- - Monday, September 5, 2011

WHITE HOUSE

Irene’s federal cost hits $1.5 billion mark

The White House is estimating that Hurricane Irene will cost the federal government $1.5 billion in disaster relief.

White House budget chief Jacob Lew released that preliminary estimate Monday. He said the $1.5 billion was on top of $5.2 billion needed for other recent disasters, including tornadoes that leveled much of Joplin, Mo.

The spending may touch off yet another partisan fight between President Obama and Congress.

The Obama administration has said last month’s debt ceiling deal with Congress allows the money to be spent by adding to federal deficits - a long-time practice for financing emergencies. The House’s No. 2 Republican, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, has said the disaster spending should be paid for by finding offsetting cuts from the rest of the budget.

LABOR

Secretary urges joint effort on jobs creation

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis says both political parties must come together to attack slow economic growth and high unemployment.

Mrs. Solis says “we do need everyone to be onboard” with President Obama as he tries to create a better hiring environment across the country.

Mrs. Solis says she doesn’t want to give away what Mr. Obama will tell the nation and a joint session of Congress in Thursday night’s primetime speech. But she tells NBC’s “Today” show that he’ll push programs such as investment in infrastructure, special assistance to dislocated workers and a continuation of payroll tax relief for middle-class workers.

She also says that Mr. Obama is “very mindful of what the needs and concerns are of those individuals who have been out of work for so long.”

FED

Former spokesman Coyne dead at 83

Joseph Coyne, who oversaw the public affairs operations at the Federal Reserve for more than three decades, has died. He was 83.

Mr. Coyne died unexpectedly on Sunday in Scranton, Pa., where he had gone to attend his 65th high school reunion.

A former reporter for The Associated Press, Mr. Coyne retired from the Fed in 1998 after a career that spanned four Fed chairmen - Arthur Burns, G. William Miller, Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan.

During his time as director of public affairs, the central bank evolved from a highly secretive institution to one more willing to explain its decisions on interest rates to the public. That process has continued under current Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.

The Fed came under heavy criticism in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Mr. Volcker was pushing interest rates to levels not seen since the Civil War to deal with high inflation triggered by the oil shocks of the 1970s.

Mr. Coyne, writing about those times, remembered that he had to deal with angry consumer groups, home builders mailing hundreds of two-by-four pieces of lumber from unbuilt homes to the Fed and car dealers sending in keys from unsold cars.

To deal with the protests, Mr. Coyne set up meetings for Mr. Volcker and other Fed officials to explain the central bank’s programs which, Mr. Coyne wrote, “broke the back of inflation and laid the groundwork” for a sustained period of economic growth.

ARIZONA

Giffords returns to Texas after visit to home state

TUCSON — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has returned to Houston following a brief weekend visit to Arizona.

She arrived in Tucson Friday evening with her husband, retired astronaut and Navy Capt. Mark Kelly. Her spokesman, Mark Kimble, confirmed to The Associated Press Monday afternoon.

Mr. Kimble called the weekend trip very uneventful for Ms. Giffords as she continues to recover from a head wound suffered Jan. 8 when a gunman opened fire outside a Tucson-area grocery store while meeting constituents.

It was her second trip to Arizona since being discharged from a Houston rehab hospital in June.

CONGRESS

Lawmakers return amid sour mood over economy

Congress is reconvening this week for what could be a painful confrontation over how to put Americans back to work.

Lawmakers returning after a monthlong recess are in accord on at least one thing: Jobs policy must be at the top of the agenda.

But there’s little hope they will be able to put aside their differences long enough to come up with legislation that makes measurable improvements either to the unemployment rate or Congress‘ dismal approval rate.

Even the main attraction of the first week back - President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress - was put in place only after a fight between House Republicans and the White House over the timing of the primetime event, which has been pushed back a day to Thursday.