The New York Timesand USA Todaylead with, and everyone else fronts, President Obama’s efforts to sell his massive stimulus package directly to the American people with a town-hall-style meeting in Elkhart, Ind., and his first prime-time news conference held in the East Room of the White House. Stating that the country faces a “profound economic emergency,” Obama warned that failing to do anything “could turn a crisis into a catastrophe.” The president acknowledged that the “plan is not perfect,” but he pushed Congress to come to an agreement quickly. “We’ve had a good debate,” Obama said. “Now it’s time to act.”
The Washington Postleads with new details on the administration’s plan to rescue the financial industry that officials estimate could commit up to $1.5 trillion in public and private funds. (The WSJ says $2 trillion.) For now, the administration has no plans to ask for more than the $350 billion that is left over from the original package. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally with the tentative ruling issued by a panel of three federal judges that says California must reduce its state prison population by as much as one-third, or about 57,000 people. The judges said the state prisons are so overcrowded—they were designed for 84,000 inmates but currently hold 158,000—that inmates can’t receive the level of health care to which they are entitled under the Constitution.
Obama’s hourlong news conference came a few hours after the Senate voted 61-36 to cut off debate on the stimulus package. A final vote is expected today, which will send the bill into negotiations between the House and the Senate to reconcile their different versions of the measure. The NYT notes that the news conference “was the centerpiece” of an intense effort by the administration “to wrest control of the stimulus debate from Republicans and reframe it on Mr. Obama’s terms.” But even as he tried to launch a new offensive, “Obama sounded less like a political gladiator fighting for his first big initiative than a schoolteacher trying to calm overwrought children,” declares the LAT.
In a news analysis inside, the NYT says that Obama made it clear “that he had all but given up hope of securing a bipartisan consensus” on the stimulus package, emphasizing that it is far more important to pass the measure quickly. He wasn’t shy about taking on Republican critics of the bill, saying that the GOP doesn’t “have a lot of credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility.” In its own analysis, the LAT points out that Obama is trying to “shape the public view” of Republicans. Several times yesterday, Obama “painted his GOP adversaries as well beyond the mainstream” and he not-so-subtly suggested that his opponents just want to watch the economy decline without doing anything.
While the economy was the dominant issue in the news conference, the president also touched on other topics but didn’t really make any news. He said he was “looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue” with Iran and criticized Afghanistan’s government, declaring that it “seems very detached from what’s going on.” He was also asked about the next phase in the bailout plan to help ailing financial institutions, but he refused to give any details and said he was not able to estimate quite yet how much money it would take to thaw the frozen credit markets. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is scheduled to outline today how the administration plans to use the second installment of the $700 billion bailout package.
The general outline of the new phase in the rescue program had already been reported, but the papers have some new interesting details today. The Treasury will offer low-cost financing to entice investors into purchasing the toxic assets held by banks and hopes to accomplish this by initially raising $250 billion to $500 billion in public and private funds. Before the administration decides which banks will receive another injection of cash, it will carry out “stress tests” to figure out how much money the financial firms need and, according to the WP, “whether these firms could withstand a downturn even worse than the current one.” Surprisingly, Geithner won’t mention any plans to help distressed homeowners avoid foreclosure. Officials said that plan is still in the works and could be unveiled next week but it’s expected to be a $50 billion initiative, which is at the low end of what everyone was expecting. The WSJ reports that the administration is retiring TP’s favorite acronym of the day, TARP, since it will be renaming the Troubled Asset Relief Program as the Financial Stability Plan.
The WSJ notes that the first attempts to sell the plan to Congress “got off to a rocky start” in briefings with House and Senate staffers because of the lack of detail provided. There seems to be a general feeling that the highly anticipated outline of the plan will turn out to be underwhelming because the whole thing is still very much a work in progress. Indeed, the NYT says that becuase of internal debates within the administration “some of the most contentious issues remain unresolved.”
The NYT details that Geithner’s fingerprints are all over the new bailout plan. Many administration officials, including some of Obama’s top aides, wanted to impose more stringent conditions on the financial institutions that would get help, but Geithner resisted and “largely prevailed.” While the plan will require that all banks submit detailed plans on how they intend to use the government money to improve their lending programs, Geithner was adamant that the plan might not work if the government tries to get too involved in running the financial companies. In the end, “the plan largely repeats the Bush administration’s approach of deferring to many of the same companies and executives who had peddled risky loans and investments at the heart of the crisis,” declares the NYT.
Everyone reports that the Obama administration appeared to surprise federal appeals judges yesterday when it invoked the same “state secrets” privilege that the Bush administration used. The case involves five men who say they were abducted by U.S. operatives and taken to countries where they were tortured. They are suing a Boeing subsidiary for allegedly providing the aircraft that the CIA used in its “extraordinary rendition” program. Yesterday, Justice Department lawyers said the case shouldn’t be allowed to proceed because state secrets and national security interests could be threatened if the issue is discussed in court. “This is not change,” ACLU’s executive director said. “This is definitely more of the same.”
USAT goes across its front page with, and the NYT off-leads, baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez admitting that he used performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-03. “I was young. I was stupid. I was naive,” said the 33-year-old, who is the highest-paid player in baseball. The WSJ provides a stark example of how much the paper has changed since it was purchased by News Corp. by placing a huge picture of Rodriguez on its front page.
The LAT points out that one of the few moments of levity in Obama’s news conference came when he turned his vice president “into a punch line.” When asked what Joe Biden meant when he said there was still a “30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong,” Obama said he didn’t “remember exactly what Joe was referring to.” And then added: “Not surprisingly.” Although the two men seem fond of each other, this was the latest episode that suggests “the mutual admiration may have its limits,” notes the LAT.
The WSJ reports that Bob Marley’s family has joined forces with a private equity firm to make a major push to license anything that uses the Reggae singer’s likeness or name. Marley died in 1981, but his name is still a huge draw and companies that use it without permission produce an estimated $600 million in annual sales. The House of Marley wants to go after these counterfeiters and grow the brand into a $1 billion retail business within the next few years. So what can we expect? First, there will be Marley Lager, a Jamaican beer, and Marley Coffee, which will come from an organic coffee plantation in Jamaica. But pretty soon they hope to add headphones, snowboards, posters, and screensavers, among other items. “The Marleys stand for something,” the chief executive of Hilco Consumer capital said, “peace and love.”