Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Friday, Jan. 9

FINANCIAL/

Who gets the billions?

The incoming Obama administration is preparing a major overhaul of the $700 billion financial bailout amid rising complaints in Congress that the payouts are not going to the right people.

The Washington Post reports that Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner and top Obama economic adviser Larry Summers have been looking at ways to broaden the bailout to include more help for homeowners facing foreclosure as well as to generate loans for municipalities, small businesses and consumers — and not just the financial giants that helped to create the mess.

Obama, meanwhile, is expected to formally announce his picks for top intelligence posts at a news conference around 10:45 a.m. EST. Obama’s choice to head the CIA, former chief of staff in the Clinton White House Leon Panetta, has drawn fire from some security insiders who complain that he lacks experience on intelligence matters.

Obama’s choice for labor secretary, California Rep. Hilda Solis, begins her confirmation hearing in the Senate, which may give clues on how unions — which largely backed Obama in the Nov. 4 election — will fare in the new administration.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch (crumpled dollar bill)

The First Draft, Thursday, Jan 8

President-elect Barack Obama will use a speech on the economy Thursday to try to build support for a massive stimulus bill aimed at lifting the United States out of a deep recession. 
 
BUSH/Obama is warning Congress that unless it acts quickly and boldly to pass his stimulus plan, with its estimated $775 billion price tag, the country could be mired for years in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
 
The president-elect delivers his remarks at 11 a.m. at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, with less than two weeks to go before his inauguration.
 
The speech comes as some lawmakers and financial experts are beginning to raise doubts about elements of the stimulus plan.
 
The Washington Post quoted lawmakers, tax experts and economists as saying some of the tax cuts in the Obama plan are likely to be too expensive and ineffective.
 
Obama’s choice to lead the administration’s charge on health care reform goes before a Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.
 
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle is expected to receive a cordial welcome from his ex-colleagues and Democratic leaders on the panel predict a smooth confirmation.
 
President George W. Bush travels to Philadelphia Thursday for an event touting the success of his No Child Left Behind education reform program.
 
The House of Representatives and the Senate hold a joint session to formally count the electoral votes from the November election, in which Obama defeated Republican rival John McCain.
 
The action will formally declare Obama as winner of the U.S. presidential vote.
 
The morning television news shows reported on Obama’s economic speech and new violence in the Middle East, where rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel.
 
The attacks raised concerns about a possible second front in Israel’s two-week war against Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
 
U.S. stock futures dropped early Thursday on disappionting December sales by Wal-Mart, pointing to a lower open on Wall Street.
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Obama listens as Bush speaks during an Oval Office meeting Wednesday with all the living former presidents)

The First Draft: Wednesday, Jan. 7

USA-OBAMABarack Obama can expect questions about his plans to stimulate the flagging economy, his controversial choice of Leon Panetta for CIA chief and the war in Gaza at a mid-morning news conference.

Later, the president-elect lunches with President George W. Bush and all three living former presidents: Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. A planned photo op in the White House Rose Garden before lunch seems likely to be a damp affair — cold rain expected for most of the day. Still, it’s better than weather elsewhere in the United States: reports of snow in the Northwest and ice in the Northeast led morning TV newscasts today.

On Capitol Hill, more wrangling over whether to seat Illinois’ Roland Burris, who was spectacularly turned away from the Senate floor on Tuesday. Already, a couple Democrats — Dianne Feinstein of California and reportedly Jim Clyburn of South Carolina — are breaking ranks and saying Burris should be allowed to take over Obama’s former seat. The fact that Burris was appointed by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is charged with earlier trying to sell the Senate seat, is at the heart of the controversy.

The First Draft: Tuesday, Jan. 6

MALAYSIA

On a dark and drippy Washington morning, President-elect Barack Obama meets with his economic advisers to discuss the 2010 budget.

At the White House, President George W. Bush will create the biggest protected marine area on the planet, a trio of national monuments in the Pacific.

The new U.S. Congress convenes today, with clouds hanging over two Democrats: Roland Burris of Illinois and Al Franken of Minnesota.

The First Draft, Monday, Jan. 5

USA-OBAMA

President-elect Barack Obama woke up today in the tony Hay-Adams Hotel, across Lafayette Park from the White House.

Soon after sunrise, a black SUV was spotted carrying Obama’s younger daughter Sasha to her first day at Sidwell Friends School elementary campus in suburban Bethesda, Maryland. Older daughter Malia will go to Sidwell Friends’ middle school campus in Washington DC.
The Obamas arrived in Washington late Sunday, an extra-early move so the girls could start school at the beginning of the semester. Most presidents-elect arrive on January 15. That’s when the Obama family will move into Blair House, directly across the street from the White House. The new first family moves into the executive mansion on Inauguration Day, JBOXING/anuary 20.

Top news on morning TV shows was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s withdrawal as Obama’s chosen commerce secretary in the face of a legal inquiry. Richardson, a former Democratic  presidential candidate, has denied wrongdoing in connection with the investigation of a California-based financial company that had done business with the New Mexico state government.

The First Draft, Friday Jan. 2

The new year begins on a quiet note in Washington, but lawmakers are preparing to hit the ground running next week when the 111th Congress will be seated.

obamaPresident-elect Barack Obama is scheduled to return to Washington this weekend and plans to meet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday to discuss the legislative agenda and plans for a nearly $1 trillion economic stimulus package.

Obama also plans to meet Republican leaders Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell.

The First Draft, Wednesday Dec. 31

Happy New Year. It was a great political year. But most folks with a 401K retirement account and a mortgage will be glad to bid farewell to 2008 and ring in 2009 with a feeling of optimism that is natural with the start of a new year. 

 
FINANCIAL/TIMESIt would seem investors have gotten a whiff of that optimism.  After registering some of the worst annual losses in history, world stock markets look to close out the year on an up note. Wall street is poised to open higher with oil prices falling and the dollar rising.

  
Still, 2009 promises to bring more political drama. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who has been accused of trying to sell the vacant Senate seat, defied calls by his fellow Democrats to resign and appointed former state attorney general Roland Burris to fill the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. 

The First Draft, Tuesday Dec. 30

Israel’s military operations in Gaza continue to dominate front pages of major newspapers and morning talk shows. Wall Street is looking for a positive start as oil and gold prices ease back from the price spikes that followed the onset of the Israeli strikes against Hamas.USA-OBAMA/

President George W. Bush remains at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, while President-elect Barack Obama continues his vacation in Hawaii.

GMAC said it will resume financing auto loans following a $5 billion investment from the U.S. Treasury. The latest financial rescue also included a $1 billion loan to General Motors to purchase equity in GMAC.

The First Draft, Monday Dec. 29

WASHINGTON – Israeli air attacks in Gaza dominate morning talk shows and front pages of major U.S. newspapers. The attacks pushed up oil prices by more than $3 a barrel to over $40. Gold prices also moved higher. Nevertheless, U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Wall Street in what is expected to be a light trading.tanks2

President-elect Barack Obama remains in Hawaii and President George W. Bush is at his ranch in Texas.

Winter weather extremes and dismal holiday shopping season featured on morning talk shows.

The First Draft, Friday, Dec. 26

President George W. Bush heads to his Texas ranch for a holiday break Friday.
 
President-elect Barack Obama is already on vacation in Hawaii, where he paid a USA-OBAMA/visit to Marines on Christmas Day.
 
Congress is in recess until after Jan. 1.
 
With the politicians away from Washington, the morning TV shows focused on other news, including the ailing economy’s performance during the holiday shopping season.
 
Retail sales, minus gasoline, were down 2 percent from the previous year in November and 4 percent in the Dec. 1-Dec. 24 period, MasterCard Advisor’s SpendingPulse reported.
 
Some retailers generate up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the holiday period, which typically runs from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.
 
Retailer hopes are now pinned on the post-Christmas sales, which began Friday. USA/

Retailers on the only ones hurting from the bad economy. A drop in revenues is forcing forcing states to cut back on Medicaid, the government’s health insurance program for the poor, the Washington Post said.
 
States are cutting payments to hospitals and nursing homes, eliminating discretionary programs like physical therapy, eyeglasses and hearing aids or forcing the poor to pick up a larger share of the tab, the Post said.
 
The Washington Times reported Friday that a power struggle over the future leadership of the Republican party has broken out into the open.
 
Several members of the Republican National Committee’s governing body are working to call an extra meeting to hear from the six candidates for national chairman, the Times said.
 
The move is seen as a backlash against control of the RNC by Bush, his allies and their Washington-based consulting firms, it said.
 
The extra meeting is seen as giving the six candidates for chairman an equal shot at the job, rather than favoring the current chairman, Robert M. “Mike” Duncan, the Times said.
 
Stock futures were up on Friday, pointing to a higher open on Wall Street amid moves to turn General Moter’s financing arm into a bank holding company.
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit/Hugh Gentry (Obama shares a laugh with U.S. Marine Col. Robert Rice during a visit with Marines on Christmas Day); Reuters/Fred Prouser (Sales signs at a shoe store in Losangeles Dec. 24)