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Political Scene

- - Thursday, January 13, 2011

NEW YORK

Foreclosure forecast bleak for 2011

NEW YORK | The bleakest year in the foreclosure crisis has only just begun.

Lenders are poised to take back more homes this year than any other since the U.S. housing meltdown began in 2006. About 5 million borrowers are at least two months behind on their mortgages, and industry experts say more people will miss payments because of job losses and also loans that exceed the value of the homes they are living in.

"2011 is going to be the peak," said Rick Sharga, a senior vice president at foreclosure tracker RealtyTrac Inc. The firm predicts 1.2 million homes will be repossessed this year.

The blistering pace of foreclosures this year will top 2010, when a record 1 million homes were lost, RealtyTrac said Thursday.

One in every 45 U.S. households received a foreclosure filing last year, a record 2.9 million of them. That's up 1.67 percent from 2009.

On Thursday, Freddie Mac reported that fixed mortgage rates dipped this week for the second straight time, extending a sliver of hope for some homeowners.

The average rate on the 30-year mortgage dropped to 4.71 percent from 4.77 percent the previous week. The rate on the 15-year loan, a popular refinance choice, slipped to 4.08 percent from 4.13 percent.

GOP

Pawlenty: U.S. is no new Greece

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty says the United States followed Greece into democracy, but should take steps so the country does not follow it into bankruptcy.

In a speech Thursday to start a book tour, the Republican criticized the economic policies of President Obama, who may face a challenge from Mr. Pawlenty in 2012. Mr. Pawlenty says the United States needs to re-examine its economic, education and health care priorities or face grave peril.

Mr. Pawlenty says he has not decided whether he will seek the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. But his book tour is taking him to Iowa, New Hampshire and Ohio strategic states in a White House run. In strong language that will appeal to Republicans in early nominating states, he says Greece's economic crisis should be a warning for the United States.

CONNECTICUT

Study: 2010 political ads mostly negative

HARTFORD | Researchers in Connecticut say the 2010 elections set a record not only for the amount of political ads, but also for the negativity of those commercials.

An analysis by Wesleyan University researchers finds that more than half of the ads broadcast for federal and gubernatorial candidates across the country after Sept. 1 were attack ads. That's compared to 44.9 percent in 2008; 32 percent in 2004; 31.9 percent in 2002 and 32.3 percent in 2000.

Data were not available for 2006.

Wesleyan assistant professor Erika Franklin Fowler says competition drove the negativity in the 2010 election. There were at least twice as many competitive races compared with a typical midterm election, with the control of Congress up for grabs.

TREASURY

Debit cards OK'd for tax refunds

The Treasury Department is offering to put tax refunds on prepaid debit cards for low-income taxpayers who don't have bank accounts.

The department announced Thursday that it will send letters to 600,000 households next week, offering to put their tax refunds on the debit cards, which can be used to get money from ATMs or to buy goods and services from retailers.

The Internal Revenue Service encourages taxpayers to have their tax refunds deposited directly into bank accounts. For those without bank accounts, the debit cards will allow them to avoid check-cashing fees.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin said taxpayers can get refunds faster with the debit cards than with checks.

NASA

Backup chief named for shuttle flight

NASA has named a backup commander, if necessary, to take the place of the astronaut husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot last week.

The space agency emphasized that Capt. Mark Kelly, who is Mrs. Giffords' husband of more than three years, is still the commander for the final scheduled flight of the space shuttle program. Endeavour is scheduled to launch on April 19 on a trip to the International Space Station.

Mr. Kelly said in a written statement released by NASA that he recommended to the space agency that they "take steps now to prepare to complete the mission in my absence if necessary."

Chief astronaut Peggy Whitson said the move allows Mr. Kelly to keep his attention on his family.

FDA

Vicodin, Percocet pain reliever reduced

Federal health regulators are limiting a key ingredient found in Vicodin, Percocet and other prescription painkillers that have been linked to thousands of cases of liver damage each year.

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it will cap the amount of acetaminophen in the drugs at 325 milligrams per capsule. Current products on the market contain doses of up to 700 milligrams.

Acetaminophen is a ubiquitous pain reliever found in Tylenol, Nyquil and thousands of other medicines used to treat headaches, fever and sore throats. The ingredient is also used at larger doses in prescription combination drugs that mix it with narcotic drugs like oxycodone.

Those products are not dangerous by themselves, but can cause toxic overdoses when patients combine them with a second acetaminophen-containing drug like Tylenol.

FDA officials said the labeling on prescription drugs often does not make it clear that they contain acetaminophen, instead using abbreviations for the ingredient like 'APAP.'

"One of the real challenges we have is that patients taking these products don't know they're taking acetaminophen at all," said FDA deputy director for new drugs, Dr. Sandra Kweder, in a telephone briefing with reporters "They don't realize that they are overdosing."

From wire dispatches and staff reports