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Legacy Content / EARLYBIRD

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WH reassures automakers, Harry Reid names new Senate committee chairmen, Illinois House launches impeachment probe, cost of Iraq and Afghanistan wars nears $1 trillion, Thailand elects opposition leader as prime minister.

December 16, 2008

• "Detroit automakers, teetering on the brink of collapse, are receiving strong signals from the White House that short-term help is on the way while a key senator says the relief package could reach $15 billion for GM and Chrysler," AP reports. "President George W. Bush said a bankruptcy in the U.S. auto industry would hurt the economy while the U.S. deals with the recession."

• Still, "as talks between the Bush administration and domestic automakers continued Monday, no deal is expected before midweek on a rescue plan for General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC," the Detroit Free Press reports.

• "The government's spending commitments exploded by 25 percent in 2008, putting taxpayers more than $1 trillion in the hole even before the astronomical costs of the economic bailout were taken into account, according to an annual report released Monday by the White House," the Washington Times reports.

 

• "As unemployment rises painfully higher and nest eggs are shattered, the Federal Reserve is prepared to slash a key interest rate -- perhaps to an all-time low -- in a desperate bid to stem the country's economic slide," AP reports. "With the Fed's key rate dropping ever closer to zero, the central bank is moving into uncharted territory."

• "The Supreme Court ruled that consumers can sue Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris USA unit under state unfair-trade laws for its advertising of 'light' cigarettes, striking a blow against a broad effort by U.S. corporations to limit their exposure to suits filed under state law," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• Read the court's 5-4 decision here [PDF].

• Vice President Dick Cheney "predicts that Barack Obama will be grateful for the state of presidency he inherits from President Bush," The Hill reports. "'My guess is, once they get here and they're faced with the same problems we deal with every day, that they will appreciate some of the things we put in place,' said Cheney Monday in a telephone interview with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh."

Congress: Reid Names New Senate Committee Chairmen

• Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., on Monday "announced the new slate of committee chairmen for the next Congress, with several changes coming as the result of a domino effect caused by the election of two sitting Democratic senators to the White House," the Washington Post reports.

• "Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Monday demanded that the Bush administration spell out a plan to help distressed homeowners before releasing the remaining $350 billion in the $700 billion financial rescue fund," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

• "Two Democratic senators announced Monday that they would shed campaign contributions from Bernard Madoff, the Wall Street veteran arrested Thursday who gave heavily to Democrats over the past decade," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey both said Monday that they wouldn't keep Mr. Madoff's campaign contributions."

• "Armed with a new Treasury Department report, conservative Democrats on Monday said they want the economic stimulus package to call for the creation of a new commission on the nation's long-term fiscal health," The Hill reports. "Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition, and Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), the vice chairman of New Democrats Coalition, seized on the release of the 2008 Financial Report of the United States Government to make their case that action is needed immediately."

• "Senate Democrats are expected to start the 111th Congress with popular measures that could set a bipartisan tone -- and woo Republican allies -- but potential fights over bailout legislation and Attorney General nominee Eric Holder might short-circuit those warm feelings," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports.

Nation: Illinois House Launches Impeachment Probe

• "The Illinois House launched its first-ever impeachment probe of a governor Monday, promising weeks of hearings detailing Gov. Rod Blagojevich's alleged abuse of power, from enacting massive programs without legislative approval to seeking to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by" Obama, the Chicago Tribune reports. "But the House also held off on calls to strip the disgraced governor of his power to appoint Obama's successor, angering Republicans."

• "The 31 members of New York's electoral college officially cast their votes" Monday "for President-elect Barack Obama, who won 63 percent of the vote Nov. 4," the New York Daily News reports. "The action, along with votes by Electoral College members across the country, brought the 2008 presidential election to a close."

• "Caroline Kennedy, the deeply private daughter of America's most storied political dynasty, will seek the United States Senate seat in New York being vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton," the New York Times reports.

• "Tightened lending standards are leaving builders and real-estate agents scrambling for new ways to move cash-strapped buyers into homes. One increasingly popular option: an obscure home-loan program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture," the Wall Street Journal reports.

• "The Bush administration is preparing to transfer to Bosnia three Guantánamo detainees whom a court ordered freed last month after the first court hearing into the evidence the government used for detaining men at the prison," the New York Times reports. "The transfers would be the first releases from the prison made by the Bush administration because of a court order."

• "Federal transportation leaders announced Monday that the government is seeking contractors to build a $30 billion to $40 billion high-speed rail line between Washington and New York that would be used exclusively by passenger trains," the Washington Times reports.

• "Former Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano was sentenced to 15 years in prison Monday for running an illegal wiretapping operation that gathered information for a list of well-to-do clients, including celebrities, attorneys and business executives," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Iraq: Cost Of Iraq And Afghanistan Wars Nears $1 Trillion

• "Americans are more upbeat about U.S. prospects in Iraq than at any time in the past five years, but nearly two-thirds continue to believe the war is not worth fighting and 70 percent say President-elect Barack Obama should fulfill his campaign promise to withdraw U.S. forces from the country within 16 months, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll."

• "U.S. military operations, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, have cost $904 billion since 2001 and could top $1.7 trillion by 2018, even with big cuts in overseas troop deployments, a report said on Monday," Reuters reports.

• "The brother of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at" Bush "has said that the reporter has been beaten in custody. Muntadar al-Zaidi has suffered a broken hand, broken ribs and internal bleeding, as well as an eye injury, his older brother, Dargham, told the BBC."

• "The lowly shoe and the Iraqi who threw both of his at President Bush, with widely admired aim, were embraced around the Arab world on Monday as symbols of rage at a still unpopular war," the New York Times reports.

• "Seven members of a single family from the ancient Yazidi religious sect were gunned down in their home as violence killed 18 people in Iraq on Monday in the wake of" Bush's "farewell visit," Agence France-Presse reports.

• "Japan announced Friday it would end its airlift operations in Iraq by the end of the year, citing security improvements and moves toward democracy in Iraq," AP reports. "The largely formal order to end the nation's four-year participation in Iraq came at a government national security council meeting, and had been expected for months."

World: Thailand Elects Opposition Leader As Prime Minister

• "Thailand got its third prime minister in four months Monday, after former opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was voted into power in a deal that many hope will end six months of political paralysis," the Washington Post reports. "Abhisit, a Britain-born economist, won a parliamentary vote against former national police chief Pracha Promnok."

• "The Afghan government and its allies are reconciling with moderates and isolating hard-liners in a bid to split the insurgency, Western and Afghan officials say," the Christian Science Monitor reports. "The idea of wooing moderates has gained traction as violence in Afghanistan has reached record levels this year."

• "India's foreign minister has said there is 'a pause' in the peace process with Pakistan following the Mumbai attacks. However, Pranab Mukherjee, speaking in Indian-administered Kashmir, insisted the attacks were not a 'Kashmir issue' and hoped 'normalcy' would return," BBC News reports. "Earlier Defence Minister AK Antony said India was not planning any military action against Pakistan in response."

• "Venezuela and Iran, Opec's two most hawkish members," today "called on the cartel to double the number of barrels it has already promised to withhold from the market in a bid to boost prices," the Financial Times reports.

• "Israel freed 224 Palestinian prisoners Monday, causing jubilant homecoming celebrations among their families and giving Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas one of his few achievements from a year of peace talks," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "The leader of a new political party in South Africa has said at the movement's formal launch that it will offer a home to all of the country's racial groups," BBC News reports. "Correspondents say the" Congress of the People "could present real opposition to the African National Congress for the first time. It is made up largely of ANC defectors, and will challenge the governing party in national elections next year."

• "Zimbabwe's embattled government claimed" today "to be victim of a terror campaign after an assassination bid against the air force chief, as Western powers turned up the diplomatic heat on Robert Mugabe," Agence France-Presse reports.

Transition: Senate Derby

• While Illinois grapples with its pay-to-play scandal, new Senate appointment sweepstakes are ramping up in New York and Colorado. Read more in Lost In Transition, NationalJournal.com's blog on the changeover.

Commentary: A Blow To Tobacco Companies

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, editorialists applaud the Supreme Court's decision that consumers can sue tobacco companies based on marketing of "light" cigarettes.

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