ThinkFast: February 5, 2010

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The unemployment rate dropped unexpectedly in January to 9.7 percent from 10 percent while employers shed 20,000 jobs.” According to the Labor Department, the number of employed Americans rose by 541,000.

An “aggressive lobbying campaign by the nation’s biggest student lenders” threatens to derail legislation that would overhaul student loans by ending subsidies to private lenders. The nation’s largest student lender, Sallie Mae, spent $9 million lobbying in 2009 alone.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) reportedly “ripped into White House senior adviser David Axelrod this week during a tense, closed-door session with Senate Democrats.” Franken criticized Axelrod for White House’s lack of leadership on health care reform and other major pieces of legislation. “There was a lot of frustration in there,” said one unnamed Democratic senator.

President Obama called yesterday for Democratic leaders in Congress to finish working out differences on health care and then “call on our Republican friends to present their ideas.” “The American people can see and compare,” said Obama, and then “we’ve got to move forward on a vote.”

Saying the White House would never release information that “could endanger an operation,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called on Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) to apologize “to the law enforcement community” for accusing President Obama in a letter of leaking information the FBI did not want released.

Vice President Biden said yesterday that he has never seen the filibuster become “standard operating procedure” in the Senate and that “he regrets the divisive changes that have come as GOP leaders began demanding 60 votes on nearly all procedural matters.” But “stopped just short” of endorsing filibuster reform.

In recent weeks, “the U.S. military has reprimanded an unusually large number of commanders for battlefield failures in Afghanistan,” indicating “a new push by the top brass to hold commanders responsible for major incidents in which troops are killed or wounded.”

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said yesterday that conditions there are no longer deteriorating, as he had written in a memo to President Obama last year. “I feel differently now,” he said, adding, “I’m not prepared to say we are winning. I am prepared to say we are very much engaged, and I’m confident we’re going to see serious progress this year.”

Congress “approved a record $1.9 trillion debt ceiling increase” yesterday along with the reinstatement of “pay-go” rules used in the 1990s. The increase was approved in a narrow 217-212 vote.

And finally: The stakes are high for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), whose teams are competing in Sunday’s Super Bowl. Jindal was on Fox and Friends today saying that Daniels has agreed to fly the “Who Dat” flag in Indianapolis if the New Orleans Saints win. Jindal didn’t reveal what he would do if his team lost.

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