ThinkFast: January 26, 2009


President Obama will “instruct key federal agencies today to reexamine two policies that could force automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars that yield fewer greenhouse gas emissions.” Obama will order that the EPA reconsider granting a waiver for California to regulate tailpipe emissions and that the Transportation Department issue fuel efficiency guidelines for the nation’s auto fleet.

Kathie Olsen – a global warming denying Bush official at the National Science Foundation – has entrenched herself into the agency prior to the arrival of the Obama administration. A congressional investigation said Olsen’s action “raises serious questions concerning whether a high-level Bush White House science appointee is trying to ‘burrow in‘ at the agency.”

The departments of Defense, State, and Health and Human Services “have failed to comply with a 2007 law directing them to appoint civil liberties protection officers and report regularly to Congress on the safeguards they use to make sure their programs don’t undermine the public’s rights and privacy.” The “board that’s supposed to enforce the mandates has been dormant since 2007.”

Lobbyists are bemoaning President Obama’s strict ethics rules, which “are viewed by many on K Street as effectively a ban,” “making it nearly impossible for lobbyists who would take senior positions in government to enter public service.” “I haven’t seen anybody in the administration with any interest in hiring a lobbyist,” one Democratic lobbyist said. “No one I know who is a lobbyist is figuring out a way to get in.”

On Friday, the Senate Finance Committee unveiled a package of pro-business tax cuts as part of its stimulus plan, with provisions such as de-leveraging and bonus depreciation that the business lobby has pushed for. “We’re very encouraged,” said Bruce Josten, the vice president of government affairs for the Chamber of Commerce. The $275 billion in tax cuts would also waive tax collection on unemployment benefits.

According to a new USA Today survey of economists, “the U.S. economy will climb out of recession in the second half of the year, but firms will continue to cut jobs through 2009 and growth will likely be more of a crawl than a sprint.” The jobless rate is expected to peak at 8.8 percent next year “as employers remain cautious and implement earlier, announced cuts.”

Obama’s pledge to slash earmarks to 1994 levels, which would be a nearly 75 percent cut from 2006, “is already causing heartburn on Capitol Hill.” Several appropriators told Roll Call that they were “unaware of the pledge” while they have been “quietly negotiating an omnibus appropriations bill for the remainder of fiscal 2009 that will include thousands of earmarks.”

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) is introducing a constitutional amendment this week ending gubernatorial Senate appointments, replacing them with special elections. “The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments…make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end,” he said.

New figures from the Pentagon reveal that “[r]oadside bomb attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan hit an all-time high last year,” killing 161 soldiers — more than double the previous year’s total.

And finally: Senator Oprah Winfrey? This morning on ABC’s Good Morning America, scandal-plagued Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) revealed he almost decided to pick TV talk show host Oprah to replace Obama. His consideration of Oprah was tempered, he suggested, by that fact that “she probably wouldn’t take it,” and “If I offered it to her how do you make sure it doesn’t look like a gimmick.”

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