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Morning Bulletin – Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:
(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan cleared the House of Representatives last night, 244-188 but all of his work towards a bipartisan outcome was for naught.

Those clairvoyant Republicans who predicted "zero" GOP votes for the bill (Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., et al): they were right. And to top that off, there were 11 Democrats who also voted against it.

"I have serious concerns that this level of deficit spending without a plan toward fiscal responsibility will only make our economic problems worse," Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., a member of the conservative "Blue Dog Coalition" and one of the Democratic "no" votes, said in a statement.

And another Democratic dissenter, Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., alluded to something the Republicans had been complaining about: that Democratic Congressional leadership – not President Obama – didn't reach out to Republicans while crafting the bill.

"Had we reached this bill through a more orderly, bipartisan basis, I very well may have cast my vote for it," Kanjorski said on the House floor before the vote.

"The failure to win Republican support in the House seemed to echo the early months of the last Democratic administration, when President Bill Clinton in 1993 had to rely solely on Democrats to win passage of a deficit-reduction bill that was a signature element of his presidency," the New York Times' Jackie Calmes points out.

(CBS)
"The solid Republican opposition, led by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio), raises questions about whether the new era of bipartisanship that Mr. Obama promised during the campaign is truly within reach, or if Washington remains stuck in its acrimonious ways.

"Most immediately, the vote may mean that Democrats have to make more compromises in the Senate version of the recovery package, which is scheduled for a vote next week," writes the Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid.

"In the Senate, a vote that falls short of 60 senators supporting a bill allows the opposition to filibuster, or block passage through indefinite debate. But some Republicans are signaling privately that they are reluctant to filibuster the stimulus package, and Senate Democrats appear to be reaching out more aggressively to address GOP concerns on the bill. House Republicans said their unified vote Wednesday was the natural consequence of the Democrats' refusal to incorporate their recommendations, particularly on cutting the amount of spending in the bill."

"Republican lawmakers ... are increasingly linking themselves with Mr. Obama in their public statements, praising his bipartisanship and reasonableness, while suggesting that congressional Democrats are hard-core liberals intent on obstructing the president's plans and pulling the country to the left. So while House Republicans solidly opposed the stimulus package Wednesday, they blamed congressional Democrats, not Mr. Obama, for what they disliked about it.

"The reason for the Republicans' strategy is clear: Mr. Obama is popular, while Democrats in Congress have low approval ratings, and they are the ones the Republicans must run against in two years. Anything the GOP can do to drive a wedge between Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats in the public's mind can only work to their advantage. It is an unexpected maneuver in some ways. Mr. Obama is a lifelong Democrat and the leader of his party, and many Republicans depicted him as a hopeless liberal during the campaign."

"Democrats familiar with White House strategy think many Republicans and conservative Democrats -- known as Blue Dogs -- will wind up voting for a later version of the stimulus plan as it moves through the legislative process, largely because mounting job losses will force them to avoid the obstructionist label," reports the Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten.

"Some moderate Republicans who opposed the bill left open the chance of supporting the final version if the White House and Senate address their concerns about spending. And Democrats remain hopeful of securing a more bipartisan result in the Senate, where committee action has driven up the cost as the amount of tax relief has increased, something Republicans have demanded before they will consider offering their support," reports the Washington Post's Paul Kane.

"In addition to other tweaks to the tax portion of the package, the Senate Finance Committee added a $70 billion fix to the alternative-minimum tax to the chamber's version of the bill, a provision aimed at preventing the tax from being applied to middle-class households, pushing the total cost to at least $890 billion. The Finance Committee also added a provision that would reduce taxes on businesses that buy back their own debt at a discount. Senators in both parties were readying amendments to make further changes, including a proposal that would dramatically reduce taxes, from 35 percent to 5.25 percent, on corporate profits earned abroad and brought back to the United States."

"While the House and Senate measures are similar, they are most likely to differ in ways that could snarl negotiations between Democrats from the two chambers, and delay getting a measure to the president," reports the New York Times' Jackie Calmes.

"In particular, House and Senate Democrats are split over how to divide $87 billion in relief to the states for Medicaid, with senators favoring a formula more beneficial to less-populous states. Democrats' own differences aside, they also are under pressure from the White House to be open to proposals from Senate Republicans who might support the final legislation if their interests are accommodated, and which might draw a few Republican supporters on a final vote next month in the House. Democrats' goal is to have the stimulus package, which is roughly two-thirds new spending and one-third tax cuts, to Mr. Obama's desk for his signature by Feb. 13, before Congress breaks for Presidents' Day."

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama just dropped by the Bethesda, Md. campus of Sidwell Friends School, the private school their 7-year-old daughter Sasha attends.

Their visit comes a day after Mr. Obama teased local officials for closing schools because of icy conditions. "We're going to have to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town," the president quipped Wednesday.

Also on the president's schedule today: he will "sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act ... during an East Room ceremony, a move that effectively ends a 2007 Supreme Court decision that said workers had only 180 days to file a pay-discrimination lawsuit," writes the Associated Press' Philip Elliot.

"Obama and fellow Democrats campaigned hard against the court decision and promised to pass legislation that would give workers more time to sue their employers for past discrimination."

Later, he holds separate meetings with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

As for Obama's future schedule, the Washington Post's Anne E. Kornblut reports, "Advisers said this week that Obama is likely to stay close to his new home for the foreseeable future.

He has not yet spent a weekend at Camp David, though he and his family may do so soon. He also has not announced the dates of any specific domestic or international trips apart from a visit to Canada on Feb. 19 announced yesterday, a longstanding tradition for new presidents. Beyond that, Obama will be delegating a heavier-than-expected share of the travel duties to his most prominent surrogates, including Vice President Biden, advisers said. ...

"Obama is using prominent surrogates in other ways as well, and is dispatching George J. Mitchell, his Middle East envoy, on a whirlwind trip to at least half a dozen countries over the next week. The economic meltdown is the long and the short of the explanation for why Obama does not plan an ambitious early travel schedule, officials said."

Also today, the Republican National Committee hears from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as RNC members weigh the choices for party chairman.

"From anonymous charges of racism, old-fashioned graft and outright incompetence, the six-man race for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee has devolved into the dirtiest - and most closely watched - in recent history," writes the Washington Times' Ralph Z. Hallow.

"The 168 members who Friday will elect the next chairman have been inundated with anonymous e-mails attacking the characters and capabilities of the various candidates and, in at least one case, accusing a candidate of conspiring with political consultants to cash in on the millions of dollars in future advertising by the party. 'This is dirtiest ever - and remember, I was the longest-serving state party chairman in the history of this committee,' said RNC member and former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett, a supporter of Mike Duncan, the incumbent national chairman who is seeking a second two-year term."

ECONOMIC STIMULUS

USA Today's Richard Wolf and David Jackson, "Cost of Senate's stimulus plan hits $888B": "The cost of President Obama's economic stimulus package rose to $888 billion in the Senate on Wednesday, even as an $819 billion version passed the House without any Republican support.
The rising cost and lack of GOP votes could be a challenge for the new president, who has preached fiscal responsibility and bipartisanship. ...

"The 647-page measure is divided about 2-to-1 between new spending and tax cuts. It includes hundreds of billions of dollars in benefits for those hard hit by the recession, for state and local governments facing layoffs and cuts, and for initiatives designed to create or save 3 million jobs. The Democratic bill includes tax cuts for about 95% of working Americans — $500 for individuals, $1,000 for couples — and for small businesses. The major Senate addition: $70 billion to protect about 24 million Americans from paying higher taxes under the alternative minimum tax."

Washington Times' Stephen Dinan, "Stimulus has plum for lawmaker's son": "A top House Republican is demanding an investigation into whether the more than $2 billion for national parks in the House stimulus package is proper in light of the fact that the chief lobbyist for the National Parks Conservation Association is the son of House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey.

"NPCA is a major player in advocating for national parks funding, and its senior vice president for government affairs is Craig Obey, son of the Wisconsin Democrat who has long been his party's top Appropriations Committee member. The money included in the stimulus bill that passed Mr. Obey's committee - $2.25 billion - was about equal to the National Park Service's total yearly budget, and would be a staggering increase and almost three times the $802 million that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved for park spending in its stimulus bill. ...

"While the House Appropriations Committee approved $2.25 billion, on late Tuesday night the House Rules Committee removed $200 million of parks funding designating for refurbishing the Mall in the District after that item drew opposition. That money was not in the bill that passed the full House on Wednesday."

NY Times' David M. Herszenhorn, "Components of Stimulus Vary in Speed and Efficiency": "At first, it will trickle into paychecks in small, barely perceptible amounts: perhaps $12 or $13 a week for many American workers, in the form of lower tax withholding. For the growing ranks of the unemployed, it will be more noticeable: benefit checks due to stop will keep coming, along with an extra $25 a week. At the grocery store, a family of four on food stamps could find up to $79 more a month on their government-issued debit card.

"And far bigger sums will appear, courtesy of Washington, on budget ledgers in state capitals nationwide: billions of dollars for health care, schools and public works. There is no doubt that the impact of the $819 billion economic stimulus package advanced by President Obama and approved by the House on Wednesday will start to be felt within weeks once the final version becomes law. But estimating how effective the huge program of tax cuts and spending will be in getting America's economic engines humming again is a far more complex calculation requiring almost line-by-line scrutiny of the 647-page bill, lawmakers, economists and policy analysts say."

FINANCIAL BAILOUT

(AP Photo/Ian Barrett)
NY Times' Stephen Labaton and Edmund L. Andrews, "Geithner Says Plan for Banks Is in the Works": "As lawmakers pressed the Obama administration for details of how it would assist financial firms that have been rapidly deteriorating, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said Wednesday the administration is working on a comprehensive plan to 'repair the financial system.'

Mr. Geithner declined to provide any specific details or to address rising calls for the creation of a government institution to buy or guarantee the declining assets at several of the nation's largest banks. He discouraged speculation that the plan would include the nationalization of some banks. ...

Federal policy makers are discussing how to use the second $350 billion portion of bailout funds. About $50 billion to $100 billion is expected to be allocated to stave off home foreclosures. That would leave up to $250 billion available for the banks, with the bulk going to buying troubled assets. On Wednesday, the head of the Congressional Budget Office told lawmakers that weakening banks would probably need hundreds of billions in additional funds beyond the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. But administration officials believe that trillions of dollars more may be needed to buy the majority of bad assets from banks."

Wall Street Journal's Deborah Solomon, David Enrich, and Jon Hilsenrath, "New Bank Bailout Could Cost $2 Trillion": "The aim is to encourage banks to begin lending again and investors to put private capital back into financial institutions. The administration is expected to take a series of steps, including relieving banks of bad loans and distressed securities. The so-called 'bad bank' that would buy these assets could be seeded with $100 billion to $200 billion from the TARP funds, with the rest of the money -- as much as $1 trillion to $2 trillion -- raised by selling government-backed debt or borrowing from the Federal Reserve."

BLAGO

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Chicago Sun-Times' Dave McKinney, "Blagojevich to make Thursday plea at capitol": "Setting the stage for one of the most dramatic political days in state history, Gov. Blagojevich stunned senators today by casting aside his boycott of his impeachment trial and announcing plans to show up at the capitol Thursday to make a personal plea against being thrown out of office. With a vote on whether to oust him possible Thursday, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) made the surprise announcement regarding the governor this afternoon, prompting senators to murmur, smile and shake their heads in disbelief."

"Blagojevich will not testify, which would have involved taking an oath and answering questions from the prosecutor and senators. Instead, he will deliver a closing statement," reports the Associated Press' Christopher Wills. "Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst, called the decision 'cowardly, but consistent with the way he has governed.'"

WHITE HOUSE FOREIGN POLICY

NY Times' Peter Baker and Alissa J. Rubin, "Obama Seeks Accord With Military on Iraq": "Since taking office last week, Mr. Obama has recommitted to ending the war in Iraq but not to his specific campaign pledge to pull out roughly one combat brigade a month for the first 16 months of his presidency. His top commander in Iraq has proposed a slower start to the withdrawal, warning of the dangers of drawing down too quickly. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama visited the Pentagon for the first time since becoming president, and he seemed to be looking for an option that would let him stay true to his campaign promise, at least in theory, without alienating the generals. The White House indicated that Mr. Obama was open to alternatives to his 16-month time frame and emphasized that security was an important factor in his decision."

NY Times' Nazila Fathi and Alan Cowell, "After Obama Overture, Iran's Leader Seeks U.S. Apology"

MINNESOTA SENATE RACE

Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Pat Doyle and Mike Kaszuba, "Coleman lawyers probe reasons for rejecting ballots"

ALSO:

The Hill's Roxana Tiron, "Presidential helicopter significantly over budget": "The Navy formally informed Congress on Wednesday that the new presidential helicopter now in development is significantly over budget. The estimated price of the chopper program, built by Lockheed Martin and its European partner, AgustaWestland, has almost doubled over the last three years, from $6.1 billion to $11.2 billion. ...

The new presidential helicopter is designed to ferry the president on shorter trips — oftentimes from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. It would be equipped with a protected communications suite, advanced navigation systems, as well as a kitchen and a bathroom. The amenities on the new choppers would be closer to Air Force One than the 30-year-old Marine One helicopters they would replace. The Navy runs the Marine One program."

(Pete Souza)
NY Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "White House Unbuttons Formal Dress Code": "Over the weekend, Mr. Obama's first in office, his aides did not quite know how to dress. Some showed up in jeans (another no-no under Mr. Bush), some in coats and ties. So the president issued an informal edict for 'business casual' on weekends — and set his own example. He showed up Saturday for a briefing with his chief economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, dressed in slacks and a gray sweater over a white buttoned-down shirt."

Wall Street Journal's Karl Rove, "The Obama White House May Be a Crowded Mess": "It is rumored that as many as 160 people will be in the West Wing under Mr. Obama. Under President George W. Bush there were about 60.

"My old, modest-seized office has been carved into four cubicles. This reduces the space for ad hoc meetings in personal offices, where so much West Wing work once took place. ...

"Space is also short because the ranks of senior staff have been increased. There is a chief of staff, of course, but also two deputy chiefs, and three senior advisers. Some senior aides now have chiefs of staff of their own. That is new.

"All of this matters because management structure affects decision-making and determines the range and quality of voices the president hears. That impacts policy outcomes. Mr. Obama's changes could overload Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. As power that was once diffused to cabinet officers is centralized in the White House, Mr. Emanuel will have to make more decisions and referee more turf wars than his predecessors.

"This will test his skills and likely inject chaos into the policy process as he prioritizes the decisions he can reasonably make. Mr. Obama's tendency to work late into the night will also pose problems. ...

"Requiring a senior staff that meets at 7:30 a.m. to work until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. will quickly cause burnout and diminish the quality of advice and oversight."

Morning News of Northwest Arkansas' John Lyon, "Panel Rejects Obama Resolution": "A legislative panel Wednesday rejected a resolution to congratulate President Obama on his historic election after some members questioned language in the resolution that referred to the U.S. as a nation founded by slave owners."

NY Daily News' Celeste Katz, "New Web site seen as possible way to start Hillary Clinton comeback": "Hillary Clinton's campaign days may be behind her, but those still carrying a torch for her ideas - and perhaps for an electoral comeback someday - have a new home on the Internet. NoLimits.org will 'keep you up to date with news about issues on which Hillary took a lead and we know you care so much about,' group President Ann Lewis said in an e-mail to as many as 2 million people culled from the Clinton campaign database.

"Because No Limits is a registered nonprofit, 'it cannot do anything political. It has to be nonpartisan,' said Lewis, a longtime senior adviser to Clinton. In Clinton's job as secretary of state for President Obama, her political dealings are highly restricted."

Washington Post's Edward Cody, "Bush War on Roquefort Raises a Stink in France": "The United States, it turns out, has declared war on Roquefort cheese. In its final days, the Bush administration imposed a 300 percent duty on Roquefort, in effect closing off the U.S. market. Americans, it declared, will no longer get to taste the creamy concoction that, in its authentic, most glorious form, comes with an odor of wet sheep and veins of blue mold that go perfectly with rye bread and coarse red wine.

"The measure, announced Jan. 13 by U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab as she headed out the door, was designed as retaliation for a European Union ban on imports of U.S. beef containing hormones. Tit for tat, and all perfectly legal under World Trade Organization rules, U.S. officials explained."