Tales from the Trail

First draft: House to vote on economic stimulus

President Barack Obama faces his first big political challenge as the House of Representatives is due to vote on a $825 billion package to stem the U.S. recession. 

OBAMA/Despite a trip to Capitol HIll to woo Republicans on Tuesday, most House Republicans are expected to oppose the proposal. But Democrats were confident they had enough votes to get the package approved as they seek a final bill for Obama to sign into law by mid-February.

The Federal Reserve meets to review options on how to restore U.S. growth, with a statement by the Federal Open Market Committee around 2:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT). The Fed is discussing how to revive the economy now that traditional interest-rate cutting tools have been exhausted. Fed officials are expected to discuss uncoventional measures to improve financial market operations.

At the White House, Obama will meet with a group of business leaders from across the country in a mid-morning meeting to discuss the impact of the weakening economy on businesses and workers.  He will make remarks on the economy after the meeting, at 11:15 a.m. EST (1615 GMT).

He then turns his focus to national security issues, traveling to the Pentagon with Vice President Biden for a meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other senior officials to discuss the situation

First Draft: Obama courts Republicans on the Hill

For the second Tuesday in a row, President Barack Obama heads up to Capitol Hill. Last week it was to be inaugurated. Today it’s to woo Republican lawmakers and try to build momentum for the $825 stimulus package.

Faced with growing economic problems, as more big companies lay off workers and troubles mount in the housing and financial sectors, Obama will meet with House and Senate lawmakers to build support before debate begins on Capitol Hill on the stimulus package.

He will have separate meetings with the House Republicans and Senate Republicans in the early afternoon. The White House says the meetings are to “seek input” on the stimulus plan. The House and Senate are expected to approve the package by the middle of next month regardless of whether Republicans embrace it.

First draft: Stimulus and tighter auto standards

After Republican leaders expressed doubts about the stimulus package over the weekend, President Barack Obama pushes forward this week with efforts to build public support for his $825 billion economic recovery plan.

The push comes as more bad news is expected on the economic front with many U.S. companies expected to report earnings this week.

Obama outlined his stimulus plan in his radio address on Saturday and he is due to talk about jobs, energy independence and climate change at the White House at 10:30 a.m. (1530 GMT).

First Draft: Obama focuses on foreign affairs

GUANTANAMO/OBAMA

President Barack Obama is expected to focus on foreign policy and issue an order to close Guantanamo prison within a year.

But the state of the economy remains a top concern with Wall Street poised to open lower after the government reported the number of workers filing for new jobless claims rose more than expected last week. House starts and permits fell to a record low.

Congress is busy pulling together a huge economic stimulus plans and House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said the House was expected to vote next week on the $825 billion plan. Hoyer also said the White House would host a bipartisan meeting on the plan on Friday. Republicans had sought more input into the package.

The First Draft: The first day

The inauguration celebrations are over and the clean up begins as Barack Obama prepares for his first full day of work. OBAMA/

It’s a big job. The recession shows no signs of easing and Wall Street ushered in the new presidency with a record Inauguration Day slide. Obama’s choice for treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, will likely be asked at his Senate nomination hearing about the state of the economy and the new administration’s plans to shore up banks sagging under the burden of bad investment decisions.

Obama’s first day in the Oval Office is expected to be busy. He begins with the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral and plans an open house for the public at the White House in the afternoon. He will also meet with economic advisers to discuss his proposed economic stimulus plan and proposals for dealing with bad bank assets.

Vice president, Congress get pay raise in 2009

WASHINGTON - The economy is in tatters and job losses abound, but there are pay raises to be had in these trying times.

You just have to get elected.

Joe Biden, who will become vice president on Jan. 20, will receive a salary of $227,300 — $6,200 more than predecessor Dick Cheney. Close behind is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will get a $6,100 jump to $223,500.  

Senators and members of Congress will get a $4,700 increase, bringing their salaries up to $174,000. House and Senate leaders’ salaries will rise to $193,400 from $188,100.

The First Draft: Friday, Nov 28

If Thanksgiving is over, it must be time for “Black Friday”. The big question this year is — will the traditional start to the holiday shopping season be a good one given the bleak economic picture? 
 
Retailers sure hope so, and they have slashed prices and offered incentives to lure shoppers to their store.
 
Terry Lundgren, chief executive of Macy’s said about 5,000 people had lined up outside the flagship Herald Square store which he called “encouraging” though he admitted in an interview on “Good Morning America” it’s been a “challenging period” for retailers like Macy’s.
 
“For retailers, this is the playoffs,” he said. “Starting now through the week after Christmas … We have much more aggressive pricing than we have in previous years.”
 
The state of the U.S. economy is on the minds of many — even al Qaeda.
 
Al Qaeda’s second-in-command published an Internet video saying the U.S. financial crisis was caused by Washington’s military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
In India, commandos took control of Mumbai’s Trident-Oberoi hotel but battles raged on with militants who were still holed up in another luxury hote, the Taj Mahal, and a Jewish center with about half a dozen foreign hostages.
 

After two days, the siege at two hotels and a Jewish center neared its end amid gunfire and more deaths. Police said so far at least 121 people have been killed.

Will Obama lead by example and hit the malls?

It is the season to spend, spend, spend. But with new figures out on Wednesday showing U.S. consumers cutting spending in October at the steepest rate in more than seven years, retailers are worried.
 
The day after Thanksgiving, known as Black Friday, is the traditional kickoff to the U.S. holiday shopping season and one of the biggest buying days of the year for consumers, whose spending sprees in past years have fueled the economy.
 
At his third news conference in three days on the economy, President-Elect Barack Obama, who has been seeking to present himself as a man with a plan to fix the economy, was asked by a reporter whether he planned to lead by example and hit the malls himself.
 
“Well, we are going to do some Christmas shopping. And Malia and Sasha have already put their list together,” he said, referring to his two young daughters. “It’s mostly for Santa. They send their letter every year.  But — but we may do some extra shopping as well.”
 
Noting that Thursday was the Thanksgiving holiday, he also joked that the latest appointments to his economic team, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and Austan Goolsbee, one of his policy advisers, could cook a mean turkey dinner.
 
“I want you to know that both Paul and Austan have special turkey-cooking recipes, if anybody out here needs some advice on how to make the ideal turkey,” he said to laughter as Goolsbee and Volcker looked on.
 
Obama will spend Thanksgiving at home in Chicago, where he said he and his wife Michelle were hosting a “whole bunch of people”. The guests will likely first have to go through strict physical checks by the Secret Service agents now protecting Obama before being allowed to enter the family home.
 
The agents kept their distance though on Wednesday when the president-elect and his family went to St Columbanus, a Roman Catholic church in Chicago’s South Side, to help hand out chickens to hungry families.
 
Bundled up against the cold in in a brown suede jacket and scarf, Obama smiled broadly and shouted “Happy Thanksgiving” as he handed out dozens of frozen chickens piled on a table to those waiting in line in the church’s carpark.
 
Many people were delighted to see him — several women even hugged him, while others were so overcome by emotion that they forgot to take their chicken — but some were clearly more concerned about getting their food.
 
The church’s pastor, Reverend Matt Eyerman, said people had been lining up since 5 a.m. in the bitter cold to make sure they got their weekly food rations, which include bread, oranges, canned goods and 10 lbs (5 kg) of potatoes.
 
“Every Wednesday we hand out food. We are feeding 350 to 400 households. A year ago we were serving 270 households,” he said, adding that it was one very visible sign of the deteriorating economy.
 
Obama, who has helped distribute food to the needy on Thanksgiving eve for the past three years, later acknowledged this, saying: “These folks were often times having a tough time. They are having a tougher time now.”

REUTERS/John Gess (Obama and family at Chicago food bank)

The First Draft: Wednesday, Nov. 26

The economic crisis clearly has some folks feeling a little Grinch-like as the holiday season approaches.
 
President-elect Barack Obama, for one.
 
He told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that bankers should forego their bonuses this year.
 
“That’s an example of taking responsibility,” he said.
 
Not only that, daughters Malia and Sasha are going to have to make their beds and do other chores when they move into the White House.
 
“They have to learn these things,” Michelle Obama said.
 
Harsh.
 
The networks also report Barbara Bush, the 83-year-old former first lady, spent the night in the hospital after suffering from stomach pains.
 
The hospital stay was precautionary, officials say. Bush, the mother of President George W. Bush, is expected to be released sometime Wednesday.
 
President Bush will pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey at the White House before heading off to Camp David for the holiday.
 
Upstaging the president and the turkey, Obama will make an economic announcment at 10:45 a.m.
 
He will name former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to chair a panel to advise him on measures to stabilize financial markets and maneuver the country out of a recession, aides say.
 
Obama also is reportedly close to asking Roberts Gates to stay on as defense secretary. Many of Gates’ deputies would be replaced under the deal, The Washington Post said.
 
Newspapers mainly led with the government’s plan for $800 billion in new lending programs to ease the lending crisis and make it easier for consumers to get loans for homes, cars and education.
 
Despite new moves by Washington, China and Europe to stimulate the economy, markets overseas were struggling Wednesday and U.S. stock futures pointed to a lower opening on Wall Street.
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama and Volcker at a Florida event Oct. 21)