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ThinkFast: March 19, 2009

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"ThinkFast: March 19, 2009"

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On the heels of the AIG bonus controversy, federally run mortgage giant Fannie Mae “plans to pay four top executives $1 million or more in retention bonuses.” The bonus plan is part of a retention program instituted by the government when it took over Fannie Mae and wanted to keep “employees deemed crucial to the company’s efforts to carry out government housing plans.”

The House will vote today on a bill that would levy a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid “to employees with family incomes above $250,000 at companies that have received at least $5 billion in government bailout money.”

Sen. Chris Dodd “said the Obama administration asked him to insert a provision” into last month’s stimulus bill that modified restrictions on executive pay and “had the effect of authorizing American International Group Inc.’s bonuses.” He said he did not want to make changes to the provision, but “did so at the request of administration officials, who gave us no indication that this was in any way related to AIG.”

President Bush’s memoir will tentatively be called “Decision Points” and is scheduled for a 2010 release by Crown. “Bush will concentrate on about a dozen personal and presidential choices, from giving up drinking to picking Dick Cheney as his vice president to sending troops to Iraq.” He will also write about “his religious faith and his highly criticized response to Hurricane Katrina.”

The House Republican Conference, attempting to be a part of the health care reform debate, “has set up a weekly education series for aides, called Health Care Boot Camp. Experts from the Congressional Research Service and former Hill and administration staff members who are now at think tanks or in the private sector lecture on health policy.”

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the military is ending its controversial “stop-loss” policy, which holds U.S. troops beyond the end of their enlistments. The Pentagon will phase out the program by 2011, and give soldiers a $500-a-month bonus while they are in extended service. “As of January, 13,217 soldiers had tours extended under the stop-loss policy.”

In addition to the increase in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, Obama is expected to announce that the U.S. will deploy hundreds of additional U.S. officials in what the Washington Post calls a “civilian ‘surge.’” The proposal also “includes a more narrowly focused concentration on security, governance and local development in Afghanistan.” Today, the Center for American Progress is holding a webcasted-event that will discuss the plan.

Yesterday, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) announced that she will be resigning from Congress to become Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. “Keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, making sure other countries do not obtain them and, one day, I hope, ridding the world of these terrible weapons, has become my passion and, I hope, my life’s work,” she said.

Yesterday, Obama directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to drop a proposal to bill private insurance companies for the treatment that Veterans receive at VA hospitals for combat-related injuries,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement. The measure was under consideration because it would have saved the VA approximately $530 million per year.

And finally: It’s March Madness, and most lawmakers are saying that they’ll turn a blind eye and let their staffs have some fun. “My staff puts in long hours and into the weekends, so if they watch a basketball game, I won’t be too upset,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who represents the district of the sixth-seeded UCLA. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said he would be “disappointed” if his staff didn’t “seize the opportunity to keep an eye first and foremost on the University of Oklahoma.” Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), however, had a different view: “If I miss them, then my staff has to miss them, too.”

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