Today's Papers

Obama: Show Me the Money

The New York Timesleads with word that President-elect Barack Obama will issue an executive order in his first full day of office that will order the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantamo Bay, Cuba. The Wall Street Journal, which goes inside with the news,says the order will come within Obama’s first week in office. The detention facility won’t close right away, though: Some estimate it could take up to a year to figure out what to do with the remaining 248 prisoners. The Washington Postand the WSJ’s world-wide newsbox lead with President Bush officially requesting the second half of the $700 billion bailout package on behalf of Obama, who began an aggressive lobbying campaign yesterday to convince skeptical lawmakers to give him access to the funds. Obama is calling key members of Congress, vowing there will be more oversight on how the money is spent, and promising a renewed focus on helping homeowners avoid foreclosure.

USA Todayleads with a look at how many states continue to spend money as if the recession had all been a bad dream. As revenue continues to decrease, this unabashed spending means that many state budgets will fall deeper in the red over the coming months, as most state leaders appear to be waiting to see how much they’ll receive from Washington as part of the planned stimulus package. A lot of states “haven’t really ‘fessed up yet in terms of how bad it is,” said the executive director of the National Governors Association. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with a look at how fire chiefs across Southern California are debating whether, in some situations, residents should be allowed to stay and defend their homes from a wildfire. Some fire chiefs believe it could be an efficient way to deal with a lack of resources during a time of lean budgets, but others say it could unnecessarily put lives at risk.

Obama’s plan to make a strong statement about Guantanamo Jan. 21 is seen as a way to signal that the new president will quickly work to undo one of the most controversial chapters of President Bush’s tenure. The NYT also notes that transition officials appear determined to order “an immediate suspension” of the military commissions system to try detainees. Transition officials appear to have rejected a Bush administration push to seek a new law authorizing indefinite detention inside the United States. The WSJ hears word that Obama also plans to issue an executive order regarding interrogation methods.

Over the weekend, Obama told an interviewer that closing Guantanamo is “going to take some time” because it is “more difficult than I think a lot of people realize.” By leaking word of the executive order, Obama’s team may be seeking to quiet critics who complained that the president-elect’s comments suggested the detention facility wouldn’t be at the top of his priorities list. But while the announcement may show that Obama is serious about closing Guantanamo, some have complained that the president-elect hasn’t provided details on how he intends to achieve that goal.

As the WSJ details, Bush’s request for the second half of the bailout package came at a time of “mounting concern” over the health of certain big U.S. lenders that have already received cash infusions courtesy of Uncle Sam. Bank shares were down yesterday after news got out that Citigroup, which received $45 billion of taxpayer money, will probably report a loss of $10 billion for the latest quarter. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed frustration over the rescue package, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, because many of the financial institutions that received government cash have failed to resume lending.

Obama said he asked Bush to request the money because he doesn’t want to be left without funds if something happens in the financial markets. But lawmakers said Obama has so far spoken in general terms and has failed to provide details (are you sensing a pattern?) about how the money would be used. While the NYT is optimistic that lawmakers would ultimately approve the request, the Post says that several members of Congress said they would vote against the move unless Obama is more candid about how he plans to use the money. But, really, there seems to be little chance that lawmakers will say no. After all, if they do, they would be handing Obama an important defeat before he even takes office, and it’s hard to imagine that Democrats would want that.

In a move that could be seen as a sign both that Obama is willing to listen to critics and that his team failed to think through the consequences of his proposals, it looks as if the president-elect will nix a campaign promise to provide a $3,000 tax credit for each new hire made by businesses. The Post directly states that Obama will drop the proposal, while the WSJ says it will probably be scaled back and could be completely erased from the stimulus package. The measure had come under heavy criticism from economists of all political persuasions as well as from Democratic lawmakers who said the tax incentive would be easy to abuse—since companies would probably claim the credit for hires they would have made anyway and could lay off workers just to rehire them and claim the tax break. The WSJ says Obama will offer up bigger tax breaks for renewable-energy development and production instead.

The WP off-leads word that while Obama plans to approve a plan to send as many as 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, he doesn’t think that will actually create a decisive shift in a conflict that has been worsening over the past year. The incoming administration sees the extra troops as a stopgap measure that will give the new president enough time to develop a new strategy. Although Obama once vowed to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, that is starting to look more like a pipe dream, and everyone seems to accept that compromises will have to be made. It’s likely that the incoming administration will have a new strategy ready to present at a NATO summit in April, where Obama will try to cash in on his popularity in Europe to ask allies for an increased military and financial commitment to the Afghanistan operation.

Meanwhile, though, Obama will have to decide where these additional troops are going to go within Afghanistan, and that has sparked an intense debate within the Pentagon, reports the LAT. Some military officials insist that the troops need to focus on guarding the border with Pakistan, while others say that the No. 1 priority should be to protect Afghan cities and towns from Taliban extremists. 

Most of the papers give big front-page play to President Bush’s valedictory news conference, which he jokingly referred to as the “ultimate exit interview.” While the NYT, WP, and LAT all front a montage with several photographs of Bush’s facial expressions during the news conference, the WSJ puts a picture taken yesterday next to one from January 2001 that poignantly illustrates how Bush has aged over the past eight years. Bush was introspective during the conference, admitting to some mistakes and disappointments, but he also vigorously defended his administration and said people should avoid making snap judgments about his legacy. “There is no such thing as short-term history,” he said. Unlike four years ago, Bush was clearly ready when asked about mistakes he made while in office. For the first time, he said he should have pushed for immigration reform after his re-election instead of focusing on trying to change Social Security. He recognized that hanging the now-infamous “Mission Accomplished” sign was a “mistake” and added that “some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.” He also said he had “thought long and hard about Katrina” but didn’t say what could have been done differently beyond perhaps “land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge.”

Scott McClellan, Bush’s former press secretary, points out to the LATthat Bush didn’t concede any actual substantive mistakes and merely chose to focus on how he could have improved his public relations strategy. “The one thing missing was candor,” McClellan said. “Until he acknowledges a single policy mistake, I think it’s going to be hard for him to get people to tune in and pay attention to some of the notable policy achievements.”

As the WP’s Dana Milbank points out, Bush even managed to eke out what may be the final Bushism of his presidency when he tried to wish his successor well. “I’m telling you there’s an enemy that would like to attack America, Americans, again. There just is. That’s the reality of the world. And I wish him all the very best.”