Morning Bulletin – Thursday, March 26, 2009

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
If you have a question to ask President Obama, today's your chance. At 11:30am ET, he'll be taking questions online during a virtual town meeting.

"President Barack Obama took questions from the White House press corps on Tuesday in a prime-time, East Room session that represented the most formal and time-honored of president-and-reporter interactions. On Thursday, he is taking to that same room for another public grilling — this time by regular folks armed with questions submitted via the Internet and in person, as part of a political strategy to engage Americans directly," reports the Associated Press' Philip Elliot.

"Obama used the Internet to build a grass-roots movement that delivered the presidency and raised unheard-of money. Now in power, he is employing the same online network and style to speak — unfiltered — with Americans."

CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports, "As of 8:30am, The White House website logged over 76,000 people submitting more than 84,000 questions and casting more than 3-milllion votes for which questions should be asked. The top 20 or so were mostly about funding for education, teachers and requests that the government pay off student loans."

"The President will answer questions about the economy submitted and voted on by the public through WhiteHouse.gov and engage a live audience for follow-up questions afterwards," The White House said in a press release.

"Jared Bernstein, chief economist for Vice President Biden, will facilitate the town hall, reading some of the most popular questions from the website and cueing video questions. The audience will be composed of approximately 100 people, including teachers, nurses, small business owners, and community leaders – and an audience of thousands across the country who will watch the event via webstream at WhiteHouse.gov/OpenForQuestions."

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
A White House spokesman adds: "This first round will deal with a chief concern for all of us: the economy. We've created a few categories to better organize the questions, and encourage folks to search for a specific question before submitting their own in case it already exists. This experiment is about encouraging transparency and accountability, so people should ask the President exactly what it is they want to know – but let others do the same. It is a community-moderated system, but people should remember that even though they may not like the viewpoint behind someone's question, everyone has a right to their opinion. Also remember that Americans of all ages will be participating in this event, so we want people to be thoughtful about the words they choose. Participants are asked to follow some basic guidelines for submitting their own questions and flagging other questions as inappropriate."

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
FINANCIAL INDUSTRY OVERSIGHT: This morning at 10am ET, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will testify on Capitol Hill to the House Finance Committee where he'll "address the need for comprehensive regulatory reform," per a Treasury Department official.

"In his opening statement, Secretary Geithner will lay out a broad framework to establish the rules of the road needed to restore faith in the financial system. The comprehensive framework will encompass four broad areas – systemic risk, consumer and investor protection, eliminating gaps in our regulatory structure and international coordination."

The Washington Post's Binyamin Applebaum and David Cho have more details: "Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner plans to propose today a sweeping expansion of federal authority over the financial system, breaking from an era in which the government stood back from financial markets and allowed participants to decide how much risk to take in the pursuit of profit.

"The Obama administration's plan, described by several sources, would extend federal regulation for the first time to all trading in financial derivatives and to companies including large hedge funds and major insurers such as American International Group.

"The administration also will seek to impose uniform standards on all large financial firms, including banks, an unprecedented step that would place significant limits on the scope and risk of their activities. Most of these initiatives would require legislation. Geithner plans to make the case for the regulatory reform agenda in testimony before Congress this morning, and he is expected to introduce proposals to regulate the largest financial firms.

"In coming months, the administration plans to detail its strategy in three other areas: protecting consumers, eliminating flaws in existing regulations and enhancing international coordination. The testimony will not call for any existing federal agencies to be eliminated or combined, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The plan focuses on setting standards first, leaving for later any reshaping of the government's administrative structure."

4830721BUDGET: "A key congressional committee on Wednesday approved a $3.45 trillion budget framework for next year that embraces many of President Barack Obama's priorities but spends slightly less than he sought," report Reuters' Richard Cowan and Jeremy Pelofsky.

"After a long debate that went well into the night, the House of Representatives Budget Committee approved the blueprint along party lines 24-15 in response to the $3.55 trillion plan Obama submitted last month. While Obama did not get everything he wanted, Democrats who control the committee included most of his priorities, including significant new investments in education and reforming the $2.5 trillion healthcare system to cover millions of uninsured Americans. ...

"Next up is the Senate Budget Committee, which on Thursday will try to pass its own five-year blueprint and attempt to make more progress toward shrinking deficits that have hit $1.8 trillion this year alone.

"If all goes according to Democrats' plans, the full House and Senate will pass their budgets next week, with or without Republican support, and work out a final compromise sometime next month."

"Just before midnight, the House Budget Committee voted, 24 to 15 along party lines, to approve its spending plan, sending it to the full House for consideration next week. While both the House and Senate plans protect the president's top priorities, neither would extend a middle-class tax cut championed by Mr. Obama beyond 2010 unless a source of revenue to pay for it is identified," reports the New York Times' Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn.

"And though Mr. Obama laid out specific plans to raise $634 billion over 10 years for a down payment on national health care reform, lawmakers provided only a framework for the White House and Congress to move forward, provided that the health initiative does not raise the debt.

"Nevertheless, Democrats said they shared Mr. Obama's priorities. 'His major objectives — green jobs, climate change-global warming, health care reform — that's not just his agenda, that's our agenda,' said Senator Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, who is part of a new group of moderate Democrats seeking to champion fiscal restraint.

"Still, some Democrats said they remained concerned about the spending and tax proposals tied to Mr. Obama's ambitious domestic agenda. Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, said he could not support the budget in its current form, though he said the new Senate proposal with its lower deficit figure was a step in the right direction. 'But I don't think that's an ending point from my standpoint,' Mr. Nelson said. Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, also said he was uncertain whether he could support the plan, though he commended the president on his presentation on Wednesday."

Meantime, "House Republicans have begun unveiling detailed alternatives to President Barack Obama's policies — a concerted effort to push back against Democratic efforts to label them 'the Party of No,'" report Politico's Mike Allen and Victoria McGrane.

"On Wednesday, it was a housing plan. Thursday, it will be a big, TV-friendly stack of budget blueprints, 'The Republican Road to Recovery.' That's to match the president's own platitudinous budget title, 'A New Era of Responsibility.' The House Republicans' budget document, provided to POLITICO ahead of its release, makes sure no one can miss the point: Each chapter begins 'The Republican Plan,' and each section is divided into 'The President's Budget' and 'Republicans' Solution.'"

However, the Washington Post's Ben Pershing points out "the GOP is split on whether to formulate a budget proposal of its own - House Republicans are writing an alternative measure, while Senate Republicans aren't -- possibly complicating their efforts to sell themselves as more responsible stewards of the federal treasury than the current party in power."

The Democratic National Committee unveils a new ad this morning, featuring part of Mr. Obama's perma-campaign – volunteers drumming up support for his agenda – and urging viewers to visit www.barackobama.com.

The ad, running on national cable, says, "America is facing tough times. Fortunately, President Obama has a plan to get our economy moving again ... thousands are going door-to-door as part of Organizing for America, gathering support for President Obama's plan to invest in America's future".

The Associated Press offers a helpful rundown of the differences between the president's budget proposal and the House and Senate proposals:

ETC. The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports on Mr. Obama's first foray into fund-raising since becoming president – raising money to help pay for his Organizing for America effort.

"The events were expected to raise more than $3 million for the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America, the committee's new arm that is trying to rally support for Mr. Obama's policies. A Democratic strategist said that, at the insistence of the White House, the party had set aside 700 of the 2,000 tickets to the concert to be sold at $100 each, so supporters of more modest means could attend.

"While running for president, Mr. Obama refused to take donations from federally registered lobbyists, and the Democratic National Committee has now adopted that policy, said Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman, who also said the committee would not take money from political action committees. The Democratic National Committee still had tickets available for the Warner Theater concert as of Wednesday morning — a reflection, perhaps, of the difficulty of raising money in a tough economy. The committee also struggled to raise money in February, but having Mr. Obama as president gives Democrats a powerful edge over Republicans."

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
** The Associated Press' Calvin Woodward looks into claims of job creation from the economic stimulus and suggesting they "can't be measured." "No promise from President Barack Obama is more important to the wounded economy than his vow to save or create some 3.5 million jobs in two years. In support of that bottom line, the government even tells states how many jobs they can expect to see from the spending and tax cuts. But precise trajectories are impossible to plot and even approximations can be wildly off, as the authors of these forecasts acknowledge, usually more readily than the policymakers who use them to promote the plan."

**The always insightful former Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant unveils a new blog today at www.alexconant.com. In his inaugural post, Conant weighs in on President Obama's media strategy, arguing he's missing key media: "More newspapers than banks have gone out-of-business since Obama took office, but he has yet to call on a single regional reporter at either of his primetime press conferences. Even his hometown newspapers in Chicago — the Tribune and Sun-Times (themselves gasping for survival) — have yet to be highlighted in front of a national audience that would undoubtedly help some sales.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
"Instead, the President has made a point to call on still-profitable specialty - and online-media, including Huffington Post. (Ironically, the very audiences the President can reach without calling for primetime network air.) The White House press office's obtuseness is bizarre: Just imagine the feigning press if the President called on correspondents from the Miami Herald, Minneapolis Star Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, or any other regional newspaper that may not still be publishing by the next primetime press conference."

(AP)
**Speaking of the RNC, chairman Michael Steele showed up on CNN Wednesday and, in his inimitable style, veered slightly off-message again. On whether he'd run for president: "I would consider it if the opportunity were there and it was right. You know God has a way of revealing stuff to you and making it real for you through others. And if that's part of the plan, it'll be the plan. We may have this conversation in 8, 10, 12 years you'll sit back, you'll play the tape back and say 'look at what you said.'

"But it'll be because that's where God wants me to be at that time. I honest to God, I do not sit – I can not plan this (laughs). There are too many moving parts to plan this, you just cannot plan this…

"I would think about it. I'd have to have a very long conversation with the wife and kids. Cause this is not – this is not a fun thing. Our politics today does not incite or inspire someone to make that sacrifice. Because -- the way our politics is played out today, in all honesty is very ugly."

On the Rush Limbaugh flap: "I'm very introspective about things, I'm a cause and effect kind of a guy. So if I do something there's a reason for it, even it may look like a mistake, a gaffe, there's a rationale, there's a logic behind it. ... I want to see what the landscape looks like, I want to see who yells the loudest. I want to see who's says they're with me but really isn't. ... It helps me understand my position on the chess board. It helps me understand, you know, where the enemy camp is and where those who are inside the tent are. ...It's all strategic."

**In today's Boston Globe: "Calling for a renewed war on cancer, Senators Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and [Republican] Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas plan to introduce legislation today designed to improve research and treatment. In a joint op-ed article, the two senators point out that since the United States declared the original war on cancer in 1971, the mortality rate has decreased by only 6 percent, far less than for heart disease and stroke. 'The solution isn't easy, but there are steps we should take now if we hope to see the diagnosis rate decline substantially and the survival rate increase,' they write."

ALSO TODAY: The Miami Herald's Jordan Levin reports, "President Barack Obama will give a bilingual speech on Univisión's Premio Lo Nuestro music awards show Thursday night, the Spanish-language network said Wednesday. The show will be broadcast live from the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables. The president will appear via video to give ''a message of hope and civic engagement,'' according to a Univisión press release."

Vice President Joe Biden meets with cabinet members to discuss the implementation of the economic stimulus plan at 10:45am ET. Tonight, he heads Chile and Costa Rica to meet with officials in advance of Mr. Obama's April trip to the Summit of the Americas.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., delivers a speech on the stimulus at 11:15am ET at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues her trip to Mexico, where she's meeting with various officials about the drug war there.


BUDGET

NY Times' Jeff Zeleny, "Budget Has Obama Courting Fellow Democrats"

LA Times' Mark Silva and Janet Hook, "Democrats got 'vintage Obama' sales pitch on budget"

Politico's David Rogers, "Budget battle rife with contradictions"

Washington Post's Alec MacGillis and Scott Wilson, "President Shifts Emphasis From Wall Street To Budget"

Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon, "White House Leans Toward Tighter Enforcement of Taxes"

Washington Post's Philip Rucker, "Obama Defends Push to Cut Tax Deductions for Charitable Gifts"

Wall Street Journal's Stephen Power and Siobhan Hughes, "Obama Administration Revives Tax Battle With Oil Industry"

AIG FALLOUT

CBS News' Brian Montopoli, "Analysis: AIG Letter Reflects Tone Deaf Wall Street"

NY Daily News's Oren Yaniv, Edgar Sandoval and Helen Kennedy, "AIG exec Jason DeSantis whines and resigns after being 'unfairly persecuted by elected officials'"

MEXICO

CBS News' Lara Logan, "U.S. Feeding Mexico Drug War"

Washington Post's Mary Beth Sheridan, "Clinton: U.S. Drug Policies Failed, Fueled Mexico's Drug War"

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

Chicago Tribune's Bob Secter and Andrew Zajac, "Rahm Emanuel's profitable stint at mortgage giant"

Wall Street Journal's Neil King Jr. and John D. Stoll, "Auto Task Force Set to Back More Loans"

MINNESOTA SENATE RECOUNT

Minneapolis Star Tribune's Pat Doyle, "Senate race is a broken record"

FUTURE RACES

NY-20 Special Election (3/31/09): USA Today's John Fritze, "N.Y. special election a preview of 2010"

NY-20 Special Election (3/31/09): CBS News' Anthony Salvanto and Steve Chaggaris, "Tough Battle For Gillibrand's House Seat"

2009 VA Governor: Richmond Times-Dispatch's Jim Nolan, "Democratic hopefuls for governor agree to debates"

2009 VA Governor: Washington Post's Amy Gardner, "McAuliffe Criticized For Ties to Lobbyist"

2010 TN Governor: The Chattanoogan, "Wamp Announces Team To Lead Statewide Gubernatorial Campaign"

2010 CT Senate: CQ Politics' Emily Cadei, "Kudlow Won't Run For Dodd's Senate Seat"

2010 PA Senate: Philadelphia Inquirer's Thomas Fitzgerald, "Two polls show challenges for Specter"

2012 President: The Hill's Reid Wilson, "Parties altering 2012 calendars"
  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBSNews.com's Executive Editor, Washington.

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