AP Dec. 1: Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., right, speaks during a meeting of the commission on Capitol Hill.
More than 50 percent of Americans say they are worse off now than they were two years ago when President Barack Obama took office, and two-thirds believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, a Bloomberg National Poll shows.
The survey, conducted Dec. 4-7, finds that 51 percent of respondents think their situation has deteriorated, compared with 35 percent who say they’re doing better. The balance isn’t sure. Americans have grown more downbeat about the country’s future in just the last couple of months, the poll shows. The pessimism cuts across political parties and age groups, and is common to both sexes.
The negative sentiment may cast a pall over the holiday shopping season, according to the poll. A plurality of those surveyed -- 46 percent -- expects to spend less this year than last; only 12 percent anticipate spending more. Holiday sales rose by just under a half percent last year after falling by almost 4 percent in 2008.
“It’s definitely different this year than it’s been,” says poll respondent Larry Deyo, a 38-year-old father of two in Marlton, New Jersey. “I can’t really do too much with spending.” He says he lost his job at a kitchen and bath design center when the company closed, and he’s now working at a Home Depot Inc. store with a “significant decrease” in pay.
Obama’s numbers in the poll, given the context of an economy that is struggling to recover from the longest recession since the Great Depression and the experience of past presidents, aren’t so bad.
As Reagan approached the end of his second year in office, his numbers were more negative than Obama’s in this survey. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken in Oct. 1982, 61 percent of Americans said things were worse and 33 percent said they had improved. Reagan won re-election in a landslide in 1984. In the final months of George W. Bush’s presidency, as the financial crisis intensified, Americans said by a 2-to-1 margin that their financial situation had deteriorated, compared with a year earlier.
Americans in the poll also oppose Republican lawmakers’ calls to extend tax cuts for upper-income Americans beyond the end of 2010. Obama reluctantly agreed to a two-year extension of those cuts as part of a compromise package that also retained breaks for the middle class.
Sixty-six percent say the nation is headed in the wrong direction. That’s up from 62 percent who felt that way in an October poll and is the worst reading since the Bloomberg National Poll began in September 2009.
Unemployment Is Top Issue
Unemployment and jobs are the most important issue facing the country now, the poll finds. Fifty percent of those surveyed identified joblessness as their top concern, twice the number who chose the federal budget deficit and government spending.
Members of Obama’s Democratic Party are about evenly split on the question of whether they are doing better than two years ago. Republicans and political independents are more downbeat. More than 60 percent of Republicans say they’re doing worse under Obama. Just over 50 percent of political independents feel that way, compared with a third who say their situation has improved.
Obama, 49, inherited an economy in deep crisis. While it has started to recover -- showing 3.2 percent growth over the past year -- unemployment has remained high. Joblessness rose to a seven-month high of 9.8 percent in November, significantly above the 7.4 percent rate that prevailed in December 2008, the month before Obama was inaugurated.
Stock Market Gains
The stock market has performed much better. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index has risen more than 50 percent since Obama was sworn in Jan. 20, 2009.
“After looking at all the politicians and all the policies, they’re not geared toward Americans. They’re geared toward the corporations,” says Ken Cmar, a 45-year-old poll respondent residing in Crystal River, Florida.
He says his business aligning wheels on vehicles has shrunk as trucking companies and municipalities with bus fleets have cut back. “It’s that trickle-down economic thing and I’m at the wrong end,” Cmar says.
By age group, only the young -- those under 35, a core constituency for Obama in his presidential bid -- consider themselves better off than they were two years ago.
‘Naivete of Youth’
The young often show a greater “sense that things are getting better for them than we see for older respondents,” says J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm that conducted the nationwide survey. “Maybe that is the sweet naivete of youth or, more likely, they are building their careers and things are, in fact, getting better for them.”
While Democrats and political independents agree that unemployment is the top issue, Republicans are about evenly split between jobs and the budget deficit, which totaled $1.29 trillion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.
“The deficit is outrageous,” says poll respondent Lisa Brandel, a 36-year-old free-lance writer in Bellefontaine, Ohio. “But the root of the problem is that we need more jobs. If we get better employment, more people will be paying taxes and the deficit will go down.”
On the tax cuts, the survey conducted before, during and after the negotiations between the White House and congressional Republicans this week, shows that only a third of Americans support keeping the lower rates for the highest earners.
Another third say they want only the tax cuts for the middle class to be extended, while more than a fourth say all the tax cuts should be allowed to expire Dec. 31, as scheduled.
The agreement Obama announced Dec. 6 would temporarily sustain the tax reductions for all income levels. The president said the compromise was needed to break a deadlock with Republicans who vowed to block tax cuts for middle-income Americans if those for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000 weren’t extended, too.
The Bloomberg National survey of 1,000 U.S. adults has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
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To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at email@example.com
The House Democratic Caucus on Thursday rejected the tax deal negotiated between the White House and Senate Republicans.
The non-binding vote of the caucus held during a closed-door meeting puts tremendous pressure on House leaders to win changes to a proposal the White House has presented as a "take it or leave it" package.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a brief statement after the vote indicating that lower-chamber Democrats will fight to alter the bill. "We will continue discussions with the President and our Democratic and Republican colleagues in the days ahead to improve the proposal before it comes to the House floor for a vote," Pelosi said.
“Democratic priorities remain clear: to provide a tax cut for working families, to create jobs and economic growth, to assist millions of our fellow Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and to do this in a fiscally sound way.”
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president is confident Congress will approve the tax package despite its rejection by House Democrats. “At the end of the day” the bill will pass both houses, Gibbs said at his daily press briefing.
Gibbs challenged Democrats to come up with a better compromise than the one Obama reached with Republicans in an effort to break a “legislative stalemate” that could have disastrous consequences for the economy.
“If everybody took out what they didn't like, we would have nothing,” Gibbs said. “And we know the consequences of doing nothing.”
Democrats have appointed Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the assistant to the Speaker, to represent the caucus in future negotiations on the bill. Van Hollen was a part of the so-called Gang of Six, a short-lived group created last week to crunch a compromise with the White House and congressional leaders from both chambers.
The White House, however, abandoned those talks and focused instead on meetings with Senate Republicans. It is now insisting that the deal worked out with Senate Republicans cannot be changed.
That position appears to have provoked outrage among House Democrats who are livid that the package would extend all of the tax cuts signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003, including those for the highest income earners.
Sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the resolution says simply that Democrats oppose floor action of the tax deal in its current form.
"We have tremendous concerns about what was given away by the White House," DeFazio told reporters in the Capitol basement after the vote.
DeFazio said the voice vote was "virtually unanimous," with only one or two members expressing dissent.
"We have given our leadership license to force the Senate and the White House back to the table to get a better deal for the American people," he said.
Asked if leadership had agreed to do that, DeFazio replied, "Well, they're not going to get a bill if they don't."
DeFazio said he spoke to the Speaker prior to the vote and that she "did not express any opposition to what we proposed." DeFazio said the next step is for leaders to "go back to the bargaining table — and this time, they don't have a side-bargain between Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell," the GOP leader in the Senate.
President Obama on Monday stirred a firestorm when he announced a deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels. House Democrats passed an alternative bill last Thursday extending those cuts only to individuals earning less than $200,000 and families earning less than $250,000 annually. Both sets of tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year. The deal also includes a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits.
Democrats are as angry about how the deal was put together as they are about its substance — they see the White House as abandoning bipartisan talks with Republicans and Democrats to work out a deal just with Senate Republicans. Vice President Joe Biden visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to deliver the message to House Democrats that the White House viewed the deal as a "take-it-or-leave-it" accord.
In the lead-up to the vote on the DeFazio resolution, supporters could be heard from the hallway chanting, "Just say no!"
"There came a point where clearly they decided to cut a deal with the Republicans," Van Hollen said Tuesday.
DeFazio had another take on that episode: "We had a representative in the room bargaining, while the deal was being cut somewhere else."
"[Biden] basically said, 'Take it or leave it,' " DeFazio said. "We left it. It's up to them."
The White House has been aggressively pushing the deal all week, arguing Democrats risk plunging the country into a double-dip recession by rejecting it. At a testy news conference this week, Obama defended his negotiating stance, saying Republicans were not going to budge on their insistence that all of the tax cuts be extended. The president compared the GOP to hostage takers and said he had to act in order to help middle-class taxpayers and the unemployed.
DeFazio had intended to bring up his resolution next Tuesday, but news reports indicating the Senate is leaning toward accepting the deal caused him to expedite the timeline, DeFazio said. Fifty-five Democrats had signed a petition to force a vote on the resolution.
Some Democratic leaders remain reluctant to attack the White House-GOP deal directly. In very cautious comments to reporters after the vote, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) punted on questions about where he stands on the current proposal.
"The president said he would fight for the middle class," he said. "I'm with him on that."
With the lame-duck session quickly coming to a close, Congress is running out of time to finalize a deal on the tax-cut extensions. Asked if the short window threatened the House Democrats' push to return to the bargaining table, DeFazio suggested the lower-chamber remain in Washington this weekend to hash out a deal.
"I don't think there's an imperative the House go anywhere," he said.
The chairman of the caucus, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), downplayed the notion of the move being a purposeful rebuke of the Obama administration, as other Democrats had characterized it.
“We have a great relationship with the White House. I want to underscore that,” he said. “We stand solidly behind the president.”
But he said House Democrats wanted to put “our own imprimatur” on the tax-cut proposal.
Not all Democrats were on board with the resolution. Some said they want a chance to vote on the White House deal.
"A clear majority of the U.S. House of Representatives supports this plan," Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) said in a statement. "We are allowing the liberal wing of the Democratic Caucus to hold these critically needed tax cuts hostage."
Republicans, who will be running the House next year, have few options to force a vote. There is not enough time to launch a discharge petition, which would allow for a roll call if it collected 218 signatures.
Under House rules, there is a waiting period before a measure can be called up via discharge petition, House parliamentary experts explained. That waiting period prevents a discharge petition from being a viable strategic move.
Regardless, many House Republicans believe the Democrats will blink.
A senior GOP lawmaker said House Democrats were just "blowing off steam" in their caucus vote on Thursday.
If Democrats attempt to change the estate tax provisions, Republicans say they may reject such a revised proposal.
Asked if tinkering with the estate tax provisions would be a deal breaker, Incoming Education and Labor Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) responded that "it could be close to it."
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has announced he would vote against the plan that includes an extension of unemployment benefits that are not paid for.
A spokesman for Minority Whip Eric Cantor said the Virginia lawmaker has not taken a whip count of Republicans because legislative language has not yet been introduced.
For the most part, House Republicans are supportive of the compromise, according to Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.).
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said the new GOP majority may have to pass the deal early next year.
"If we're going to cut a deal, and they're going to re-cut a deal, at some point you have to say, 'Maybe we have to deal with this next year,'" Rogers said. The Michigan legislator stressed his preference to pass the package this month.
Sam Youngman and Molly K. Hooper contributed to this story.
This story was posted at 11:45 a.m. and last updated at 5:20 p.m.
(CNN) -- Katie Goldman's universe extends from her home to her first-grade classroom. She is a big sister to Annie Rose and Cleo, a piano player, a Spanish student, a wearer of glasses. She loathes the patch she has to wear for one lazy eye. She loves magic and princesses and "Star Wars," an obsession she picked up from her dad.
The 7-year-old carried a "Star Wars" water bottle to school in Evanston, Illinois, every day, at least until a few weeks ago, when Katie suddenly asked to take an old pink one instead. The request surprised Katie's mom, Carrie Goldman. It didn't make any sense. Why would her little sci-fi fan make such a quick turn?
Goldman kept pressing for an answer. She wasn't expecting Katie's tears.
Kids at school insisted that "Star Wars" was only for boys, her daughter wailed. She was different enough already -- the only one who was adopted, who's Jewish, who wears glasses, who needs a patch. If sacrificing Yoda for the color pink would make her fit in again, so be it.
Goldman's heart sank.
These weren't nameless, faceless bullies who taunted her daughter. They were good kids Katie ran around with on the playground. They were getting older, though, and starting to see what made people the same -- and different.
Now, it was about "Star Wars," but Goldman wondered what lunchroom teasing would progress to in middle school, high school or college.
"Is this how it starts?" Goldman wrote in her blog, Portrait of an Adoption. "Do kids find someone who does something differently and start to beat it out of her, first with words and sneers? Must my daughter conform to be accepted?"
'I need your help'
A few days later, in Orlando, Jen Yates clicked on a link that led to Goldman's blog. Yates couldn't shake Katie's image when it flashed across the screen -- a little girl with long blonde hair, no front teeth, square-rimmed glasses.
"When you hear about bullying, it's like an abstract concept," Yates said. "When you put a face on it, an adorable little girl's face, with glasses, it brings it home."
Yates remembered the isolation of being the weird kid at her high school. She was the teen who hit "Star Trek" conventions on weekends and got snide comments about it the rest of the week. She was the lone geek girl among her friends, mostly geeky boys.
Bullying tragedies dominated headlines this year after a spate of suicides. Studies revealed how deeply the bullies at school, home or online can traumatize kids. The federal government laid out new anti-bullying guidelines for educators trying to combat the issue.
It's tough to lay out anti-bullying rules for kids so young, but tougher still to know how to protect the bully's perennial target: geeks, nerds and anybody whose interests stray from the norm. Whole genres of pop culture are devoted to ridiculing them and Yates knew that Katie's story was how it starts.
"We've all had those kinds of experiences, if you call yourself a geek," Yates said. "It was about Katie, but it was about every girl out there, every geek out there. It transcended gender, it transcended age.
"I know a Katie. I was Katie."
So Yates did what any geek would -- she went back to her computer.
"My fellow geeks," she wrote on her blog, Epbot.com, "I need your help."
'You are not alone'
Later that day, in yet another time zone, Catherine Taber clicked Yates' post about a little girl and her "Star Wars" water bottle -- Katie.
Taber grew up on science fiction and fantasy, from Stephen King to "Star Wars," but she wasn't bullied. She was an Army brat, always the new kid at school. With each new place, her parents reminded her to be whatever she wanted, and be proud to share it with the world.
"I immediately had to say something," Taber said. "The whole theme of the 'Star Wars' universe is an anti-bullying theme. It's good versus evil, standing side by side with your friends, doing what's right. One of the most important things to stopping bullies in their tracks is to empower kids to stand up for themselves."
Taber found Katie's mom's blog, sent it to everyone she knew, and left a comment she hoped would help.
"I am [the] actress who has the great honor of being Padme Amidala on 'Star Wars: the Clone Wars!' I just wanted to tell Katie that she is in VERY good company being a female Star Wars fans," Taber wrote. "I know that Padme would tell you to be proud of who YOU are and know that you are not ALONE!
"THE FORCE is with you Katie!"
'Part of a very tight community'
Back in Evanston, Carrie Goldman was feeling good. Since she had written about the water bottle incident, other parents at Katie's school had talked to their kids. School leaders were supportive, and working on an anti-bullying program.
Something else was happening, too: Traffic on Goldman's blog was exploding.
Some 1,200 people had left messages there for Katie. Readers were coming from Yates' blog, where more than 3,000 more comments stacked up. There were links from "Star Wars" message boards, parenting blogs, tech sites. A Twitter hashtag, #maytheforcebewithkatie, streaked across social media.
Guys and gals of all ages wrote about how they'd been bullied, and how life had gotten so much better since then. They shared that they loved "Star Wars," that they wore glasses, that they were adopted -- just like Luke, just like Leia, just like Katie.
ThinkGeek, a nerdy online retailer, sent Katie a lightsaber. Artist Scott Zirkel sent a cartoon of Katie as a Jedi, glasses and all. A first-grade class in California sent letters to Katie as a show of support.
Taber and the rest of the cast of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," sent "Star Wars" merch. Ashley Eckstein, who voices the female Jedi Ahsoka Tano, sent Her Universe clothes tailored for girls. Tom Kane, who voices Yoda, escorted the Goldmans to a screening near their home.
The thousands of comments left online will be bound into a book for Katie to read whenever she needs it. To keep a sense of normality at home, the family reads just a few every night.
Katie, and her parents, have learned that the universe is so much bigger than the first grade.
"You realize how, if you want someone who has something in common, all you have to do is reach out," Goldman said. "It feels really, really good. What we want is for it to feel good for other people."
Katie is donating many of the books and toys to other kids.
A fan created a Facebook event suggesting that people wear "Star Wars" gear on December 10 to support Katie. The Goldmans also asked participants to donate Star Wars toys to charities for the holidays. About 20,000 people have signed up.
"What strikes me is how these individuals who were once so isolated are now part of a very tight community," Goldman wrote on her blog this month. "They have found each other; they are plugged into each other, and they have each other's backs. Now they have Katie's back, too."
Katie isn't doing any more interviews. There are scales to practice, Spanish words to memorize, baby sisters to play with. She still has to wear the dreaded eye patch, and eat lunch with the kids in her class. She is very busy being 7.
But on December 10, her school will host Proud To Be Me Day. Kids will be encouraged to wear something that shows what they're interested in, whether it's princesses, sports, animals and anime.
Katie will have the force of thousands behind her, and a "Star Wars" water bottle.
By Anna Palmer
The frustration with President Barack Obama over his tax cut compromise was palpable and even profane at Thursday’s House Democratic Caucus meeting.
One unidentified lawmaker went so far as to mutter “f--- the president” while Rep. Shelley Berkley was defending the package the president negotiated with Republicans. Berkley confirmed the incident, although she declined to name the specific lawmaker.
“It wasn’t loud,” the Nevada Democrat said. “It was just expressing frustration from a very frustrated Member.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) was also overheard saying that “we can’t trust him” not to cave to Republicans and extend the tax cuts again in two years, according to a Democratic source.
The anger aimed at the bill was widespread. As Democrats moved to block the bill from coming up on the floor, chants of “Just say no!” could be heard by reporters outside the room.
Berkley is one of the few Democrats publicly supporting the package. While she said it wasn’t necessarily how she would have written it, the bill should go forward in her estimation because it is “chock full” of tax cuts that will help the working class in her state.
“I’m not willing to play Russian roulette to see who blinks first,” Berkley said.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.