Tales from the Trail

Shocker: Fat cat CEOs fly on private jets!

Congress is taking a hard look at Detroit’s autos these days. But what about Detroit’s jets?

When the chief executives of Ford and General Motors flew in to Washington yesterday to ask Congress for a $25 billion lifeline, they didn’t fly coach.

General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner arrived on his company’s cushy Gulfstream IV, ABC News reported. Ford CEO Alan Mulally flew in on a private company jet as well.

It costs about $20,000 to fly one of these jets round trip from Detroit to Chicago — far more than the $900 cost of a first-class ticket on Northwest Airlines, ABC said.

Wagoner told ABC he took the private jet because he’s a busy guy. Mulally declined to comment.

The First Draft: Wednesday, Nov. 19

Please sir, can I have some more? CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler make their case for a $25 billion bailout to the House of Representatives, one day after enduring a skeptical reception in the Senate. A vote could come as early as today, but Senate backers say they might not have the support they need.
 
Testimony to the House Financial Services Committee gets underway at 10 a.m.
    
In Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama continues to assemble his administration. Eric Holder, a former Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton, emerged yesterday as a possible pick for attorney general, while the Wall Street Journal reports that Clinton himself offered to submit his future charitable and business activities for ethics review if wife Hillary is tapped for Secretary of State.

Formal announcements could come on Friday, a source tells Reuters.   
   
In the Senate, Democrats have edged closer to a critical 60-seat majority after Anchorage, Alaska mayor Mark Begich declared victory over incumbent Republican Ted Stevens, a convicted felon. That gives Democrats control of at least 58 seats, with races in Georgia and Minnesota still hanging in the balance.
 
A recount in the Minnesota race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, a former comedian, begins today. Franken himself si making the rounds in Washington to raise money and huddle with his fellow Democrats.

For a change, the stock market is not expected to get off to a dismal start today. Hewlett-Packard’s reassuring quarterly results and profit outlook are expected to offset worries about the deeping global economic slump.
   
And finally, Happy World Toilet Day! The advocacy group Water Advocates says 2.5 billion people don’t have access to a toilet, leading to millions of preventable deaths each year from exposure to human waste. The group holds an event in front of the Capitol at 12:30 p.m. to draw attention to the problem.

A TARP by any other name…

WASHINGTON – TARP, the four-letter acronym for a $700 billion government bailout, has lost its original definition and needs a new name.

Even the White House on Tuesday acknowledged that TARP was perhaps not the most accurate portrayal of the changing intent of the financial rescue package.

After all, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson last week said the Troubled Assets Relief Program would not be used for troubled asset relief but rather to shore up financial firms.

The First Draft: Tuesday, Nov. 18

Chief executives of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, along with the head of the United Autoworkers union, will testify to Congress today about the need for a bailout of their struggling companies.

“It’s going to be really neat to be able to explain and talk about the progress we’ve made,” Ford CEO Alan Mullaly said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
    
But Mullaly and his fellow auto-industry bigwigs could be in for a bumpy ride. Detroit’s clout on Capitol Hill has diminished in recent years as automakers have closed plants across the country and lobbied heavily against increases in fuel efficiency, the New York Times reports. Cushy union contracts and multimillion-dollar paychecks for executives probably won’t help win over public support, either.
    
Testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee begins at 3 p.m. EST.
    
Speaking of bailouts, what’s happening to that $700 billion earmarked for the financial services industry? Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will testify in front of the House Financial Services Committee at 10 a.m.
    
And it’s reckoning time for Connecticut Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman. The 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee could lose control of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee as payback for supporting Republican John McCain in the presidential race when Senate Democrats hold leadership elections.
    
President-elect Barack Obama holds no public events today as he continues to assemble his administration from Chicago.
    
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will name baseball slugger Ken Griffey Jr. as a “public diplomacy envoy” who will travel the world to help improve the U.S. image abroad. Junior’s been hobbled by injuries over the past decade, but he’s been untainted by the steroids scandal that has snared more productive stars like Barry Bonds.
    
Stocks are expected to open lower on fears that the economic slump is worsening. The National Association of Realtors releases home-sale data at 10 a.m., and the Labor Department should provide a snapshot of inflation when it releases the Producer Price Index at 8:30 a.m.
    
And if you want to see Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia rub elbows with professional wrestler Bret Hart, head on over to the National Press Club’s book fair at 5:30 p.m.

The First Draft: Monday, Nov. 17

The Senate returns to debate a bailout for struggling automakers and consider additional stimulus money to prop up the struggling economy.
    
Democrats hope to pass both measures in their brief “lame duck” session, but they face opposition from Republicans in the chamber as well as President George W. Bush, who reiterated on Monday morning that any Detroit aid should come from the $700 billion already appropriated to prop up the economy.
    
In Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama will meet at noon EST with John McCain, his recent rival for the White House.  “It’s well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government, and will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality,” Obama’s transition team said on Monday. 
    
Obama and McCain will be joined by their two favorite wingmen — future White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, respectively.
    
McCain might put in a good word for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is reported to be on Obama’s short list for Secretary of State. McCain and Clinton downed vodka shots together on a trip to Estonia a few years back.
    
 Back in the Senate, the Finance Committee will cross-examine the man who has been nominated to oversee the $700 billion bailout program. Neil Barofsky, the assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York who has been nominated to be Special Inspector General of the Treasury Department’s Troubled Assets Relief Program, testifies at 2 p.m.
    
The House is not in session, but new members elected two weeks ago are in town for an orientation session and a class photo. House Democratic leaders say they will quickly pass any bailout packages that clear the Senate.
    
U.S. stocks are expected to open lower as investors continue to fear a deep and lengthy global recession. According to one group of economists, we’re already there: real GDP is expected to fall 2.6 percent in the final quarter of this year and 1.3 percent in the first three months of 2009, according to a survey of 50 professional forecasters conducted by the National Association of Business Economists.

McCain, Obama nervous in last debate? Early gaffes…

Republican presidential contender John McCain and rival Democratic hopeful Barack Obama appeared to show a little nervousness in the early minutes of their third and final debate, rtx9lji.jpgeach committing minor gaffes.

McCain referred to the mortgage financing giants as “Fannie and Freddie Mae”, instead of their actual names Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

He then referred to the “$750 billion” bailout package aimed at thawing the credit market which Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law earlier this month. Minor mistake, it actually is $700 billion. 

Musing with McCain: ‘If I were dictator…’

WASHINGTON – Sometimes it’s hard to tell when John McCain is joking.
 
Take his interview Tuesday with journalists at The Des Moines Register.
 
The Republican presidential candidate acknowledged the financial bailout measure before Congress was not perfect, but he said it was unacceptable to do nothing and admonished lawmakers for failing to pass a rescue plan.
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Then, without cracking a smile or missing a beat, he added this little nugget: “I’m not saying this is the perfect answer. If I were dictator, which I always aspire to be, I would write it … a little bit differently.”
 
With the Treasury secretary likely to have a huge amount of power under any bailout scheme, McCain was asked what sort of person he was looking for to fill that job. He said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson had been doing admirably.
 
“I think a person along Paulson’s lines,” McCain said. Given the fragility of Wall Street, he added, any candidate “probably has to have a sound grounding in the financial markets and that aspect of America’s economy.”
 
The Arizona senator said if elected he would recruit the brightest and the best for his Cabinet, Democrat or Republican, in government or in business.
 
“I’ll go out and ask them to serve the country for a dollar a year,” he said.
 
He mused aloud about who might be enticed into government service: billionaire Iowa businessman Warren Buffett, eBay founder Meg Whitman, or Fed-Ex chief Fred Smith.
 

McCain strongly objected when a questioner suggested his running mate, Sarah Palin, was not as experienced as others he named as potential government servants.
 
“She’s been a mayor. She’s been an overseer of billions — I don’t know how many billions of dollars of natural resources. She’s been a member of the PTA (Parent Teacher Association). She’s been a governor,” McCain said.
 
He express skepticism when told many people, including now some conservative Republicans, questioned her level of experience.
 
“Really? I haven’t detected that,” he said.
 
“Now, if there’s a Georgetown cocktail party person who quote calls himself a conservative and doesn’t like her, good luck, good luck, fine,” McCain added.
 
“I think that the American people have overwhelmingly shown their approval. Are there people who will be detractors of her? That’s fine. That’s fine. That’s what politics is all about.”

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage.

Photo credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder (McCain speaks at Truman Presidential Library  in Independence, Missouri, on Wednesday)

Amid inaction on financial bailout, blame game continues in McCain ad

PHOENIX  – U.S. lawmakers have yet to back a plan to try and stem the global financial crisis. But the vigorous round of finger-pointing over who is to blame for it continued on the campaign trail on Tuesday as John McCain’s camp singled out Democratic rival Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton in a new ad.

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The 60-second spot argued that, while the veteran Arizona senator sought to rein in excesses by troubled mortgage titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – which were rescued by the government earlier this month – Obama, an Illinois senator, did nothing.

“John McCain fought to rein in Fannie and Freddie,” a voiceover says. It then quotes The Washington Post saying McCain “pushed for stronger regulation … while Mr. Obama was notably silent.”