Monday, April 30, 2012



Too many moving parts ... it's a big government is no excuse!

Federal Budget in Pictures Shows America’s Spending and Debt Crises

The Heritage Foundation’s newly released Federal Budget in Pictures 2012 edition (previously called the Budget Chart Book) offers a unique tool to learn about the federal budget in a clear and compelling way.
Debt and Deficits chart 1 shows that publicly held debt is set to skyrocket as deficit spending explodes to finance runaway spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. If government spending continues on its current trajectory, in less than 20 years each man, woman, and child in America will owe more than $100,000 for their share of the federal credit card. (Article continued below)
Entitlement spending is the largest driver of America’s looming spending and debt crises. Entitlements chart 2 demonstrates this fact by showing that, without transformational reforms, spending on Medicare, Medicaid, the Obamacare subsidies, and Social Security will devour all tax revenues by 2045(Article continued below)
President Obama laid out his vision for America’s future in February in his fiscal year 2013 budget. The President proposed no meaningful entitlement reforms, but he would rack up more spending and debt and hike taxes by $2 trillion—even though history shows that increasing tax rates does not necessarily lead to higher income tax receipts. Higher taxes on working, saving, and investing would, however, discourage the productive activities that enable the American economy to grow and the American people to get back to work. American businesses are already hamstrung internationally, as the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the world.


Sunday, April 29, 2012



04/27/2012 06:26 PM

Setting Sun

Eastern Germany Hit Hard by Decline of Solar

THe global solar industry has entered a brutal phase of consolidation and nowhere are the effects as dramatic as in eastern Germany. Several companies have already declared bankruptcy, leaving towns and cities in the region struggling with job losses and tax revenue shortfalls. The future bodes ill.

The sun, it was said, was going to save Frankfurt an der Oder, a city of 60,000 on the Polish border. After years of post-reunification economic doldrums, whose nadir came with the 2003 failure of a much-ballyhooed microchip factory project, the burgeoning German solar industry took an interest in the down-on-its-luck city.

In 2006, solar-panel manufacturer Conergy moved into the never-used computer chip factory, joining Odersun, already headquartered in the city. In 2007, the United States solar giant First Solar opened a factory as well, followed by a second one last year.

Now, though, the future suddenly looks decidedly dark. Odersun declared bankruptcy in March and Conergy, while pledging to return to profit this year, has seen its share price lose 99.6 percent of its value in the last five years. Many doubt the company will survive. Worst of all, however, was the announcement earlier this month that First Solar was closing both of its factories in Frankfurt an der Oder; 1,200 people will soon be jobless as a result.

"We saw the solar industry as a chance to reindustrialize the region and invested significantly in incentives," Frankfurt an der Oder Mayor Martin Wilke told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "This is a serious setback. It is a very difficult situation."

Frankfurt an der Oder's pain is far from an isolated case. The solar industry, once a beacon of hope for an eastern German economy that struggled for years to revive following reunification in 1990, is undergoing a brutal phase of consolidation. There is a massive surplus of global production capacity and the bad news for eastern Germany keeps getting worse. Last December, the Berlin company Solon, which employed hundreds in the Baltic Sea coast town of Greifswald, filed for bankruptcy. Aleo-Solar, based in Prenzlau north of Berlin, lost over €30 million (about $40 million) last year after turning a profit of €31.8 million in 2010, leading many to fear for their jobs there.

Jobs Otherwise Scarce
More significantly, Q-Cells, once the world's largest producer of solar cells, announced earlier this month that it was filing for bankruptcy, endangering 1,300 jobs in the eastern German town of Bitterfeld-Wolfen. While production is continuing at the site, the situation is extremely tenuous in an area where jobs are otherwise scarce.

The concern at the office of Bitterfeld-Wolfen Mayor Petra Wust is palpable. Wust ultimately declined an interview request from SPIEGEL ONLINE for fear of unsettling potential investors in the stricken solar company. A town spokesperson would only say: "It is clear that all this isn't nice for our town. We are trying to make the best of it, but it is a major blow."

The problems currently facing the solar industry are not isolated to Germany. According to a report issued last November by the Swiss bank Sarasin, overcapacity in solar module production has made a market shakeout inevitable. "The imbalances between production capacities and demand have become too great," the report stated. In 2011, the global production capacity for solar modules soared to 50 gigawatts, but the industry only managed to sell 21 gigawatts of that photovoltaic potential. Furthermore, the growth of solar companies in low-wage countries such as China has contributed to plummeting solar-panel prices.

"Primarily small, uncompetitive and poorly financed companies will not survive," the report warned. In its research, Sarasin specifically mentioned Conergy, Q-Cells and Sunways, which has a factory near the eastern German city of Erfurt, as being endangered.

Particularly Fragile
The growing crisis in the solar industry has not chosen to exclusively victimize eastern Germany. Solarhybrid, Solar Millennium and Scheuten Solar, all based in western Germany, likewise found themselves making their way to bankruptcy court recently. The Sarasin report also stated that Freiburg-based firm Solar-Fabrik faces an uncertain future as well.

But the eastern German economy remains particularly fragile, even more than 21 years after reunification. Although the region was left largely unscathed by the global economic crisis kicked off by the 2008 bankruptcy of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers, recent years haven't been very kind. Despite some urban bright spots, including the cities of Dresden, Leipzig and Jena, the eastern German economy has been growing more slowly than that in the west for the last two years, raising fears that the post-reunification disparity between the two regions may be growing again instead of shrinking. Not a single company listed on the German blue chip stock exchange index DAX is based in eastern Germany.

In short, despite vast economic and infrastructure improvements over the last decade, the region can ill afford the job losses that are associated with the solar downturn. "Currently, we see an acute risk to tens of thousands of the more than 100,000 German jobs in the solar industry, especially in the east," David Wedepohl of the German Solar Industry Association told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

J├╝rgen Trittin, parliamentary floor leader for the Green Party, went even further earlier this month when he said that eastern Germany is threatened by a "second deindustrialization."

Trittin's comment, of course, is infused with a heavy dose of political posturing. In March, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel announced its intention to cut solar feed-in tariffs by up to 30 percent, partially a result of the solar boom those subsidies helped to create. As solar capacity skyrocketed in the country, so did the costs associated with the feed-in tariffs, resulting in significant government expenditures for a technology that represents only a tiny portion of Germany's energy mix.

Cuts and Compensation
Such arguments, however, are not welcome in the solar industry. Insiders say that the months of political bickering that led up to the subsidy cuts contributed to a significant reduction in foreign investment in 2011. Politicians in eastern Germany are likewise furious, including many from within the ranks of Merkel's own conservative Christian Democrats. They argue that the sudden reduction of the feed-in tariffs is nothing less than a death sentence for Germany's solar energy. Indeed, some eastern German states have vowed to attempt to block or adjust the reduced subsidy regime when it comes up for approval in the Bundesrat, Germany's upper legislative chamber, on May 11.

For Frankfurt and many other production sites in eastern Germany, changes to the subsidy reductions, if they come at all, will be too late. Already, the city has frozen its budget due to expected tax revenue shortfalls of €28.5 million as a result of the First Solar factory closure, Mayor Wilke said.

"We will now have to look at areas where we can make cuts and compensate … to balance out this setback," Wilke said. "When the federal government is no longer reliable and changes policy, it has to realize that this has effects in certain regions. They can't expect those regions and municipalities to carry the costs alone."

Still, Wilke emphasizes that, with a healthy stable of well-trained workers, the situation is still better than it was 10 years ago. "We have to look ahead and not bury our heads in the sand," he said. "Nowadays, industries don't stay in the same place for decades. We have to begin looking for the next opportunity."


Tuesday, April 24, 2012



WASHINGTON (AP) — The college class of 2012 is in for a rude welcome to the world of work.

A weak labor market already has left half of young collegegraduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don't fully use their skills and knowledge.

Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs — waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example — and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans.

An analysis of government data conducted for The Associated Press lays bare the highly uneven prospects for holders of bachelor's degrees.

Opportunities for college graduates vary widely.

While there's strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder. Median wages for those with bachelor's degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating midlevel jobs such as bank tellers. Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.

Taking underemployment into consideration, the job prospects for bachelor's degree holders fell last year to the lowest level in more than a decade.

"I don't even know what I'm looking for," says Michael Bledsoe, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.

Initially hopeful that his college education would create opportunities, Bledsoe languished for three months before finally taking a job as a barista, a position he has held for the last two years. In the beginning he sent three or four resumes day. But, Bledsoe said, employers questioned his lack of experience or the practical worth of his major. Now he sends a resume once every two weeks or so.

Bledsoe, currently making just above minimum wage, says he got financial help from his parents to help pay off student loans. He is now mulling whether to go to graduate school, seeing few other options to advance his career. "There is not much out there, it seems," he said.

His situation highlights a widening but little-discussed labor problem. Perhaps more than ever, the choices that young adults make earlier in life — level of schooling, academic field and training, where to attend college, how to pay for it — are having long-lasting financial impact.

"You can make more money on average if you go to college, but it's not true for everybody," says Harvard economist Richard Freeman, noting the growing risk of a debt bubble with total U.S. student loan debt surpassing $1 trillion. "If you're not sure what you're going to be doing, it probably bodes well to take some job, if you can get one, and get a sense first of what you want from college."

Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University who analyzed the numbers, said many people with a bachelor's degree face a double whammy of rising tuition and poor job outcomes. "Simply put, we're failing kids coming out of college," he said, emphasizing that when it comes to jobs, a college major can make all the difference. "We're going to need a lot better job growth and connections to the labor market, otherwise college debt will grow."

By region, the Mountain West was most likely to have young college graduates jobless or underemployed — roughly 3 in 5. It was followed by the more rural southeastern U.S., including Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. The Pacific region, including Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, also was high on the list.

On the other end of the scale, the southern U.S., anchored by Texas, was most likely to have young college graduates in higher-skill jobs.

The figures are based on an analysis of 2011 Current Population Survey data by Northeastern University researchers and supplemented with material from Paul Harrington, an economist at Drexel University, and the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. They rely on Labor Department assessments of the level of education required to do the job in 900-plus U.S. occupations, which were used to calculate the shares of young adults with bachelor's degrees who were "underemployed."

About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. In 2000, the share was at a low of 41 percent, before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and IT fields.

Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year.

Broken down by occupation, young college graduates were heavily represented in jobs that require a high school diploma or less.

In the last year, they were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined (100,000 versus 90,000). There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionist or payroll clerk than in all computer professional jobs (163,000 versus 100,000). More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000).

According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor's degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren't easily replaced by computers.

College graduates who majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities were among the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their education level; those with nursing, teaching, accounting or computer science degrees were among the most likely.

In Nevada, where unemployment is the highest in the nation, Class of 2012 college seniors recently expressed feelings ranging from anxiety and fear to cautious optimism about what lies ahead.

With the state's economy languishing in an extended housing bust, a lot of young graduates have shown up at job placement centers in tears. Many have been squeezed out of jobs by more experienced workers, job counselors said, and are now having to explain to prospective employers the time gaps in their resumes.

"It's kind of scary," said Cameron Bawden, 22, who is graduating from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in December with a business degree. His family has warned him for years about the job market, so he has been building his resume by working part time on the Las Vegas Strip as a food runner and doing a marketing internship with a local airline.

Bawden said his friends who have graduated are either unemployed or working along the Vegas Strip in service jobs that don't require degrees. "There are so few jobs and it's a small city," he said. "It's all about who you know."

Any job gains are going mostly to workers at the top and bottom of the wage scale, at the expense of middle-income jobs commonly held by bachelor's degree holders. By some studies, up to 95 percent of positions lost during the economic recovery occurred in middle-income occupations such as bank tellers, the type of job not expected to return in a more high-tech age.

David Neumark, an economist at the University of California-Irvine, said a bachelor's degree can have benefits that aren't fully reflected in the government's labor data. He said even for lower-skilled jobs such as waitress or cashier, employers tend to value bachelor's degree-holders more highly than high-school graduates, paying them more for the same work and offering promotions.

In addition, U.S. workers increasingly may need to consider their position in a global economy, where they must compete with educated foreign-born residents for jobs. Longer-term government projections also may fail to consider "degree inflation," a growing ubiquity of bachelor's degrees that could make them more commonplace in lower-wage jobs but inadequate for higher-wage ones.

That future may be now for Kelman Edwards Jr., 24, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., who is waiting to see the returns on his college education.

After earning a biology degree last May, the only job he could find was as a construction worker for five months before he quit to focus on finding a job in his academic field. He applied for positions in laboratories but was told they were looking for people with specialized certifications.

"I thought that me having a biology degree was a gold ticket for me getting into places, but every other job wants you to have previous history in the field," he said. Edwards, who has about $5,500 in student debt, recently met with a career counselor at Middle Tennessee State University. The counselor's main advice: Pursue further education.

"Everyone is always telling you, 'Go to college,'" Edwards said. "But when you graduate, it's kind of an empty cliff."

Sunday, April 22, 2012


“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people” ... 

The 10th Amendment forbids Congress from exercising its commerce power to compel states to enter into contractual relations by effectively forcing states to “buy” radioactive waste. Hence “the power to regulate commerce does not include the power to compel a party to take title to goods or services against its will.” And if it is beyond Congress’s power to commandeer the states by compelling them to enter into contracts, it must likewise be beyond Congress’s power to commandeer individuals by requiring them to purchase insurance. Again, the 10th Amendment declares that any powers not given to the federal government are reserved to the states or to the people.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Mort Zuckerman: President Obama's Economic Programs Have Failed

The recovery has not yielded job vacancies, but here are five ways to cure our labor woes

The paradox is that the low labor costs which attract work abroad are now being visited on the American worker. In the past six months, according to a Bloomberg study, 70 percent of jobopenings have been in mostly low-wage sectors, including healthcare, leisure, hospitality, and retail. And some 7.7 million workers are stuck in part-time jobs, their pay inadequate for entry into the middle class. Why so much temporary employment? Because companies do not wish to pay for healthcare and retirement in a very uncertain economy, so they hedge their bets with short-term help.
Remarkably, as David Rosenberg, chief economist of Gluskin Sheff, has reported, two thirds of the employment growth rate has been in the 55 and older age cohort. Since the recession began in December 2007, employment in this age group is up 4 million, even as total employment for everyone else is down. What's going on here? The boomer population, Rosenberg notes, has seen its wealth destroyed by the bear market in equities and housing, and these people are now recalculating the date when they can retire with some sense of financial confidence and dignity. They know that if they quit without another job they face the real prospect of never working again, certainly not at their former pay levels, and that being without work means that they will receive lower retirement benefits from Social Security. So much for job mobility in America.
This creates a bottleneck for younger workers, especially young minorities. The jobless rate for workers ages 20 to 24 is over 13 percent; teenagers, 25 percent; Hispanic teenagers, 30.5 percent; and black teenagers, 37.9 percent.
Even people with a college education face unemployment rates of about 4.2 percent, which is about double the norm for this group. Those with a certificate from a community college or at least some college coursework have a jobless rate of 7.5 percent, again about double the norm; and people who did not finish high school have it worst at almost 13 percent.
Each month more Americans lose hope, permanently alienated from the workplace, their savings exhausted. The gradual expansion of the economy is too little to hope the cavalry is riding to the rescue. Real, authentic job creation will not come from Washington. It has to come out of the energy and spirits of the private sector. Two thirds of our employment is concentrated in 6 million small and medium-size businesses. We are not going to create jobs until they are in a state of mind to do so. They are not yet, and in part that's because of policy uncertainty that has depressed or confused them.
According to the Heritage Foundation, private sector hiring through June 2011 was 10 times slower following the passage of President Obama's healthcare bill compared to the prior 16 months. Economists at Stanford University and the University of Chicago estimated in the fall of 2011 that policy uncertainty has cost more than 2 million jobs since early 2010. These estimates reflect the small business community's reluctance to make new hires until employers know exactly what the law means in practice. The high level of temporary employment is a reflection of the same uncertainty. Businesses hedge their bets with short-term help.
We need 1 million new businesses every year to keep us on the right track. Instead we have only about 400,000 firms starting up. We need a labor market that creates over 400,000 jobs a month. We haven't seen anything like that. In fact, through the first few months of 2012, layoff announcements have risen 18 percent from a year ago, and hiring plans have dropped 82 percent.

Thursday, April 19, 2012



Wednesday, April 18, 2012



April 16, 2012

The White House Argument

I’ve been critical of President Obama’s budgets. I’ve argued that while I like the way Obama preserves spending on things like scientific research and programs for the vulnerable, he doesn’t do enough to avoid a debt crisis.
I’ve based that argument on certain facts. President Obama’s 2013 budget will add roughly $6 trillion to the nation’s debt over the next 10 years. [By 2022, Americans will be spending $915 billion on interest payments on the debt alone, a number far larger than that year’s entire defense budget. HERE'S MY QUESTION: WHO'S ECONOMY WILL THESE INTEREST PAYMENTS BE SUPPORTING?  FURTHER MORE, WHAT IS THE POLITICS OF THAT GOVERNMENT?]
If you look further out, the situation is worse. According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, by 2050, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget would cut total public debt to 10 percent of G.D.P. Current law would put debt at 42 percent of G.D.P. Under the Obama budget, debt would skyrocket to 124 percent of G.D.P.
Extremely senior members of the administration believe these sorts of criticisms are completely unfair and vastly underestimate their fiscal hawkishness. In this column, I thought it only fair that I provide you with a summary of their arguments.
First, their goals. They argue that it’s foolish to try to solve the debt problem with some drastic magic bullet all at once. It’s smarter to stabilize the debt while also looking after other needs, like protecting the vulnerable and investing in things that boost growth and mobility.
They argue that the president’s 2013 budget is a step toward fiscal stability that will also pave the way for bigger steps in the years ahead. They estimate that their budget would produce $5 trillion in budget savings over a decade. It would raise $1.5 trillion in new revenue by raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.
There would also be a broad range of spending cuts. These include the $1.7 trillion in cuts the administration agreed to in the budget deals with Republicans over the summer, and several others (including the somewhat gimmicky $617 billion “cut” by not fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for another decade).
Further, the president is parsimonious when it comes to domestic spending. The White House has prepared a series of charts to illustrate the administration’s fiscal discipline. The most interesting concerns domestic discretionary spending, which is spending on things like education, welfare and social support. Going back to 1962, domestic spending has hovered around 3.3 percent of G.D.P. In big-spending years (the Jimmy Carter years), it rose to about 4.4 percent. In low-spending years (Ronald Reagan’s and Bill Clinton’s second terms), it fell to about 2.9 percent of G.D.P.
During Obama’s presidency, domestic spending topped out at 4 percent of G.D.P. But, in the Obama budget, over the next 10 years, that spending would fall to 2.2 percent, much lower than anything Reagan achieved. Under Paul Ryan’s budget, by the way, that spending would fall to 1.8 percent, which the Obama administration regards as savagely low.
These officials say the administration has also made modest but important progress in controlling Medicare spending, the biggest debt driver. The budget raises some Medicare premiums on high-income retirees and increases some deductibles. White House officials say they have taken enormous heat from the left for putting some structural Medicare reforms on the table — cutting benefits, raising eligibility ages and changing cost-of-living adjustments. Republican leaders, they point out, have not done anything that brave.
Over all, they continue, the president’s budget stabilizes the debt in a way that is relatively gimmick-free. Annual federal deficits, which are at about 8 percent now, would come down to around 3 percent between 2015 and 2022.
The total federal debt is now at about 74 percent of G.D.P. Under Obama’s plan, it would rise to 78.4 percent of G.D.P. in 2014 and then stabilize at about 76.5 percent from 2018 to 2022.
Basically, what we’re looking at is a period of stability, administration officials say, which would soothe credit markets and give us time to make further adjustments. This, they conclude, is responsible prudence.
I’m not going to pass my own comprehensive judgment on this here. I’ll just say that my conversations reaffirm my conviction that Obama is a pragmatic liberal who cares about fiscal sustainability, who has been willing to compromise for its sake, but who has not offered anything close to a sufficient program to avoid a debt crisis.
But we have a campaign in front of us. If the president is truly committed to a strategy for progressive fiscal stability, as Bill Clinton was, he’ll make that the center of his campaign. He’ll earn a mandate. He’ll win over independents who want fiscal discipline but worry about the way Republicans get there.
If he doesn’t have a passion for fiscal stability, he’ll campaign on side issues and try to win by scaring everybody about the other side.
We’ll see.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Obama setting up Supreme Court as a campaign issue

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak


WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is laying groundwork to make the majority-conservative Supreme Court a campaign issue this fall, taking a political page from Republicans who have long railed against liberal judges who don't vote their way.

The emerging Democratic strategy to paint the court as extreme was little noted in this week's hubbub over Obama's assertion that overturning his health care law would be "unprecedented."

His statement Monday wasn't completely accurate, and the White House backtracked. But Obama was making a political case, not a legal one, and he appears ready to keep making it if the high court's five-member majority strikes down or cuts the heart out of his signature policy initiative.

The court also is likely to consider several other issues before the November election that could stir Obama's core Democratic supporters and draw crucial independent voters as well. Among those are immigration, voting rights and a revisit of a campaign finance ruling that Obama has already criticized as an outrage.

"We haven't seen the end of this," said longtime Supreme Court practitioner Tom Goldstein, who teaches at Stanford and Harvard universities. "The administration seems to be positioning itself to be able to run against the Supreme Court if it needs to or wants to."

While Obama has predicted victory in the health care case now before the court, his administration could blame overreach by Republican-appointed justices if the law is rejected, said Goldstein, who wrote a brief supporting the law's constitutionality.

This can be dangerous ground, as Obama discovered. Since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, few presidents have directly assailed the Supreme Court. In Obama's case, he issued an indirect challenge, but the former constitutional law professor tripped over the details.

Obama told a news conference on Monday that he was "confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress."

The Supreme Court does sometimes overturn laws passed by Congress. Obama later clarified that he was referring to a narrow class of constitutional law, but even then Republicans and some court scholars took issue. What's not in question is that the law wasn't approved by a strong, majority - the vote was a slim 219 to 212 in the House.

A Republican-appointed federal judge took umbrage at the suggestion that federal courts might be powerless to overturn such laws, and ordered the Justice Department to provide written assurance. He insisted the response be at least three pages, single-spaced.

Attorney General Eric Holder took on that task himself, telling the judge Thursday that "the longstanding, historical position of the United States regarding judicial review of the constitutionality of federal legislation has not changed."

He also took the opportunity to cite Supreme Court case law supporting the premise that laws passed by Congress are "presumptively constitutional."

The Supreme Court heard a rare three days of argument on the 2010 health care overhaul last week, and the court's conservative majority appeared deeply skeptical of the key provision, a requirement for individual health insurance. Justice Antonin Scalia, for one, appeared strongly in favor of striking down the entire law. A decision is expected by July.

Also Thursday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell had his say on presidents and the Supreme Court.

"The president did something that as far as I know is completely unprecedented. He not only tried to publicly pressure the court into deciding a pending case in the way he wants it decided; he also questioned its very authority under the Constitution," McConnell said.

The constitutional issue aside, Obama made it clear that the thrust of his argument is political. He ticked off popular elements of the law that are already in force, and said the consequences of losing those protections would be grave for young people and the elderly, in particular.

"I'd just remind conservative commentators that for years what we've heard is, `The biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint,' - that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law," Obama said. "Well, this is a good example. And I'm pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step."

Obama narrowed and clarified his original statement on Tuesday, under questioning at The Associated Press annual meeting. His spokesman spent the next two days explaining and defending both statements on both legal and political grounds.

As a former law professor, "the president understands judicial precedent. He has a little experience with it, and the importance of judicial review," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.

University of Texas Law School professor and Supreme Court scholar Lucas Powe said Obama's original statement suggests he probably knows the law is in trouble and is seeking political high ground.

"My instinct is that he was laying predicate for a campaign statement," Powe said. "People said he was threatening the court. You can't threaten the Supreme Court."

It wasn't the first time Obama criticized the court. He blasted the court's then-fresh campaign finance ruling in his 2010 State of the Union address.

"The Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections," Obama said then.

That earned an on-the-spot rebuttal from conservative Justice Samuel Alito. Alito, sitting in the front row, was seen to mouth, "Not true."

Democrats and many constitutional scholars were also appalled by the court's actions in 2000, when it took on the disputed presidential election and effectively called the race for Republican George W. Bush. Justice John Paul Stevens, a lifelong Republican appointed by President Gerald Ford, warned in a bitter dissent that the court risked undermining its own authority by appearing nakedly political.

The current back and forth turns a standard Republican campaign rallying cry on its head. Over the past three decades, Republicans have increasingly criticized judges as liberal and unaccountable, charging "judicial activism" has infected the court system.

The Supreme Court was a regular target, even during the tenure of conservative Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

The court has had a conservative majority for more than a decade. But while the court was far from a rubber stamp for Bush, it took the election of Democrat Obama to draw a sharp contrast between the court and the executive.

Both Democrats and Republicans are being disingenuous by using the court as a political instrument, said Orin Kerr, a prominent conservative Supreme Court expert.

"Judicial activism is a two-way street, and when the politics switch most people reverse arguments," said Kerr, a professor at George Washington University Law School. "Liberals are sounding like conservatives and conservatives are sounding like liberals."