Quick Takes

By Dan Froomkin
12:25 PM ET, 03/ 5/2009

Here's ABC's Charlie Gibson talking last night about all the earmarks in the $410 billion spending bill currently before Congress. "You may ask, didn't the presidential candidates last fall agree to get rid of earmarks?" But correspondent Jonathan Karl doesn't actually answer the question -- perhaps because the answer is no. John McCain promised to veto any earmarks. Obama promised to curb them and make them more transparent.

John D. McKinnon and Martin Vaughan write in the Wall Street Journal: "President Barack Obama is meeting strong Democratic Party resistance to his proposal to reduce tax deductions enjoyed by upper-income Americans and could be forced to drop or modify the idea....The resistance from Mr. Obama's own party -- focusing on a single element of the president's tax plans -- could foreshadow broader troubles for the rest of his proposed tax increases."

Scott Wilson and Robert O'Harrow Jr. write in The Washington Post that the government-wide review of federal contracting procedures Obama ordered yesterday "served as a philosophical break with the Bush administration, which vastly expanded the role of contractors in running the government and fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president said, 'We will stop outsourcing services that should be performed by the government,' noting that annual spending on contracts had doubled to more than $500 billion over the past eight years."

Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times: "The Obama administration on Wednesday began the most ambitious effort since the 1930s to help troubled homeowners, offering lenders and borrowers big incentives and subsidies to try to stem the wave of foreclosures....Administration officials estimate that the plan will help as many as four million people avoid foreclosure, at a cost to taxpayers of about $75 billion. In addition, the Treasury Department said it intended to follow up with a plan to help troubled borrowers with second mortgages, which many homebuyers used as 'piggyback' loans to buy houses with no money down."

John D. Geanakoplos and Susan P. Koniak write in a New York Times op-ed: "The plan announced by the White House will not stop foreclosures because it concentrates on reducing interest payments, not reducing principal for those who owe more than their homes are worth. The plan wastes taxpayer money and won’t fix the problem....For subprime and other non-prime loans, which account for more than half of all foreclosures, the best thing to do for the homeowners and for the bondholders is to write down principal far enough so that each homeowner will have equity in his house and thus an incentive to pay and not default again down the line. This is also best for taxpayers, who now effectively guarantee the securities linked to these mortgages because of the various deals we’ve made to support the banks."

Glenn Kessler writes for The Washington Post: "The Obama administration is pushing to convene a high-level meeting on Afghanistan this month that could for first time bring together Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her Iranian counterpart.

Tom Hamburger and Christi Parsons write in the Los Angeles Times: "As President Obama names more policy czars to his White House team -- high-level staff members who will help oversee the administration's top initiatives -- some lawmakers and Washington interest groups are raising concerns that he may be subverting the authority of Congress and concentrating too much power in the presidency."

Joseph Williams writes in the Boston Globe: "President Obama has quietly adopted some of his predecessor's expansive views of the power as commander in chief - especially concerning antiterrorism policies....Some top Democrats, Obama allies, and civil libertarians say they are closely watching how the new president uses his power, and intend to challenge him if he does not voluntarily roll it back to pre-Bush limits."

Sunlen Miller reports for ABC News: "Declaring it a 'timeout' before they 'dive back into the game' President Obama hosted a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to the White House for dinner last night....The administration has followed a pattern recently, opening up the White House on Wednesday nights for social events – a Stevie Wonder concert last Wednesday, and cocktail parties with various groups in weeks past."

Peter Baker writes for the New York Times: "Presidents have been using teleprompters for more than half a century, but none relied on them as extensively as Mr. Obama has so far. While presidents typically have used them for their most important speeches to the nation — an inauguration, a State of the Union or an Oval Office address — Mr. Obama uses them for everyday routine announcements, and even for the opening statement at his news conference...Mr. Obama prefers the message to be just so. After all, he is a bestselling author who has had a hand in writing many of his major speeches, so his aides say he feels a certain fidelity to the crafted text."

Blogging for the Telegraph, Tim Shipman writes that Obama is "running scared" of the British press. The White House, for some reason, decided not to hold the traditional joint press conference when the British prime minister came to visit. "There were several spiky and revealing moments between President Bush and the BBC political editor Nick Robinson," Shipman notes, absolutely correctly. "It is bizarre that Mr Obama is less willing to answer questions than Mr Bush. It reflects very poorly on his tendency towards control freakery, which has been in evidence since his campaign."

Stacy St. Clair writes in the Chicago Tribune: "Malia and Sasha Obama don't have that puppy yet, but their parents found another way to keep them entertained at the White House: a killer swing set."

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