Morning Briefing: December 15, 2011

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared an official end to the U.S. war in Iraq today, concluding the nearly nine year mission. In total, over 1 million American troops served in Iraq since 2003, including about 4,487 who were killed and 30,000 who were wounded. The State Department will oversee a $6 billion civilian effort to sustain American influence in Iraq after the troops leave.

New jobless claims dropped to 3.5-year low last week, according to the latest unemployment data from the Labor Department, out this morning. Initial claims dropped to 366,000, the lowest number since before Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008.

Nearly half of the country’s public schools failed to meet federal standards in 2011, the largest rate of failure in the 10-year history of No Child Left Behind, according to a report released today. The report found that 48 percent of public schools, including 89 percent of schools in Florida, failed to meet “adequate yearly progress” in 2011.

A new defense authorization act, including controversial provisions about the detention of terror suspects, passed the House last night. Democrats split on the bill, with 93 voting in favor and 93 voting against, but President Obama indicated that he would likely sign the bill by rescinding his veto threat.

For the third time this year, Congress is entertaing the prospect of shutting down the government over their partisan bickering. The government will run out of money on Friday but congressional Republicans are using the threat of a shutdown to demand the passage of unrelated restrictions and riders on issues like abortion and energy standards.

President Obama and Democrats suggested they would drop the proposed millionaires surtax in order to extend the payroll tax cut. There is no formal offer, but one Democratic aide said, “[we’ve] made a significant step in that direction, but Republicans don’t seem to care whether a tax increase for the middle class is prevented — so we remain at a standoff.”

Census data reveals that nearly half of Americans have fallen into poverty or are now low-income, depicting a middle class “that’s shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government’s safety net frays.” As states continue to cut back on aid programs for the needy, mayors in 29 cities say more than 1 in 4 people needing emergency food assistance did not receive it.”

One in four women say that been victims of domestic abuse, according to a new government report. The number of women who have been “been hit hard, kicked or otherwise violently attacked by their intimate partners” is higher than previously estimated.

And finally: Congress is more unpopular than ever and even lawmakers aren’t happy with themselves. Asked what he would do if a version of himself from 20 or 30 years ago were suddenly transported to the current day Congress, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) said, “I’d probably want to go and vomit.”