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Washington Watch - January 25, 2009

The 44th Presidential Inauguration
Millions descended upon Washington, D.C. to watch the swearing in of the nation’s first African-American president. Crowds packed the National Mall and forced the closing of some portions by 9 a.m., still three hours before Obama was set to take
the oath.

In Obama’s Inaugural address, President Obama acknowledged the fight ahead and renewed his call for economic stimulus.

“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time,” he said. “But know this, America - they will be met.”

View and read the entire Inaugural Address at



Economic Stimulus Proposals Unveiled by Obama Administration, House Democrats
President Barack Obama and his aides have been working with Congressional leaders of both parties to finalize details of the President’s proposed American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. The President’s plan calls for quick action to implement the rest of the financial rescue package and protect the economy.

Obama has asked his Cabinet to work with Congress to immediately implement policies to reduce the number of preventable foreclosures by helping to reduce mortgage payments for economically stressed but responsible homeowners, and also reform bankruptcy laws and strengthen existing housing initiatives.

Additionally, he has directed the Treasury Department to monitor, measure and track how recipients of previous bailouts are using those funds. The President’s plan also calls for investment of taxpayer money only when sufficient private capital cannot be attracted, and for private investment to replace U.S. Government investment as quickly as possible.

The President’s roughly $775 billion plan contains a $300 billion tax cut package that includes a payroll tax credit, tax incentives for companies that hire new workers and avoid layoffs, and a net operating loss carry-back provision. President Obama has said his priorities include infrastructure investments such as making public buildings more energy-efficient, as well as funding roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. The nation’s governors have expressed support for this plan and are asking for $136 billion for various infrastructure projects. States are also seeking $20 billion in additional federal funding to assist in covering Medicare costs.

Other proposals for inclusion in the plan include the following:
  • $3 billion in temporary funding for school districts to pay for activities already authorized under the No Child Left Behind Act or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act;
  • Up to $45 billion to build and renovate college facilities, increasing financial aid for college students, and development of a “smart” power grid for renewable-energy sources.
Stimulus Efforts In Congress
House Democratic leaders have also been working on their own economic stimulus package, with an estimated $550 billion in spending and $275 billion in tax breaks for a record total of $825 billion. House committees are preparing to mark up the package, and Democratic leaders say they hope to send a final bill to President Obama by Feb. 13. The comparable Senate package has not yet been released.

The House proposal includes $30 billion for highway and bridge construction projects, with an additional $26 billion for other infrastructure projects. It would provide $3 billion for the National Science Foundation, $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health and nearly $1 billion for small business programs. The proposal also includes $20 billion for efforts to computerize health records and $41 billion in direct aid to school districts.

The $275 billion tax cut portion included in the proposal is smaller than the $300 billion figure proposed by the Obama Administration. The proposal includes a payroll tax credit, an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income wage earners and an increase in the child tax credit.

Republicans leaders said the plan focused too much on spending and not enough on tax cuts. House Republican leaders dismissed the plan and stated they are looking forward to markups.



Obama Cabinet Nominees Face Tough Questions, Senate Approval
President Barack Obama’s nominees for Cabinet positions have started the confirmation process in the Senate, although none have yet faced committee or floor votes. Many of President Obama’s nominees have already testified before the Senate committee with jurisdiction over their designated position. A full Senate floor vote to confirm a nominee depends on a prior confirmation vote by the committee with jurisdiction.

Shaun Donovan, President Obama’s nominee for Housing & Urban Development Secretary, is a former Commissioner of Housing Preservation and Development in New York City.

“HUD can help develop communities that are live able, walkable and sustainable,” Donovan said in a Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs hearing. “HUD can give families the choice to live closer to where they work and, in the process, cut transportation costs. HUD can help low-income families gain greater access to security and opportunity by expanding fair housing efforts.”

A few of the nominees are familiar faces in Washington, such as Obama’s nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Daschle, a former senator and Democratic leader from South Dakota.

President Obama has also named Daschle to lead a new White House Office of Health Reform. “If confirmed, I will use these dual roles to marshal the talent and energy necessary to at last succeed in making health care affordable and accessible for all Americans,” Daschle testified in a Health and Human Services committee hearing.

Another Chicago native and close friend of President Obama’s, former Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools Arne Duncan, was confirmed as Education Secretary by a floor vote on Jan. 20.

“First, we must do dramatically better, we must continue to innovate,” Duncan said when asked by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee how he planned to translate his success in reforming Chicago schools nationally. “Second, we must recognize and reward excellence.”

No dates have yet been set for confirmation votes for Donovan, Daschle and a number of President Obama’s other nominees.

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