If you look at the forecasts, Europe and the U.S. are starting 2012 off on different economic trajectories. Europe is heading for a near-inescapable second recession after manufacturing output dropped in December for the fifth straight month. The United States, on the other hand, seemed to be on the upswing in December—the job and housing markets improved, the payroll tax cut was extended (finally), and consumer spending rose. “There is a sense of decoupling,” Maury Harris, chief economist at UBS Securities, toldBloomberg Businessweek.
Pundits can't decide whether the future looks bright for the American economy, or the new year will bring doomsday. On the positive side, unemployment compensation claims are at their lowest levels in more than three years, housing sales are up, the stock market is making a comeback, and confidence in the economy is growing. On the negative side, there's Europe. If the continent drops into a big recession, the United States is in danger of losing the small economic gains it won in the past year.
Congress had debt on the brain in 2011—fights over the debt ceiling, the Supercommittee, the Bush tax cuts, and voucherizing Medicare—but it amounted to just talk. It was a weird issue to focus on in the year before a big election, since most voters find unemployment and the general economy more important problems to tackle than the federal deficit. And, it turns out that this obsession with the debt was a bad idea for more than Congress' approval rating.
A favorite trope of election coverage is to compare the current race to past elections. Is Barack Obama Jimmy Carter in 1980? Is 2012 a repeat of the 2004 election? Or is this year going to be just like 1896? With Mitt Romney, however, there's a far easier comparison: Mitt Romney in 2008. In the last presidential election cycle, Romney faced many of the same criticisms he does now: He was accused of being a flip-flopper and assailed for his religion and personal wealth. His failure to respond effectively to these accusations—and his fateful decision to stake his campaign on a win in Iowa—were his downfall.
Congress' studied effort at ignoring the Occupy movement isn't that surprising when you take a look at legislators' tax returns: Many representatives sit comfortably in the 1 percent. Between 1984 and 2009, the median income of members of the House ballooned from $280,000—an already impressive figure—to $725,000, according to the new Panel Study of Income Dynamics from the University of Michigan. An analysis of the study in The Washington Post did not include figures for the Senate. In comparison, the median income of an American family has slipped from $20,600 to $20,500 over the same time period.