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Morning Bulletin – Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009

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

(AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson)
President-elect Obama will detail his economic stimulus plan today but not without dire warnings of what might be if his plan isn't passed.

"I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible," Mr. Obama will say during his 11am speech at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

"If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. The unemployment rate could reach double digits. Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity ... And our nation could lose the competitive edge that has served as a foundation for our strength and standing in the world. In short, a bad situation could become dramatically worse."

While he'll acknowledge the costs will be immense, "the consequences of doing too little or nothing at all ... will lead to an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes, and confidence in our economy."

Read more of the excerpts here.>.

And Mr. Obama's not the only one crying wolf. The LA Times' Jim Puzzanghera and Janet Hook report that economists are sounding warning bells too.

"Democrats had hoped to have the roughly $775-billion emergency measure on President-elect Barack Obama's desk when he entered the Oval Office on Jan. 20. But it is bogging down in a welter of competing ideas, ideologies and agendas, and may be further slowed by Obama's desire to win over as many Republicans as possible. Economists from across the political spectrum warn that if the stimulus package comes too late or loses focus, it could fall short of rescuing the economy from the worst recession since the Depression. That could mean more job losses and another hit to consumer confidence."

Mr. Obama's speech comes a day after the Congressional Budget Office projected a $1.2 trillion dollar budget deficit for 2009 – this is before Mr. Obama's projected $775 million-plus stimulus plan is passed.

During a news conference yesterday, "Mr. Obama pledged Wednesday to attack surging spending on entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, and he promised to lay out specific federal programs to cut when he unveils his first budget blueprint next month," report the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman and Laura Meckler.

4662075Also today, the first confirmation hearing for Mr. Obama's cabinet choices kicks off at 9:30am as the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee – chaired by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. – hears from Kennedy's former Majority Leader, Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Daschle.

"Lawmakers will most likely question him sharply about one of the most contentious aspects of President-elect Barack Obama's domestic agenda: his call for a new public health insurance plan to compete with private insurers," the New York Times' Robert Pear points out.

"No other proposal so clearly defines the political and philosophical differences between Mr. Obama and Republicans, or provokes such deep disagreements. Mr. Daschle, the point man for Mr. Obama's campaign to revamp the health care system, supports the concept of 'a government-run insurance program modeled after Medicare.'

"It would, he says, give consumers, especially the uninsured, an alternative to commercial insurance offered by companies like Aetna, Humana and WellPoint. But the proposal is anathema to many insurers, employers and Republicans. They say the government plan would have unfair advantages, like the ability to impose lower fees, and could eventually attract so many customers that private insurers would be driven from the market."

Upcoming Obama cabinet confirmation hearings: Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis, Friday, Jan. 9, 9:30am; Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton, Jan. 13; Education Secretary nominee Arne Duncan, Jan. 13; Energy Secretary nominee Steven Chu, Jan. 13; HUD Secretary nominee Shaun Donovan, Jan. 13; OMB Director nominee Peter Orszag, Jan. 13; Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Eric Shinseki, Jan. 14; Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack, Jan 14; Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, Jan 15; Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar, Jan. 15; UN Secretary nominee Susan Rice, Jan. 15. TBA: Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner, HUD Transportation Secretary nominee Ray LaHood, Homeland Security Secretary nominee Janet Napolitano, CIA Director nominee Leon Panetta. Defense Secretary Robert Gates does not need to be reconfirmed.

In case you missed it: Barack Obama was elected president in November. However, constitutionally, his election isn't official until a little after 1pm ET today, when a Joint Session of Congress – Vice President Dick Cheney included – will tally the electoral votes. At the end of the tally, Mr. Cheney will announce the result total, officially certifying the election of Mr. Obama as president and Joe Biden as vice president.

The historic process only takes 45 minutes; it should make for interesting C-SPAN viewing if you can tear yourself away from the afternoon soaps, even though, as the AP's Jim Abrams writes, "The session this year should be drama-free, unlike in 2001, when then-Vice President Al Gore presided over the session that declared George W. Bush the winner over Gore in a disputed election. Gore disallowed objections from fellow Democrats who asserted that Bush had unfairly won Florida and tried to block Florida's electoral votes from being counted."

So you think you can drive to the Inauguration? Think again. The Secret Service announced their road and bridge closures for Inauguration Day yesterday and it has the D.C. locals up in arms. Every bridge from Virginia to D.C. will be closed to general traffic as will most of downtown D.C. "It's overkill," AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John B. Townsend II told The Washington Times.

"It totally cuts off access from Virginia. This is the most ridiculous thing I've heard of in my life. It just doesn't make sense." The Washington Post reports.

"The unprecedented wholesale closing of Washington area roads and bridges is necessary because of what officials expect to be record crowds for the inauguration of Barack Obama, who will become the nation's first African American president. Officials estimate that at least 1.5 million and possibly more than 3 million will attend the event. Officials defended the closings, saying prudence outweighed inconvenience."

This week, Mr. Biden travels to Southwest Asia with Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass.; Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Their exact stops have not been disclosed but there are reports that Pakistan is on their itinerary.

ROLAND BURRIS / BLAGO

(AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
AP's Christopher Wills, "Ill. panel to grill Burris on Senate appointment": "Illinois Republicans are promising tough questions Thursday for Senate-appointee Roland Burris on why he accepted a position offered by disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich and whether he promised the governor anything in return. Burris on Wednesday returned from an encouraging two-day visit to Washington, D.C., yet without being able to take the oath of office with the newest members of the 111th Congress. He next faces an impatient impeachment committee.

"'I would like to specifically ask, under oath, if there was any quid pro quo for the appointment,' said Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican member of the Illinois House committee considering Blagojevich's impeachment.

"Lawmakers also plan to ask Burris about contributions to the governor's campaign, how Blagojevich's wife got a job with a group affiliated with Burris' business partner and why the governor's criminal lawyer approached Burris about the Senate instead of a staff member."

Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning, "Senate offers potential opening for Burris to enter chamber"

Washington Post's Paul Kane, "Despite Majority, Senate Leader Has Rough Start": "This was supposed to be a year of triumphs for Reid. Bolstered by the addition of at least seven Democrats to his caucus and an incoming Democratic president, Reid enjoys a stronger hand than any Senate leader in almost 30 years.

"But since Obama won the election and the Democratic caucus grew to a minimum of 57 seats, with two more likely joining him soon, Reid has endured a series of stumbles that demonstrated the limitations of his newly expanded powers. There is little question that some of Reid's problems are of his own making, a product of his shoot-from-the-hip style and penchant for bold declarations that do not always pan out.

"Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), despite the impeachment and legal proceedings he faces and over the objections of Obama and Reid, selected Burris to fill the final two years of Obama's Senate term. After unequivocally opposing Burris's selection, Reid backtracked yesterday amid a minor revolt from his Democratic colleagues and laid out a path for his appointment. But Reid brushes aside the critics, pointing to the electoral successes his caucus has enjoyed in the four years since he took over as a minority leader with 45 seats and a GOP president attempting to privatize Social Security. 'I've got 59 senators now, so I'm not doing too bad,' he said in an interview yesterday."

Politico's Manu Raju and Amie Parnes, "Dem leaders beaten by Hurricane Burris": "Sources say Reid and other Democratic leaders underestimated the spectacle that would be caused by blocking Burris' appointment and that they'll now have to explain themselves as they clear the way for him to take President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. 'It wasn't Reid's finest moment, that's for sure,' said an aide to one veteran Senate Democrat. 'This looked bad from the beginning, and it hasn't gotten any better.'"

AP's Mike Robinson, "Ill. sec of state feels the heat in Burris flap": "Until recently, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White may have been best known on the national stage for establishing an inner city tumbling team. No longer. After carving out a long career as a steady team player with little taste for controversy or political fireworks, the normally calm, bland 73-year-old suddenly finds himself feeling the heat as a reluctant player in the furor over Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. ...

"White and Burris have long known each other and get along. Burris was the first African-American elected Illinois attorney general and White is the first black elected secretary of state. In happier times, White might have been delighted to give his official certification to Blagojevich's appointment. But Blagojevich faces federal charges that he plotted to sell or trade the Senate seat.

"While there's no allegation of corruption by Burris, the appointment unleashed a storm. Democratic leaders insisted they would never seat an appointee of the tainted governor. White joined in, declaring he would not certify a Blagojevich appointee. But lately pressure to seat Burris has intensified and Senate Democrats seem to be softening toward the beleaguered appointee. White feels he has been unfairly blamed for holding things up."

TRANSITION

Washington Post's Michael D. Shear and Ceci Connolly, "Obama Assembles Powerful West Wing": "Presidents have long strived to centralize influence in the White House, often to the frustration of their Cabinet secretaries. But not since Richard M. Nixon tried to abolish the majority of his Cabinet has a president gone so far in attempting to build a West Wing-based clutch of advisers with a mandate to cut through -- or leapfrog -- the traditional bureaucracy.

"Obama's emerging 'super-Cabinet' is intended to ensure that his domestic priorities -- health reform, the environment and urban affairs -- don't get mired in agency red tape or brushed aside by the ongoing economic meltdown and international crises. Half a dozen new White House positions have been filled by well-known leaders with experience navigating Washington turf wars. But some see the potential for chaos within the administration. 'We're going to have so many czars,' said Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 'It's going to be a lot of fun, seeing the czars and the regulators and the czars and the Cabinet secretaries debate.'"

Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman, "Obama's Pick to Lead CIA Clears Key Hurdle"

NY Times' Peter Baker, "Obama Is Reported Set to Revise Counterterrorism Efforts": "The plan being discussed would eliminate the independent homeland security adviser's office and assign those duties to the National Security Council to streamline sometimes overlapping functions. A deputy national security adviser would be charged with overseeing the effort to guard against terrorism and to respond to natural disasters.

"Democrats close to the transition said Mr. Obama's choice for that job was John O. Brennan, a longtime C.I.A. veteran who was the front-runner to head the spy agency until withdrawing in November amid criticism of his views on interrogation and detention policies. His appointment would not require Senate confirmation. Mr. Obama has made no final decision about how to structure domestic security in his White House, and advisers plan to wait until his inauguration to conduct a formal review. But many key advisers have publicly advocated folding it into the National Security Council, and those involved in discussions said the only real questions appeared to be how to do that and how to explain it without looking like domestic security was being downgraded as a priority."

NY Times' Mark Landler, "Clinton Is Moving to Fill Senior Posts at State Dept."

Washington Post's Michael D. Shear, "Obama to Name Lawyer Friend To Regulatory Affairs Position"

NY Times' Stephen Labaton, "F.D.I.C. Head Seen as Likely to Keep Job"

MINNESOTA SENATE RACE

(CBS/AP)
Minneapolis Star Tribune's Kevin Diaz explains that the Senate's decision on Roland Burris has a direct effect on Al Franken. "Laying down the marker in the case of Illinois appointee Roland Burris, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he is open to seating the embattled Democrat, but only if he wins an election certificate in a case he has brought before the Illinois Supreme Court.

"The Illinois controversy, which has overshadowed the start of the 111th Congress, has a direct bearing on the recount between Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman, because Minnesota law bars state officials from issuing an election certificate until all legal challenges are settled. ... The Democrats' surprise turnaround on Burris, who was appointed by scandal-plagued Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, dealt a severe blow to those who had hoped to seat Franken provisionally, pending the outcome of the legal battle in Minnesota.

"In announcing a new agreement with Burris, Reid said an election certificate is a "vital" requirement of the Senate that has never been waived in modern history."

ALSO:

Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, "After Eyeing a Senate Run, Chris Matthews to Stay at MSNBC"

Wall Street Journal's Stephanie Simon, "Richardson's Stumble on U.S. Stage Erodes Clout at Home"

Washington Times' Ralph Z. Hallow, "Anuzis, Dawson favored to head RNC"

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