THE RESET: Obama can cheer progress on nominations

Tuesday - 2/26/2013, 11:02pm EST

FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2013, file photo, Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. A deeply divided Senate is moving toward a vote on President Barack Obama’s contentious choice of Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department, with the former Republican senator on track to win confirmation after a protracted political fight. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)

TOM RAUM
Associated Press

Although scant progress has been made toward averting deep automatic budget cuts that begin Friday, President Barack Obama can welcome some forward motion elsewhere -- on Cabinet nominations and on the economy.

After contentious confirmation hearings, the nominations of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to be defense secretary and former White House Chief of Staff Jacob Lew as Treasury secretary both advanced Tuesday.

The Senate overcame Republican delaying tactics, voting 71 to 27 to move ahead on Hagel. Sixty votes had been required. The Senate was expected to confirm Hagel as early as later Tuesday.

And the Senate Finance Committee approved Lew's nomination, 19-5, to succeed Timothy Geithner, sending it to the full Senate for a confirmation vote in the days ahead.

Also, new private economic forecasts suggest the U.S. economy was stronger at the close 2012 than first reported.

The Commerce Department had said the economy shrank at a 0.1 percent annual rate in the October-December quarter, but it is expected to revise that upward on Thursday to show a slight gain. That would follow upgrades by private forecasters.

That suggests the economy, while sluggish, isn't in recession territory.

Also, home prices rose at a healthy pace in December compared with a year ago, and strong earnings reports came from Home Depot and Macy's.

Obama continued attempting end runs around Congress to rally public support in locales and before audiences that would be hardest hit by the looming "sequester" spending cuts. He spoke Tuesday at Newport News Shipbuilding on the impact of the cuts on defense industries and the Virginia economy.

Republicans accuse him of failing to help negotiate ways to soften the blows while insisting on new tax increases. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., calls him a "road show president."

Democrats counter that Republicans are foot dragging. "It is critical that Republicans and Democrats come together to find a balanced way to avert these drastic cuts," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

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