chest, Mr. Fleischmann won 39 percent of the vote, triumphing over Mr. Mayfield, who received 31 percent, and Mr. Wamp, who garnered almost 29 percent.

In Tennessee's Sixth District, Ms. Black faced Lou Ann Zelenik, the owner of a construction company, in a rematch of their 2010 primary race. Ms. Zelenik, a board member of the anti-Islamic group Sharia Action Awareness Network, said Ms. Black was not conservative enough in her first term.

But Ms. Black pulled off a strong victory Thursday, winning about 69 percent of the vote. Two years ago, the race for the central Tennessee district was much closer: Ms. Black beat Ms. Zelenik by just 283 votes.

Mr. Fleischmann and Ms. Black are expected to hold onto their seats in November.

The House Republican freshman class is undefeated in its primaries so far this year, Politico reported on Thursday. In addition to Mr. Fleischmann and Ms. Black, their fellow freshman Republicans from Tennessee, Representatives Scott DesJarlais and Stephen Fincher, also won their primaries on Thursday.

Assessing the Disgruntled Person\'s Portfolio


This weekend's Your Money column goes out to all of the Bucks commenters and friends of mine who've declared themselves fed up with the stock market and traditional financial services providers and hungry for an alternate way of storing and deploying their money.

The storing part is easy enough, since you can deposit your assets in credit unions and Vanguard and the like. But the portfolio is a trickier thing. Would you be willing to divide your retirement savings among residential real estate, peer-to-peer loans and municipal bonds, for instance?

We can't define the risks precisely because we don't know the future long-term returns of any given asset class. But for those of you who do feel alienated by the standard stock-based investment portfolio and the companies that have their hands in it, how far are you willing to go and how much do you think you'll have to sacrifice to live a financial life governed by your princi ples (or anxieties)?

Romney Calls Reid\'s Claims a Diversion From Jobs Report


NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Mitt Romney on Friday said that he had paid “a lot of taxes” every year and accused the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, of falsely claiming that he had not - saying the senator did so as a tactic to draw attention away from lackluster employment and economic numbers under President Obama.

Mr. Romney also suggested that either the White House or Obama campaign officials could be behind what he characterized as false accounts of him not paying taxes for years.

“Harry Reid really has to put up or shut up,” Mr. Romney said. “So Harry, who are your sources? Let's have Harry explain who that is.”

Mr. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in a statement on Thursday that “I was told by an extremely credible source that Romney has not paid taxes for 10 years.” But the senator has provided no evidence to back up the assertion.

Mr. Romney has said he is likely to pay a total of $6.2 million in taxes on $45 million in income over the two tax years of 2010 and 2011; he has released his 2010 return and says he will release his 2011 return when it is completed.

But he declined again on Friday to disclose more than those two years, a refusal that has drawn attacks from Democrats - who argue he must be hiding something - and criticism from many Republicans who fear his unwillingness to adhere to a more detailed and customary tax disclosure is distracting from the Romney campaign's message.

Mr. Romney said that Mr. Reid's attacks and the call for more of his tax returns was really an effort to divert attention away from poor jobs numbers and the unemployment rate, which has ticked up to 8.3 percent, according to a new government report on Friday.

“By the way Harry, I understand what you are trying to do here,” Mr. Romney said. “You are trying to deflect the fact that jobs numbers are bad, that Ameri cans are out of work, and you're trying to throw anything up on the screen that will grab attention away from the fact that the policies of the White House haven't worked to put Americans to work, and the policies of the Senate haven't even got a budget in place.”

“Now let me also say categorically: I have paid taxes every year, and a lot of taxes, a lot of taxes,” Mr. Romney added. “So Harry is simply wrong, and that's why I'm so anxious for him to give us the names of the people who have put this forward.”

“I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear the names are people from the White House or the Obama campaign, or who knows where they are coming from,” he said.

Dealing With Tax Uncertainties


Paul Sullivan, in his Wealth Matters column this week, talks to wealthy investors about how they are dealing with the uncertainty about whether federal taxes will increase next year. Specifically, he looks at the 3.8 percent surtax on investment income that is in President Obama's health care legislation.

One strategy, several wealthy people said, is to use the prospect of increased taxes to look at all long-held investments and sell any with big gains before the end of the year.

That advice could apply to not-so-wealthy investors, as well, who may have let their attention stray to other matters as the markets recovered from the financial crisis. With a few months still remaining in 2012, there is still time to re-examine holdings and avoid any surprises that Congress may come up with in 2013.

What is your strategy in dealing with possible tax increases? Have you made any changes in your investments? Or do you be lieve that the tax cuts from George W. Bush's years will continue in effect?

A Split-Screen Debate Over Jobs and Taxes


President Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, engaged in a split-screen debate over jobs and taxes on Friday as they presented starkly different views of the state of the economy and starkly different visions for the way forward.

In separate speeches that by happenstance were delivered simultaneously thousands of miles apart, the two presidential contenders effectively quarreled over the significance of the latest jobs report and who would do a better job of keeping down taxes so that the economy can grow more robustly than it has over the last three years.

Mr. Obama appeared with families invited to the White House complex to pressure Congress to extend tax cuts for the middle class while letting taxes rise for the wealthy. Mr. Romney visited a trucking business in Las Vegas to make the point that the president does not understand how the private sector works. Both were res ponding to a report with mixed news showing 163,000 new jobs created last month, more than expected, but the unemployment rate ticking up to 8.3 percent.

“I knew when I started in this job that this was going to take some time,” Mr. Obama said in his speech. “We haven't had to come back from an economic crisis this deep or this painful since the 1930s, but we also knew if we were persistent, if we kept at it, if we kept working, we would gradually get to where we need to be.”

To get there, though, the president said, Congress should renew the Bush-era tax cuts but not on income above $250,000 a year. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, passed a tax extension as Mr. Obama wanted but the House, run by Republicans, voted to extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts, including for the wealthy.

“They want to give millionaires and billionaires and folks like me tax cuts that we don't need and that the country can't afford even if middle class families have to pick up the tab for it,” Mr. Obama said. “Those are their priorities. And this week we learned that there are some in the Republican Party who don't want to stop even there.”

He then raised, as he has for the last couple days, a new study suggesting that Mr. Romney's tax-cutting plan would actually result in tax increases for 95 percent of Americans if it were to be “revenue neutral,” as he has said. The Romney campaign has disputed the study, noting that one of its authors used to work for Mr. Obama and that its conclusions were based on assumptions that the former governor of Massachusetts does not share.

Speaking at the same time on the other side of the country, Mr. Romney on Friday slammed Mr. Obama, saying he was presiding over an economy that is failing to recover from a devastating recession.

“The president does not understand how the economy works,” he said. “He does not understand how the private se ctor works.”

Mr. Romney reprised his attacks on the president's remark that “if you have a business, you didn't build that.” The White House has said the president meant that private entrepreneurs depend not just on individual initiative but also on infrastructure like roads and bridges. Mr. Romney said the remark “may go down as the most famous quote of his entire presidency.”

“We celebrate people who are smart,” Mr. Romney said. “We celebrate achievement in this country. We do not celebrate government.”

Peter Baker reported from Washington and Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Las Vegas.

Top Regulatory Adviser to Depart White House


Cass Sunstein, President Obama's often provocative regulatory czar, is leaving the White House after more than three years and returning to Harvard Law School.

Mr. Sunstein, a controversial figure in the perennial battles between left and right over the role of government in American society, led an administration review intended to get rid of antiquated or counterproductive rules as part of a cost-benefit analysis.

Mr. Obama credited Mr. Sunstein with putting in place a regulatory system that still protected Americans while eliminating “tens of millions of hours of paperwork burdens” for businesses and citizens.

“Cass has shown that it is possible to support economic growth without sacrificing health, safety and the environment,” the president said in a written statement issued Friday.

During his tenure, Mr. Sunstein often argued that the old paradigm over regulation w as stale and irrelevant. “My view is that the Republican claim that ‘job-killing regulation' is a redundancy is as ridiculous as the left-wing view that ‘job-killing regulation' is an oxymoron,” he told The New York Times last year. “Both are silly political claims that have no place in a serious discussion.”

Mr. Sunstein, a prolific author who met Mr. Obama at the University of Chicago, is a proponent of both cost-benefit analysis and behavioral economics, which seeks to find low-cost incentives for individuals and businesses to act both in their own interests and those of the broader economy. When Mr. Obama won the presidency, he offered Mr. Sunstein a range of possible jobs but Mr. Sunstein chose the little known Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs because he thought it would be the best place to test his academic theories.

At the time, Republicans saw what they considered a liberal Harvard professor and Obam a pal and were deeply skeptical. But his actions in office were often met with hostility by environmental activists, who argued that he placed too much emphasis on the cost of environmental regulations rather than their health benefits. Mr. Sunstein also took a skeptical view of some workplace safety rules as the administration tried to deflect criticism from business leaders and Republican officials who accused them of putting undue burdens and costs on employers.

Mr. Sunstein's wife, Samantha Power, also works at the White House as a senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, a position she used to advocate for better responses to genocide around the world. Ms. Power recently had a baby and said Friday that she still plans to return to the White House after maternity leave.

In July Jobs Report, Something for Everyone


The two-part nature of the monthly jobs report often provides political parties an opportunity to cherry-pick their favorite parts - and the release on Friday of the July numbers was no exception.

Democrats moved quickly to promote the surprisingly strong jobs growth for the month, while Republicans seized on a small uptick in the overall unemployment rate as a further indictment of President Obama's economic policies.

Austan Goolsbee, a former chairman of Mr. Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, summed up the Democratic response shortly after the report was released, calling the addition of 163,000 jobs in July “a solid, encouraging number.”

And, in a statement, the White House stressed that “it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report,” but concluded that Friday's report “provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.”

The statement, from Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, went out of its way to note that the unemployment rate was “essentially unchanged, rising from “from 8.217% in June to 8.254% in July.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California and the House minority leader, wrote on Twitter that “today's jobs report is small step in the right direction. But more needs to be done.”

Meanwhile, Republicans focused instead on the 8.3 percent unemployment rate, up from 8.2 percent the previous month.

“Today's increase in the unemployment rate is a hammer blow to struggling middle-class families,” Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential hopeful, said in a statement. “My plan will turn things around and bring the economy roaring back, with 12 million new jobs created by the end of my first term. President Obama doesn't have a plan and believes that the private se ctor is ‘doing fine.'”

The Drudge Report, a conservative Web site, captured the Republican sentiment: It showed a grim-faced Mr. Obama with “8.3%” in big, bold letters underneath the picture. In tiny type to the left, it added: “JULY JOBS: +163,000.”

A few minutes later, even that concession to good news was removed, replaced with: “41 straight months above 8%…”

Other top Republicans followed with the same message.

“Last week President Obama said, ‘We tried our plan, and it worked.' With the unemployment rate going up again, it's obvious that plan didn't work at all,” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement.

House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio welcomed “any new job creation” in a statement. But he zeroed in on “unemployment still above 8 percent and rising” to condemn Mr. Obama's economic policies.

These attack targets were reversed in previous months, when th e unemployment rate ticked lower even as job growth was sluggish. In April for example, when the unemployment report fell to 8.2 percent from 8.3 percent, Republicans focused on the slower dob growth numbers, while Democrats touted the falling rate.

Left unclear is which argument will move voters, many of whom may be more affected by their own personal situations than any of the statistics describing the country's overall economic health.

The addition of 163,000 jobs gives the White House the ability to argue that the economy continues to grow - albeit more slowly than it would like - and allows them to make the case that job growth is headed in the right direction.

But the unemployment rate is headed in the wrong direction, an argument that Republicans hope will provide an easy benchmark against which voters can judge the president.

The Agenda: Who Do You Count On?


As part of The Agenda series, John Broder is exploring where people go to learn about the state of the earth's climate, which sources of information they trust the most, whether people change their minds and, if so, what causes the shift of opinion. Join the discussion on the Green blog.

Friday Reading: Less Hospital Noise Improves Patient Care


A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

The Early Word: Recess


In Today's Times:

  • Failing to pass emergency agricultural aid, Congress broke for a five-week recess Thursday, leaving farmers and ranchers reeling from a rough year with no safety net as members headed home to their districts to campaign, Jennifer Steinhauer reports.
  • Government auditors found that Amtrak lost more than $800 million on its food service in a decade, having never broken even since Congress began requiring it to do so in 1981, Ron Nixon reports. The main causes? Waste, employee theft and lack of oversight, the auditors say.
  • President Obama kept up his attacks on Mitt Romney's tax-cut plans in Florida Thursday, dismissing them as “trickle-down tax-cut fairy dust,” Jackie Calmes reports.

Washington Happenings:

  • The Labor Department releases employment numbers for July on Friday.
  • Mr. Obama will speak in Washington on Friday to urg e Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class.

Bill Clinton Stepping In to Assist in Obama Fund-Raising


Former president Bill Clinton will headline a New York City prospecting event for Priorities USA Action, the “super PAC” founded by former aides to President Obama, in August, a person with knowledge of the plans said on Thursday.

The event - a briefing for potential donors to the pro-Obama group - cements Mr. Clinton as one of the top rainmakers for Mr. Obama, a politician with whom he once clashed. Mr. Clinton also appeared at a high-dollar New York fund-raiser for Mr. Obama in June and will formally present him for the Democratic presidential nomination at the party's quadrennial convention a few weeks from now.

While Priorities has struggled to keep pace with the aggressive fund-raising of Republican counterparts like American Crossroads, the group has improved its pace in recent months, raising more than $6 million in June. It has also unveiled ambitious plans for the fall, recently reserving $30 million in advertising time in the final weeks of the campaign.