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Saturday, 09 November 2013 09:25

The shutdown's surprise effect on jobs numbers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government shutdown may have affected October's jobs numbers. But not how you think.

In the height of irony, the 16 days of federal worker furloughs and government disruptions may have helped, not hurt, the improved jobs picture.

Because of the shutdown, the Bureau of Labor Statistics delayed the release of the jobs numbers by one week to allow more time to collect payroll and household data. That extra time resulted in an above average response rate for payroll data.

A stronger participation rate can skew the hiring numbers up. As a result, to some economists, Friday's robust jobs number is looking slightly inflated.

Published in National News

   SPRINGFIELD, IL (AP) - State officials say federal employees in Illinois who were furloughed during the shutdown have to repay unemployment insurance benefits.

   The Illinois Department of Employment Security said Monday in a release that preliminary data shows that of the 2,937 federal workers who applied for unemployment insurance, 577 went on to be paid benefits. That represents a total of $231,174.

   The department says that the employees will be sent notices that the money must be repaid. If it isn't, department officials can take steps to recover the money like garnishing tax refunds.

   IDES Director Jay Rowell says the partial shutdown "needlessly scared" scores of workers.

   The partial federal government shutdown lasted 16 days.

 
Published in Local News
Friday, 18 October 2013 03:29

Budget crisis exposes deepening rift in GOP

   BOSTON (AP) — Lawmakers and strategists from the Republican Party's establishment are lashing out at tea partiers and congressional conservatives whose unflinching demands triggered the 16-day partial government shutdown and sent the GOP's popularity plunging to record lows.

   The open criticism is a stark reversal from just three years ago when the GOP embraced new energy from the insurgent group to fuel a return to power in the House.

   For a party in an extended identity crisis, the intensifying clash between those in its mainstream and those on its far-right wing muddies its strategy ahead of the 2014 elections.

   In the view of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, House Republicans overreached during the budget impasse by believing "we have one-half of one-third of the power in Washington, therefore we have three-fourths of the ability to get things done."

   Republicans run the House, but Democrats control the Senate and the White House.

   Bush, a potential 2016 presidential candidate who was hosting an education conference in Boston, argued that congressional Republicans represent "the mirror opposite" of the successes of GOP governors.

   Other party elders, whose calls for compromise were often overshadowed by the tea party in recent weeks, blamed conservative groups such as Heritage Action, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth. They were influential during the debate, at times promising to help defeat Republicans lawmakers who voted for a compromise with Democrats.

   "The right is a multiplicity of various groups, some of which aren't even Republicans, but who think they can control the Republican Party," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, condemning tactics he referred to as "radicalness."

   Republican strategist Mike Murphy chided what he called "the stupid wing of the Republican Party."

   "There's tension and there ought to be a questioning of whether we ought to listen to such bad advice," Murphy said when asked about the influence of conservative groups. "We took a huge brand hit. It's self-inflicted. ... I'm glad there are no elections tomorrow."

   The government reopened Thursday after Congress voted the night before to end the shutdown and increase the nation's borrowing authority, narrowly averting what business leaders feared would be economic disaster with global implications.

   Polls suggest that voters overwhelmingly disapproved of congressional Republicans' handling of the crises.

   Gallup found earlier in the month that just 28 percent of Americans reported a favorable opinion of the GOP, its lowest rating since the firm began such polling about the two parties in 1992. Republicans may have fared worse than Democrats during the ordeal, but neither party escaped political damage.

   "There are no winners here," President Barack Obama said Thursday.

   The compromise package, brokered by a group of moderate Senate Republicans and Democrats, funds the government through Jan. 15. To head off a default, the agreement gives the government the authority to borrow what it needs through Feb. 7. Treasury officials will be able to use bookkeeping maneuvers to delay a potential default for several weeks beyond that date, as they have done in the past.

   Lawmakers are now trying to find agreement on how to replace this year's automatic, across-the-board spending cuts with more orderly deficit reduction. But the showdown and subsequent criticism from establishment Republicans seemed to embolden defiant conservatives, who promised more hard-line tactics in the coming months. Some pledged to work harder than ever to defeat Republicans who stand in their way.

   "Congress has failed," the Tea Party Express said in a fundraising message.

   Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a tea party favorite, hinted at primary challenges for Republican incumbents "from sea to shining sea" just hours after Congress voted to end the shutdown.

   "Friends, do not be discouraged by the shenanigans of D.C.'s permanent political class," she wrote on her Facebook page. "Be energized. We're going to shake things up in 2014."

   The Club for Growth on Thursday endorsed a GOP challenger to Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who has yet to decide whether he will seek re-election next year. Tea party groups are also supporting the conservative challenger to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky while backing like-minded candidates in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

   Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she hopes her party would move toward "common-sense problem solvers" in the future.

   "I don't want to go down this road again," she said in an interview with The Associated Press, noting that she disagreed with congressional conservatives' tactics during the budget fight. "What we take from this experience is that there are obviously common-sense problem solvers, and that's where the party needs to be."

   Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad is among those pushing for mainstream Republicans to play a more significant role in party politics.

   "We don't have leadership in Washington, D.C.," Branstad said of his party, making an exception for Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who is helping lead bipartisan budget talks and headlining a Branstad fundraiser next month. "There's a lot of governors around this country who could run this country a lot better than people in Washington."

   ___

   Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, and news survey specialist Dennis Junius in Washington contributed to this report.

Published in National News

   WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has signed a measure into law reopening the federal government and averting a potential default.

   The White House says Obama signed the bill early Thursday, hours after the House gave final approval.

   The White House budget office has already instructed federal workers to plan to return to work Thursday morning.

   The measure restores funding for the government through Jan. 15 and extends the nation's borrowing authority through Feb. 7.

   The partial government shutdown started Oct. 1. The U.S. was to reach its debt limit Thursday if no deal was reached.

   As the deal neared final passage in the House Wednesday, Obama said it was now time for leaders in Washington to win back the trust of Americans that was lost during the debt-and-spending crisis.

Published in National News
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 11:45

2 parties bicker over blame for parks shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) - As congressional leaders raced to seal a deal that would reopen the government, lawmakers from both parties jabbed at one another Wednesday over who was to blame for the most high-profile casualties of the 16-day shutdown: the national parks.

 

   At a House hearing, members of Congress focused on the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, where veterans were initially denied access after the government closed on Oct. 1. A crowd that included Republican lawmakers converged on the memorial Sunday, pushing past barriers to protest the site's closure.

 

   The memorial and other national park units have become a political symbol as lawmakers bicker over blame for the park closings.

 

   Republicans say many parks and open-air monuments did not need to be closed, but Democrats said the GOP had only itself to blame for the shutdown, after Republicans demanded that measures to defund the new health care law be included in bills to keep the government open.

 

   Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., held up a mirror at the hearing and invited Republicans to look at it to find the cause of the shutdown.

 

   Governors in at least five states have reopened national parks such as the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty in recent days, but Republicans say the measures were too little, too late.

 

   Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the National Park Service appears to have intentionally made the shutdown "as painful and visible as possible."

 

   Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis denied that, saying that turning away visitors "is not in our DNA."

 

   Jarvis called the agreements with governors that have allowed some parks to reopen "a practical and temporary solution that will lessen the pain for some businesses and communities - a Band-Aid until Congress passes an appropriations bill."

 

   Jarvis, who appeared at the hearing only after being issued a subpoena, urged Congress to reopen the government so his agency can reopen all 401 national park units.

 

   Republicans, including Hastings and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the Park Service acted in a political and provocative manner when it set up barricades at open-air monuments such as the World War II Memorial and placed traffic cones along highway viewing areas outside Mount Rushmore and other parks.

 

   Hastings heads the House Natural Resources Committee, while Issa leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The committees held the joint hearing.

 

   Jarvis defended placement of barricades at the World War II Memorial and other sites, saying that all but a dozen park service employees who work at the National Mall have been furloughed. Given the limited staff resources during the shutdown, "prudent and practical steps were taken to secure life and property at these national icons where security has become increasingly complex in a post-9/11 world," he said.

 

   Contrary to the assertion of several Republican lawmakers, Jarvis said the Park Service allowed veterans and their families to visit the World War II Memorial.

 

   "We know that visits of America's World War II veterans to the memorial are pilgrimages that many of them will only make once," he said. "Throughout the shutdown, we have worked diligently to try and ensure that no Honor Flight group, veteran, or their family has been turned away from visiting the veterans' memorials."

 

   An organization called the Honor Flight Network brings World War II veterans to Washington.

 

   Other visitors also are allowed at the memorial under an exception that allows First Amendment activities, Jarvis said.

 

   Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., was not impressed. He said Jarvis's decision to set up barricades at the Lincoln and World War II memorials was "wrong" and mean-spirited.

 

   "You besmirched (the Park Service's) reputation and soured relations with Congress," Lamborn told Jarvis. "In my opinion you have failed."

 

   Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., denounced Lamborn's comment and called Jarvis an "exemplary" public servant. Connolly called the hearing a "theater of the absurd" and "an audacious attempt by the majority to deflect responsibility and blame for the real-world consequences of a government shutdown."

 

   GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, along with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, were among those at the World War II Memorial on Sunday. Cruz, Lee and other tea party-backed lawmakers refused to keep the government operating unless President Barack Obama agreed to defund the nation's health care overhaul.

Published in National News
Tuesday, 15 October 2013 02:26

Tax deadline not delayed by gov't shutdown

   Even a partial government shutdown that has most IRS workers furlough won't affect Tuesday's tax deadline.  

   Tax filers who requested a six month extension back in April must file their taxes by today.  

   Officials with the Internal Revenue Service say the shutdown hasn't changed that, but it has halted any refund checks until normal government operations resume.  

   There's also no one there to take calls or answer taxpayer questions, since more than 90 percent of IRS workers are on furlough.

Published in National News

One of the largest employers in the St. Louis area might be forced to furlough its workers if the government shutdown.

Boeing spokesman Dan Beck tells the St. Louis Business Journal that the company's workforce reductions could be caused by customer-issued, stop-work orders, funding cuts, or a shortage of government inspectors.  Boeing's workers at its Hazelwood-based Defense, Space & Security unit would be the ones affected by the furloughs.

The unit has over 15,000 full-time employees in St. Louis. 

Published in Local News

   NEOSHO, Mo. (AP) - Several southwest Missouri school districts that have planned new safe rooms since a deadly May 2011 tornado destroyed much of Joplin say their projects could be delayed by the federal shutdown.

   In Neosho that means more than $10 million in projects are on hold because there's nobody at the Federal Emergency Management Agency that can approve the work. Similar projects in Webb City, Avilla and Joplin also are in limbo because of the shutdown.

   The Joplin Globe reports school officials believe a delay in awarding contracts could mean construction on the safe rooms might have to be pushed back until next year.

   An architect for several of the projects says it takes six to eight weeks to complete the bid process after FEMA approves of the designs.

 
Published in Local News

   CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Pat Quinn's budget office says most state workers whose salaries are paid by federal money are back on the job, but more layoffs could come if the federal shutdown continues.

   Roughly 100 workers were issued temporary layoffs last week, including employees with the Department of Military Affairs, the Illinois Department of Employment Security and Labor Department.

   Quinn's budget office says temporary layoffs for more than 70 employees expired Wednesday. The U.S. House has approved back pay for some workers.

   More than three dozen workers are still off the job, including Labor employees who conduct work site safety inspections. More state layoffs could be issued next week.

   Quinn has sent U.S. House Speaker John Boehner a letter, urging the shutdown's end and predicting hundreds more layoffs if the shutdown continues.

 

Published in Local News

Civilian employees, who were furloughed from Scott Air Force Base last week, are back at work.  Scott spokeswoman Karen Petitt says the 35-hundred affected workers were notified Sunday that they should be back on the job today.

The decision came after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this weekend ordered 350,000 military personnel, furloughed by the federal government's shutdown, back on the job.  Those workers at Scott represent about two-thirds of the installation's non-military staff of 13,000 employees.  Scott Air Force Base is one of the region's largest employers.

Published in Local News
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