4:15 p.m. ET: Back in early February, Tim Geithner went before the cameras to detail the Obama administration's plans to save the struggling financial system. The problem was that Geithner didn't actually provide many details, only generalities, and so the media's reaction was harsh and the stock market slid as a result.
The Rundown was reminded of that example today while watching House Republicans unveil their alternative budget proposal. "Here it is, Mr. President," John Boehner declared, waving around a handsome-looking blue document as he sought to rebut President Obama's suggestion that Republicans don't have a budget of their own. The problem in this case is that they still don't. Or at least, they haven't released one yet. The booklet Boehner waved around was an outline, a preview of a budget coming soon to a theater near you, that does not yet have an actual price tag or deficit projection yet.
Now, it's fine if the House GOP budget isn't ready for consumption yet. It just would have been better for Republicans if they hadn't made their event sound like it would be the unveiling of an actual budget, rather than just a "blueprint." The GOP wants credit for crafting a plan of their own that can be compared side-by-side with Obama's plan, but it's not possible now to compare the two. The Rundown is sure Republicans will, in fact, have a full-scale budget proposal that they can show off by next week. And they can at least take heart that Geithner did better on his second try.
12:10 p.m. ET: Here's a clip of Lois Romano's interview with Robert Gibbs. Check back tomorrow for the complete video
11:15 a.m. ET: Wondering why President Obama called on reporters from smaller publications like Stars and Stripes but not any of the "major newspapers" -- this one included -- during his news conference Tuesday night? Wondering why he used a teleprompter during his opening statement? Because, according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, he was trying to bring a wider variety of voices into the conversation and talk "directly to the American people."
In a sitdown with the Washington Post's Lois Romano for the "Voices of Power" interview series, Gibbs said he hadn't seen or "focused on" much of the reaction to Obama's choice of questioners but suggested that the administration was making a deliberate effort to broaden its media horizons.
"I think what the President has done is, both now and in the transition, is call on a wide variety of people and bring people that aren't used to covering a President of the United States into the East Room to ask questions of me or ask questions of him and this administration, and I think that's healthy for democracy," Gibbs said.
"I think calling on Stars and Stripes is a good thing. I think calling on outlets that probably have rarely raised their hand because they didn't think they'd ever get called on, and now there is a President of the United States that's calling on them."
Gibbs also dismissed as unimportant Obama's use of a teleprompter, but then defended the practice, which got a good deal of attention after some observers thought the president looked awkward during his opening statement.
"I am absolutely amazed that anybody in America cares about who the President picks at a news conference or the mechanism by which he reads his prepared remarks. You know, I guess America is a wonderful country," Gibbs said.
But Gibbs does care enough about the subject to have done some digging on it. "My historical research has demonstrated that the President is not the first to use prepared remarks nor the first to use a teleprompter," he said.
"I think using the teleprompter last night was a way of talking directly to the American people. I have joked that from now on, just so the President -- we could liven things up, that we're actually going to remove every third word, sort of like a Mad Lib, and he could add in there what he wants to tell people so that there would be a little bit more excitement in it."
Check washingtonpost.com later today for the full video of Romano's interview with Gibbs.
8 a.m. ET: When the budget fight comes to an end in the next few weeks, how will we know whether President Obama has won?
Yesterday, the House Budget Committee approved its spending blueprint along party lines, and the Senate panel is expected to follow suit today. Both chambers' bills scale back Obama's signature middle-class tax cut, pare spending on some domestic programs, provide little guidance on how to pay for health care reform, dance around Obama's "cap and trade" proposal and omit funding for any future financial bailouts. And yet, the administration has taken pains "to blur the lines" between its budget submission and the ones being considered on the Hill.
Some liberal groups are already unhappy about changes to Obama's budget, and are going after moderate and conservative Democrats on the Hill to pressure them to back the president. But will Evan Bayh or Mark Pryor be frightened by a TV ad campaign? Are they really in danger of losing their next Democratic primary over an arcane budget fight? After all, the budget itself doesn't actually spend any money or implement substantive policy changes. It's just a blueprint. Even if the final product of House-Senate negotiations includes few or none of Obama's signature initiatives on health care and energy, and doesn't forswear the accounting gimmicks he has railed against, the administration looks likely to just declare victory anyway and move on to the next fight.
Perhaps that next fight will be over a sweeping overhaul of financial regulations. Tim Geithner plans to ask today for broad new authority over the entire system, with an eye toward preventing repeats of the current crisis. If ever there was a ripe time for advocates to push through tougher oversight and regulations, ones that were frequently blocked in Congress during boom times, it's now. Still, the administration's plan is bold. Geithner wants to bring hedge funds, private equity and other firms that had previously avoided most regulation under federal supervision. Even in this economy, those companies still have plenty of cash to fund a big lobbying fight.
Are the budget and financial regulatory reform the foremost topics on the mind of the American public? Or do they actually just want to talk about pot? Obama will "attend" an online town hall on the White House Web site today at 11:30 a.m. ET, and will take questions submitted and voted on by Web users. At the moment, many of the most "popular" questions on the site are all about marijuana. For example, under the topic "Financial Stability," the top question is: "Would you support the bill currently going through the California legislation to legalize and tax marijuana, boosting the economy and reducing drug cartel related violence?" Under "Green Jobs and Energy," the most popular choice is, "Will you consider decriminalizing the recreational/medical use of marijuana(hemp) so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and a multi-billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?" And so on.
The Rundown suspects that there might even be an organized campaign by legalization advocates to flood the White House site on this topic. Will Obama actually answer any of these questions? We'll find out in a few hours.
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March 26, 2009; 4:15 PM ET
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