Strings Attached

Obama ratchets up accountability for some bailout beneficiaries, but stimulus stalls in Senate.

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The Obama team is pursuing accountability on Wall Street for those receiving federal funds, making good on a campaign promise. But bipartisan support in Congress continues to elude the president as the stimulus package remains mired in politics in the Senate. Just a day after his hopes for a smooth transition were further scuttled by the withdrawal of two of his nominees, Obama faces new blows on the international front, as the war in Afghanistan gets ever-trickier to fight. Today’s score is a 12 on the Change-o-Meter.

New message for executives of financial firms: If you want help, be prepared to pay—personally. Salaries will be capped at $500,000, including perks and bonuses, for top players at firms that have received the largest amounts of government assistance. But while this move may appease those who are angry with the government for bailing out failing companies, the dramatic move doesn’t actually affect very many companies, notes the Washington Post. Ten points for trying (details are still being worked out)—but at the moment, this new addition to the bailout plan seems to have more flash than substance.

The new stimulus bill is stuck in the Senate. Surprise, surprise. It’s one thing to promise a new way of working in Washington. It’s quite another to get enough support from the opposing party in the Senate to get any action on a bill. An early attempt by Democrats to add another $24 billion to the package, which would push the total to more than $900 billion, missed the 60-vote mark by two, with only two Republicans joining the motion.

As far as a replacement for Tom Daschle to head the Department of Health and Human Services, Obama doesn’t seem to have a second choice in mind. Yesterday may have been tough for the president, but details of Daschle’s lavish lifestyle during his absence from Washington made Obama’s pick look like any other Washington insider. Obama was interviewed by major news networks immediately following the announcement, where he was forced to address his mistakes over and over and over. At least he’s willing to admit he can be wrong—an improvement over his predecessor. His contrition is good for a couple of points.

Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan announced plans to close the United States’ only air base in Central Asia, throwing a wrench in the president’s plans to focus on the war in Afghanistan. The base is in a key location, relatively safe from attack, something the U.S. military desperately needs because of instability and violence in Pakistan. And the recent bombing of a bridge on a supply route to troops in Afghanistan could be the Taliban testing Obama’s commitment to the region. The shift in focus and resources he promised during the campaign may not be so easy to achieve.

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