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Morning Bulletin – Wednesday, March 11, 2009

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

4855950On the heels of last night's Senate passage of the $410 billion omnibus spending bill that keeps the government running through fiscal year 2009, President Obama will sign it today and talk about earmark reform – the very issue that caused major controversy over this bill.

"White House officials in recent weeks have dismissed criticism of the earmarks in the bill, saying the legislation was a remnant of last year and that the president planned to turn his attention to future spending instead of looking backward," reports the Associated Press' Philip Elliot.

"Aides said the administration would move to introduce new 'rules of the road' that could allow Obama greater sway over lawmakers, particularly on politically embarrassing spending that generated mockery from pundits and rival politicians. During his presidential campaign, Obama promised to force Congress to curb its pork-barrel-spending ways.

"Yet the bill sent from the Democratic-controlled Congress to the White House on Tuesday contained 7,991 earmarks totaling $5.5 billion, according to calculations by the Republican staff of the House Appropriations Committee. While the White House would say only that Obama would announce new rules on earmarks on Wednesday, it was clear he wanted to rein in spending, particularly on the pet projects lawmakers inserted into the spending bill."

"Dissent over the measure was widespread," adds the Washington Post's Shalaigh Murray.

"Some Republicans waged a high-profile battle against ... earmarks. Other GOP lawmakers objected to generous funding increases in the midst of an economic crisis. Three Democrats opposed the bill: Sens. Russell Feingold (Wis.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.), both earmark opponents, and Evan Bayh (Ind.), who objected to its cost."

"In an important policy shift, the bill includes a loosening of restrictions on travel to and imports from Cuba that the Bush administration imposed. The issue proved explosive among supporters of the trade embargo. ... Another contentious provision targets the District's school voucher program, a Republican favorite that provides 1,700 low-income students with the equivalent of a $7,500 grant to attend a private school. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) sought unsuccessfully to strike language from the bill that would require its reauthorization after the 2009-2010 school year, a move he said would leave current recipients in limbo."

MORE STIMULUS?: Now that Congress has the economic stimulus plan and this leftover spending package behind it, leaders are now talking about the possible need for another stimulus plan.

(AP)
"Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Tuesday that lawmakers must give the just-approved package of tax cuts and government spending a chance to work. The bulk of the funds from the $787 billion package are flowing out of government coffers over the next two years, in hopes of lifting the economy of its downward spiral," reports the Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt.

"But Mrs. Pelosi suggested she's not ruling out action on another measure if the economy remains weak. 'We have to keep the door open,' Rep. Pelosi said after a closed-door meeting with several private economists. The speaker stressed the goal of lawmakers is not just to spur job growth, but to shore consumer and business sentiment, as well. ...

"Congressional aides were quick to stress that no plans are being prepared for imminent action on a second stimulus package, and Mrs. Pelosi offered no details about what might be included in such a measure. But the mere suggestion that Congress stands ready to act again on a stimulus package underscores the depth of concern about the economy on Capitol Hill."

"[T]he Obama administration has repeatedly warned that it will take time for the results to be felt," writes CQPolitics' Phil Mattingly.

"The unemployment rate hit 8.1 percent in February, and, though it rose dramatically Tuesday, the stock market has generally continued to sink to multi-year lows. Added to that is a growing fear that some of the nation's largest financial institutions may be 'zombie banks,' fundamentally insolvent but propped up by taxpayer cash. ...

"'It's tough for politicians to have patience, but we have to have patience,' said House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller , D-Calif. Democrats 'left the meeting much better equipped to make important decisions,' Pelosi said. Those decisions could involve another painful debate about whether more money is needed to aid the economy — and if so, how much."

(CBS/ AP)
REMEMBER THIS GUY?: "[Former Democratic presidential candidate John] Edwards saw his presidential hopes dashed a year ago in January when he lost to then-candidate Barack Obama in South Carolina primary and later saw his reputation go up in flames after admitting in the summer than he had had an affair with a campaign worker while his wife had cancer.

Last night he addressed the infidelity issue only obliquely when a student who said she had been one of his campus organizers asked if it was 'just or fair' for candidates to be held to a 'higher' moral standard," reports the Providence Journal's Richard C. Dujardin.

"'Here is what I believe,' he answered. 'It is not for a candidate to decide what is appropriate and what's not appropriate. That's something every single American has a right to decide for themselves. We live in a free country where people have a right to voice their views and have a right to form their views without limitation…'It is not for me to impose on anybody what they can observe and can't observe. I have my own view, which I will keep to myself. But I believe it is enormously important to have the best thinkers and the best visionary people to lead our country where it needs to go.'"

ALSO TODAY: President Obama will name Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske to be the nation's drug czar. Vice President Joe Biden will make the announcement at Noon ET. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza has more.

Mr. Obama meets with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at 10 a.m. before making his statement about earmark reform at 11:20 a.m. ET. Later, the president meets with Democratic members of the House and Senate Budget Committees at the White House.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announce the Award for International Women of Courage at the State Department at 4pm ET.

Prior to the awards ceremony, Secretary Clinton meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

TOMORROW: Mrs. Obama will make her first solo trip outside of Washington since her husband took office. She's scheduled to tour Fort Bragg in North Carolina where she will "meet with military spouses, and speak to community organizations that provide support to the soldiers and their families," according to the White House.

BUDGET/ECONOMY

Wall Street Journal's Stephanie Simon and Leslie Eaton, "Local Economies Seek Own Revival"

LA Times' Jim Puzzanghera, "Obama pushes global economic stimulus effort"

Washington Times' Sean Lengell, "Reform of health system to exceed budget"

FINANCIAL BAILOUT

NY Times' Stephen Labaton, "Some Banks, Citing Strings, Want to Return Aid": "Financial institutions that are getting government bailout funds have been told to put off evictions and modify mortgages for distressed homeowners. They must let shareholders vote on executive pay packages. They must slash dividends, cancel employee training and morale-building exercises, and withdraw job offers to foreign citizens.

"As public outrage swells over the rapidly growing cost of bailing out financial institutions, the Obama administration and lawmakers are attaching more and more strings to rescue funds. The conditions are necessary to prevent Wall Street executives from paying lavish bonuses and buying corporate jets, some experts say, but others say the conditions go beyond protecting taxpayers and border on social engineering. Some bankers say the conditions have become so onerous that they want to return the bailout money."

Wall Street Journal's Liz Rappaport, "TALF Bogs Down as Investors Balk"

Washington Post's Annys Shin and Lori Montgomery, "Bernanke's Vision for Change": "Appearing before the Council on Foreign Relations, Bernanke said the financial system must be regulated 'as a whole, in a holistic way' to avoid some of the failures that have led to the current meltdown -- which he called 'the worst financial crisis since the 1930s.'

(AP)
"He said policymakers must better supervise institutions perceived as too big to fail and consider requiring firms to set aside more capital so that they have it when economic conditions worsen. 'These crises have revealed some rather shocking gaps in our regulatory oversight,' Bernanke said. 'I mean, who was overseeing the subprime lenders, for example? Who was overseeing AIG? There simply wasn't enough adequate oversight in those cases.' In comments on a subject that is drawing increasing scrutiny, Bernanke said current accounting standards need to be revised so they don't amplify the negative effects of a downturn."

EDUCATION

McClatchy Newspapers' Steven Thomma, "Obama urges longer school hours, extended school year"

Washington Post's Scott Wilson, "Obama Says Public Schools Must Improve"

UNIONS

CBS News' Brian Montopoli, "Primer: The Big Battle Between Business And Unions"

NY Times' Steven Greenhouse, "Fierce Lobbying Greets Bill to Help Workers Unionize"

FOREIGN POLICY / TRADE

Washington Post's Edward Cody, "Biden Asks NATO Allies for Aid in Afghanistan"

Time Magazine's Pelin Turgut, "Turkey Sees a Greater Role in Obama's Foreign Policy"

Associated Press' Foster Klug, "Top US, China diplomats work to smooth relations"

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

CBSNews.com, "Schieffer: Obama Has Been 'Very Ambitious'"

Wall Street Journal's Alicia Mundy, "Former New York Health Chief Is Top Candidate to Run FDA"

NY Times' Neil A. Lewis, "Obama's Court Nominees Are Focus of Speculation"

Washington Post's Walter Pincus, "Impartiality Questioned, Intelligence Pick Pulls Out"

MINNESOTA SENATE RECOUNT

Minneapolis Star Tribune's Pat Doyle and Kevin Duchschere, "Lawyers: Al Franken will rest his case today"

Politico's Manu Raju, "Franken: 'Light at the end of the tunnel'"

FUTURE RACES

2010 WI Governor: The Daily Cardinal's Jessica Feld, "Poll: Doyle holds slim lead over potential GOP candidates"

2010 CT Senate: Hartford Courant's Christopher Keating, "Dodd Seen As Vulnerable In 2010 Race"

2010 DE Senate: Wilmington News Journal's Ginger Gibson, "Castle tops Biden in Senate poll"

2010 FL Senate: Politico's Josh Kraushaar, "Meek has steep hill to climb to Senate"

2010 KY Senate: McClatchy Newspapers' Halimah Abdullah, "Bunning refuses to release poll results, curses reporters"

2010 NY Senate: NY Times' Nicholas Confessore, "Old Clinton Hands Line Up Behind Gillibrand"

NY Times' Carl Hulse, "New Idea on Capitol Hill – To Join Senate, Get Votes"

Politico's Manu Raju and Josh Kraushaar, "GOP goes retro for 2010 races"

ALSO:

Wall Street Journal's James R. Hagerty, "Housing Plan Creates Opening for Scammers": "President Barack Obama's foreclosure-prevention plan, announced last week, is designed to give several million troubled borrowers another chance to lower their mortgage payments.

"But government officials and counseling agencies warn that it also presents a golden opportunity for firms to fleece unsuspecting borrowers. Over the past few years, there has been a proliferation of firms that charge fees for what they promise will be quick results in negotiating with banks to get easier loan terms. In many cases, the firms take the homeowner's money but never deliver the services promised. Even when the firms do deliver what they promise, they charge fees -- often more than $1,000 -- for services borrowers can receive free. In July, Congress increased to $360 million the funds it has allocated for foreclosure-prevention counseling to organizations that provide the service without charging consumers."

NY Times' Andrew Pollack, "Stem Cell Decision Worries Some Scientists"

Washington Post's Mary Beth Sheridan, "Leaders Strategize on How to Pass D.C. Vote Bill"

Politico's John Bresnahan, "Inside Murtha's 'earmark factory'"

Politico's Mike Allen, "No quit: the campaign to boost Bush"

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