The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal’s online newsboxlead with the House approving a $14 billion bailout package for U.S. automakers last night. Now it’s up to the Senate to decide whether General Motors and Chrysler will get the emergency loans, and things aren’t looking good for Detroit. Many Republican senators continue to oppose the legislation, saying that it doesn’t provide enough oversight of the ailing companies and could end up being a huge waste of taxpayer money. The New York Timesleads with President-elect Barack Obama and the entire Senate Democratic caucus calling for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to resign after he was arrested in a corruption scandal. Illinois lawmakers are trying to figure out a way to fill Obama’s old Senate seat without the governor, and Majority Leader Harry Reid warned Blagojevich that he should “under no circumstances make an appointment.”
USA Todayleads with a look at how the effort to ease the pain of the financial crisis and recession through government spending is increasing “the federal share of the nation’s economic activity close to $1 out of every $4,” which is the highest level since World War II. The previous record was set in 1983, when the federal share of the nation’s economy was 23.5 percent. Many warn that all this spending could bring more troubles down the road as the government will eventually have to begin taming the growing budget deficit.
The rescue plan for U.S. automakers was approved largely along party lines, with 32 Republicans joining Democrats in voting for the measure. Republican support is much more important in the closely divided Senate and several lawmakers were openly pessimistic about the chances that Democratic leaders will be able to garner enough support to ensure that the legislation passes. “I don’t think the votes are there on our side of the aisle,” said Sen. George Voinovich, one of the few Republican senators who have openly expressed his support for the package. The White House sent a group of high-level administration officials, including Vice President Cheney, to Capitol Hill to try to convince lawmakers but Republicans refused to budge. “They probably left with less support than they came in with,” Republican Sen. Bob Corker said.
Some Republicans are holding on to the opinion that the companies have a better chance of long-term survival if they’re pushed toward filing for bankruptcy protection. But others said they’d be willing to consider voting in favor of the loans if the so-called car czar is given more power to force the auto companies to restructure. The problem now is that lawmakers may have run out of time to make changes to the legislation since lawmakers will be leaving Washington for the holidays. The WP points out that while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she might call lawmakers back, a “senior House aid” said that’s unlikely. But the legislation that was introduced in the Senate is already slightly different from what the House passed because it makes it clear that automakers would only have to comply with federal fuel efficiency and emissions requirements rather than stricter standards in several states.
As Democrats tried to deal with the fallout from the Blagojevich scandal, Reid warned that the Senate leadership may not seat anyone the Illinois governor appoints. Members of the Senate Democratic caucus want Blagojevich to resign and allow his successor to make the appointment. Meanwhile, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a rising star in the Democratic Party, found himself embroiled in the scandal when federal authorities identified him as the man referred to as “Senate Candidate 5” in the criminal complaint. The 76-page affidavit filed in support of the charges against Blagojevich quotes the governor saying that he’d been offered $500,000 or more by a representative of Candidate 5 in exchange for the Senate seat. Jackson strongly denied he had sent anyone to offer the governor money and said he was unaware that the selection process had become tainted.
Even as more members of his own party are calling for his resignation, the WSJ points out that the case against Blagojevich might not be as open-and-shut as the headlines make it seem. The recorded conversations might be shocking but they’re not necessarily criminal. One criminal defense attorney tells the WSJ that the portions of the governor’s conversations that were released don’t necessarily add up to crime. “Every politician keeps accounts,” the lawyer said, “what is horse trading, and what is hyperbole?”
In a separate story inside, the NYT points out that the Blagojevich scandal “could be the first test of the Obama team’s ability to manage a growing scandal” and whether it can avoid making mistakes that could raise even more questions about the president-elect’s involvement. Obama’s aides have avoided answering questions about any discussions they had with the Illinois governor about the Senate seat but the president-elect might finally discuss the issue today during a scheduled news conference on health care.
The WP and NYT front, and everyone mentions, that Obama appears to have settled on some key choices to run his energy and environmental initiatives. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, will be nominated as secretary of energy, while Lisa Jackson, a former environmental policy official in New Jersey, was picked to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Carol Browner, who led the EPA under President Clinton, will fill a new White House “energy czar” role. The WP says the team suggests Obama “plans to make a strong push for measures to combat global warming and programs to support energy innovation.” The WSJ says that after the president-elect faced some criticism from supporters that his early Cabinet picks were too centrist, Obama “appears to be moving to the left with some of his new choices.”
In what everyone says is a horrible sign for economies across the globe, China announced yesterday that its November exports plunged 2.2 percent from a year earlier, which marked the first decline in seven years. The decline marked a sharp change from even a month earlier when exports rose 19.2 percent. “The most striking real economic fact of the past several months is not continued U.S. economic weakness, but that China’s economy has slowed much more quickly than anyone had forecast,” Australia’s central bank governor Glenn Stevens said this week. The WSJ fronts the news andpoints out that the slump raises questions about whether China “can help support growth and stave off deeper financial pain elsewhere around the world.” In a front-page piece the WP points out the World Bank predicted that global trade will fall 2.1 percent next year, the first decline since 1982. “The slowdown illustrates how globalization, which fed rapid growth during times of plenty, can quickly turn against nations during times of bust,” says the Post.
The LAT and NYT both front must-read dispatches from Africa. The NYT’s Lydia Polgreen takes a look at how the recent killings in Kiwanja, Congo, not only displayed the brutality of rebel groups fighting for power in the troubled country but also provided “a textbook example” of how United Nations peacekeepers continue to fail in their efforts to protect the Congolese people. While the killings were taking place, 100 peacekeepers were less than a mile away but they didn’t fully understand what was happening outside their base as they focused on rescuing aid workers and searching for a kidnapped journalist. They have almost no intelligence capabilities, and at the time didn’t even have a translator on base. “Kiwanja was a disaster for everyone,” a Human Rights Watch senior researcher said. “The people were betrayed not just by rebels who committed terrible war crimes against them but by the international community that failed to protect them.”
In another of her strikingly vivid dispatches that chronicle the desperation of everyday life in Zimbabwe, the LAT’s Robyn Dixon takes a look at how cholera is taking hold of the country and how relatives are often left with no choice but to watch their loved ones die of an easily treatable disease. There’s a shortage of medicine so patients often have to bribe doctors for care and clinics are suffering from huge staff shortages as nurses are severely underpaid and overworked. Cholera is spreading quickly and many fear the problem will persist for a long time due to Zimbabwe’s rapidly decaying infrastructure.
The LAT’s Rosa Brooks says the Blagojevich scandal “should be a cautionary tale for Democrats” because it serves as a reminder that “powerful Democrats aren’t immune to human weaknesses.” Democrats shouldn’t just be careful about the obviously illegal forms of corruption, they also need to watch out for the “far more subtle ways” that corruption can seep into a party in power. “For in the end, arrogance and groupthink can prove far more lethal than even the most scandalous financial shenanigans,” writes Brooks. “Just ask the thousands dead in Iraq.”