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President Obama Talks Economy; Stimulus Vote Countdown; Interview With Senators Tom Coburn, Sherrod Brown

Aired January 28, 2009 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Tony Harris in the CNN NEWSROOM, and here are the headlines from CNN for this Wednesday, the 28th day of January.

President Obama's $825 billion stimulus plan. The House set to vote in snowy Washington today. Coming up live, two senators, two points of view.

Also, you've got a minute and a half to fix the broken economy. Top economists give me their 90-second prescription this hour in the NEWSROOM.

President Obama focused on the economy and facing his first major test on that massive $825 billion stimulus package. A House vote expected just hours from now. The president met with business leaders today, part of his effort to push the stimulus plan. And in remarks last hour, he talked about the tough times facing workers and businesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A few moments ago I met with some of the leading business executives in the country. And it was a sober meeting, because these companies and the workers they employ are going through times more trying than any that we've seen in a long, long while.

Just the other day, seven of our largest corporations announced they were making major job cuts. Some of the business leaders in this room have had to do the same. And yet, even as we discussed the seriousness of this challenge, we left our meeting confident that we can turn our economy around. But each of us, as they have indicated, are going to have to do our share.

Part of what led our economy to this perilous moment was a sense of irresponsibility that prevailed in Wall Street and in Washington. And that's why I called for a new era of responsibility in my inaugural address last week, an era where each of us chips in so that we can climb our way out of this crisis, executives and factory floor workers, educators and engineers, health care professionals and elected officials.

As we discussed in our meeting a few minutes ago, corporate America will have to accept its own responsibilities to its workers and the American public. But these executives also understand that without wise leadership in Washington, even the best-run businesses can't do as well as they might. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: So let's bring in our White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, good to see you.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you.

HARRIS: You know, I'm wondering what the takeaway was for the president from his meetings with Republicans yesterday. Ultimately, did he win more support for his package?

MALVEAUX: Well, he won the praise of Republicans, who said it was nice to be included in the process and that they felt that there was a tone that was between them that was kind of different. That it was more of a bipartisan tone. But when it came to actually winning over points and supporting this economic stimulus package, we didn't really hear from too many Republicans who he convinced that this was a good idea.

I want to tell you, we just got out of that meeting, that event in the East Room. You had people -- the CEOs of IBM, Honeywell, Google, BET, a whole bunch of people who were in that room with him who had met with him previously. I had a chance to talk very briefly with a couple, and I asked them, you know, "What was the sense from what you got out of these meetings?"

And they said their concerns and their questions, very much the same that we've heard before -- are the tax cuts deep enough, do they offer small and big businesses enough incentives to create jobs and to keep jobs? Those kind of things.

And a couple of people said they thought that he made an impressive case, that it was an impressive argument. And one person simply said, "We hope this works. These are good ideas. We simply hope this works."

So, Tony, there is really a sense of doubt here. Is this going to be the solution? They believe that it's at least worth a try here to listen to the president and go beyond that in supporting him in this economic stimulus package.

HARRIS: All right. Our White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux for us.

Suzanne, good to see you. Thank you.

The stimulus plan expected to pass on a mostly party line vote. Republicans say the bill focuses too much on spending and not enough on tax cuts.

Congressional Correspondent Brianna Keilar live from Capitol Hill.

And Brianna, where are we right now? BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tony, we just heard John Boehner, top Republican in the House, moments ago saying that he expects very few Republicans to vote for this later this evening. That's not a surprise, because the top leaders in the House had urged Republicans not to vote for it. And quite frankly, they really don't need much urging.

Now, this is an $825 billion package. A third of it tax cuts, two- thirds of it spending. And Republicans want less spending, more tax cuts. They've got major issues with this.

They're zeroing in on what they call wasteful projects, really just sending out lists of things saying, you know, millions of dollars to repair the headquarters of the USDA, money for new cars for the government, what is this? Is this really stimulus?

And then on the flip side, you have Democrats saying this is about short-term stimulus, but it's also about long-term investment in the country, in the nation. And for all this concentration though, Tony, on Republicans, there is a small question mark when it comes to some Democrats and if there are going to be some Democrats who vote no tonight on the House side here in this vote.

Some Democrats who feel -- they're fiscally conservative, they feel like Republicans, there's too much spending. But you've also got some liberal Democrats who think there is not enough spending when it comes to infrastructure, highways, bridges, that kind of thing. And we've actually heard from one House Democratic leadership aide that they're thinking they could lose as much as two dozen Democrats tonight in this vote.

HARRIS: Wow.

KEILAR: Bottom line still, Tony, though, it is expected to pass. But that just goes to show you, it's a bit of a problem for President Obama. He was hoping for broad bipartisan support. He's obviously not getting it on this vote today, and losing some Democrats as well.

HARRIS: Wow. All right. Our Congressional Correspondent Brianna Keilar for us.

Brianna, thank you.

You know, there is no doubt the president's plan is expensive and expansive. And Republican support doesn't look all that good, as you just heard.

Joining me from Capitol Hill to talk about his misgivings, is Republican Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma.

Senator, good to see you again. Thanks for your time.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Good to see you, Tony.

HARRIS: You know, clearly, there is a lot of Republican opposition to the stimulus plan. Your House Republican colleague yesterday, Mike Pence, listen to some of his comments after the meeting with the president yesterday. And let's talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: As grateful as we are for the president's spirit, as I told him personally, House Democrats have completely ignored the president's call for bipartisan cooperation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: All right, Senator. Are Republicans, in your mind, being force-fed this package from the Democrats, or, I'm wondering, if Senate Republicans have a different view of this and perhaps believe they are being treated -- pardon me here -- a little bit more fairly in the process? What's your view?

COBURN: Well, I don't think they ought to whine about the process. What we ought to be concentrating on is what's going to happen and what will work to help our economy. And I will tell you that this $825 billion package that has no offsets at all with some of the $300 billion a year that we have in wasteful spending, that's going to cost $342 billion in interest just over the next 10 years -- that's the interest cost of it. Forty-two percent of it is going to be interest cost.

So what we're doing is $1.12 trillion that we're going to lay out there. There's no question some Keynesian stimulus we need, but what we need to do is restore confidence and give people a reason to plan for the future and to spend, and to restore the consumer drive in our economy.

HARRIS: How do you best do that?

COBURN: Well, I think you do it by creating long-term expectations rather than short term. If you look at the last stimulus package, what we found -- and I voted against that, that $160 billion -- only 12 percent of it ended up going into the economy. So you've got $20 billion worth of stimulus, but you send $160 billion worth of debt to our children. And that's what this package is.

There is long-term baseline increases in education. We have countercyclical payments that the president called to help the states. Well, if we're going to help the states, let's loan them the money rather than give them the money.

HARRIS: Yes.

COBURN: We're not going to drive them to make the best decisions.

And so I'm for us doing what we need to do, but this is not a package that's going to accomplish that. And if we do this package without doing the other things that are necessary, fixing the toxic mortgage situation in this country...

HARRIS: Yes.

COBURN: ... and really helping homeowners, and not restoring the liquidity of the banks, we will have spent this money, not gotten anything for it. And because there's not any long-range stuff in it. So...

HARRIS: Got you. All right. A couple of points I want to jump on there. And let me sort of bottom-line this with you.

Do you believe this plan, as it's being debated now -- and the Senate is in the process of offering its own thoughts on it -- do you believe the package that will come out of the Senate -- of course, it has to be reconciled with the House version -- will do a better job of what the administration's stated goal is here? That is, A, to create and save three million to four million jobs?

COBURN: Well, you know, I can't tell you. I haven't really had a chance. I just finished up on the Finance Committee last night, haven't looked at it. But I'm doubtful that it's going to be a lot better.

You know, the tendency of career politicians is to protect their interest groups rather than to do what's in the best long-term interest of the country as a whole. And that's what we're seeing in both the House and the Senate, is we're playing to interest groups rather than to say, what is the best medicine right now? What will really fix the disease rather than what will treat the symptoms.

HARRIS: Yes.

COBURN: And I fear that we're going to make a mistake by not having the proper mix, one. Number two, by not cutting stuff that's wasteful already.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: Senator, you have hit it. What is the proper mix? Now, right now, we're two-thirds on the spending time, one-third on the tax cut side. What is the proper mix?

COBURN: Well, I think first of all, our military is depleted in terms of equipment. We know we're going to buy that equipment again in the future. Let's place those orders now. Let's put that.

The whole defense industry will come roaring right back in terms of employees. So you could spend $50 billion to $100 billion over the next two years and actually make it mean something on something that we're going to get a return on.

You could markedly increase the highway projects in this country. Oklahoma, my state, I met with our head of transportation. They've got $700 million worth of projects that's already had highways (ph) approved, already had all their permitting, but they're not going to see any -- maybe $100 million of that based on what the formula is.

So if we really want to put people to work in jobs that actually create something, and also are going to be something we would have bought anyway, let's buy it now while it's cheaper, and let's get the best benefit of that. And I think if we need to do something -- look, American competitiveness is really at a disadvantage when it comes to Europe because they have a vast VAT tax. And so what happens is, there's no tax on their products they shell to us...

HARRIS: Yes.

COBURN: ... but yet we tax everything that goes over there. So let's change corporate taxes to incentivize coming here.

The other thing we could do that would markedly help is give this moratorium on bringing corporate profits from overseas back over here again that generated about $500 billion in cash coming into our country.

HARRIS: I see.

COBURN: So there is a lot of things we can do that aren't being considered now, that aren't just to please interest groups.

HARRIS: Do you need more time? What is the proper -- do you need more time to have more discussions about this? Because the other side of it is that we keep hearing that you've got to do it, and it has to be done now, and it has to be done quickly.

COBURN: Well, I think it needs to be done in a prudent and quick fashion. But I don't think you can spend $825 billion and figure out how to spend it wisely and frugally, and have it have its effect in four weeks.

HARRIS: Senator, let's leave it there. Terrific. Thanks for your time. Good to see you again.

COBURN: All right. Good talking to you. Thank you.

HARRIS: When we come back -- a quick break. When we come back, we will speak with Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown in just a moment.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: So let's get back to our discussion on the economic stimulus package.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio.

Senator, good to see you. Thanks for your time.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Nice to be back. Thanks.

HARRIS: So let me see if I can sort of get my mind and arms around what Senator Coburn was saying just a moment ago. It seems to me it comes down to this idea of focusing on all of the programs that can create jobs, save jobs, and leave all of that investment stuff, leave that out of this bill. Focus on anything that can stimulate the economy -- more tax cuts for individuals and small businesses, a reduction of the capital gains tax on business, and let's talk about investments down the road.

BROWN: Yes. I want to see short-term immediate spending in infrastructure -- in highways and bridges and water and sewer systems in my state and around the country, but I also want to see, as I've heard -- I've done about 125 roundtables my first two years in the Senate with community people all over, all 88 counties. And over and over, it's not just mayors and county engineers, it's economic development people, it's chambers of commerce that say we need you to invest in infrastructure, because that doesn't just create jobs in Gallipolis and Zanesville and Lima today, it also helps us with economic development in the future with clean water, with bridges and highways, and all of that.

And that's what this program's all about over the next two years, jump-starting that economy. It also helps people directly by extending unemployment benefits, by putting money into people's pockets who are really hurting because of this economy, and they will spend this money.

HARRIS: Yes. What happens -- I'm just thinking about the Republicans' argument, and I'm trying to see as many sides of this as I possibly can.

I'm curious as to why the breakout is two-thirds spending -- and you just touched on it a second ago -- and one-third tax cuts. Is it the sense that if you -- that the spending from the government is guaranteed, and there is no real guarantee that if you offer up these tax cuts, that that will actually be used in the way that you would like them to be used? And that is through spending.

BROWN: That's a fair assessment. Two-thirds of the money goes directly into infrastructure and to spending that way, because we know that will get spent to create jobs.

We also know the other third, much of what Republicans are asking for is more of the same, more tax cuts for the rich. That didn't help us in the past.

We know that when you do more tax cuts for the rich, that money is spent on big-screen TVs from China, or it's money spent on products that aren't necessarily made here. We want money -- we want U.S. steel put into infrastructure and concrete and all the things that we know will be manufactured here. We have a Buy America provision in this bill that makes sure we're not buying imports that aren't made here.

HARRIS: Got you. I can challenge one part of that?

BROWN: Sure.

HARRIS: Yesterday, we had a conversation with Representative Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee, who, when arguing for more tax cuts, said, look, "We can cut marginal tax rates for everyone. When you rebate all of the sales tax that individuals spend every year, when you lower marginal tax rates, when you do away with capital gains taxes for small businesses, that will empower consumers." That doesn't sound to me like tax cuts for the rich.

BROWN: Well, when you talk about capital gains, capital gains tax cuts only work if you -- if things are profitable, if you have a profit. And so much of this is -- the question is not supply. The question is demand.

We don't need more -- we don't need to create more ability to supply. We need to create demand. And you create demand by putting money directly into the economy, by putting money directly in people's pockets. And they will spend that money.

So you put $1 million into an infrastructure project in Marion or Mansfield or Dayton, Ohio, that money will hire laborers. It will hire sheet metal worker. It will hire trades people who will get paid a decent wage, and they will go out and spend that money at the local hardware store and spend that money buying clothes and books and all of that. And if we do the Buy America provisions right, much more of that money stays into Miami Valley or stays in Columbus or stays in Akron so that the jobs -- the economic -- the wealth generation is local.

HARRIS: Yes.

Hey, Senator, I wonder -- think on some level there is kind of broad consensus on the idea that a big plan of some kind is needed. The real question then is, OK, so you've got this huge pot of money called this stimulus plan. The real question is, what oversight provisions are going to be there? The real jobs, isn't it in your oversight and the committees with that responsibility to make sure that the money is not wasted?

BROWN: A big part of the job is that. Let me give an example exactly how we want to do that.

There is a program called Weatherization, administered locally by community action programs. They hire crews of four people to go out and weatherize senior citizens' older homes that are leaky and consume so much energy among generally fairly poor people, or very poor people.

We will put more money into that program. There's a waiting list of two years. We are working right now with local communities.

There are a lot of people out of work that know construction. They will be hired, they will be put to work. It will save energy, it will create jobs, it will put money in the community, it will help indigent elderly people.

That's the kind of programs we need, that's the kind of oversight we will do. We need to do it from here. We also need to do it locally and in our states. And most of us are doing that.

HARRIS: Yes.

BROWN: And that's why this will matter. The Republican answer to everything is tax cuts. We've tried it for eight years. It hasn't worked in the economy.

HARRIS: Well, only because...

BROWN: That's what they always say.

HARRIS: No, I get that. Only because they feel that it has a stimulative effect. And if you just focus on stimulus, we're not maybe talking about $825 billion. Perhaps we're talking about $700 billion.

Do you see some merit in that and maybe they're not doing the kind of damage...

BROWN: No, I see that.

HARRIS: OK.

BROWN: And I can appreciate that. But when the answer -- I mean, you know, their answer is always tax cuts no matter what the question is. And it simply hasn't worked.

We've had eight years of deregulation, privatization, and tax cuts for the rich, and look where it's gotten us. It is not a surprise that this economy is in such bad shape because of those policies. We don't want to do more of them.

HARRIS: Yes.

BROWN: I don't want to be partisan here. I want to see us to work together, spend this money right, and do as you say, do the oversight in a way that really does guarantee that tax dollars are not wasted, that it really does go into putting people...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS: Will you promise the American people that you will follow these dollars, that you will track these dollars?

BROWN: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

HARRIS: All right.

BROWN: I gave an example today.

HARRIS: Yes.

BROWN: We'll do more of that. We will -- you know, you can't guarantee every dollar will be spent well, but the great majority will.

HARRIS: Great.

BROWN: We're going to work on it until that job is done.

HARRIS: Senator Brown, great to see you. Thanks for your time.

BROWN: Thank you.

HARRIS: All right. Snow days. Let's turn to weather now.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: You know, we've heard how the president and members of Congress want to fix the economy. In 90 seconds or less, how would an economist fix things?

I'm getting some pretty fascinating answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: What if you had 90 seconds to solve the nation's economic crisis? You think you could do it? I actually timed three really smart economists, and they wasted no time giving me their solutions. Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANNY BOSTON, GEORGIA TECH ECONOMICS PROFESSOR: Here's mine. All right?

I think the size is correct as currently fashioned. I think half of that ought to go to infrastructure projects, mainly money directed towards states.

I would take the other half of that and give it to the local government, designate it for the procurement of goods and services from small businesses, businesses with 500 or fewer employees. The reason I say that is because that's where jobs are being created; right? And that's been happening for a long time.

The large corporations, if you devote money to those corporations, they've been shedding jobs for the last 15 to 20 years. They're going to continue to do that. They'll just do it more profitably.

We have to get money into the hands of small businesses that are creating jobs. And the best way to do that is to give it to local governments who are in need of an injection of funds. That will allow them to take their tax resources and devote it to the other functions of government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARAYANAN JAYARAMAN, GEORGIA TECH FINANCE PROFESSOR: My (INAUDIBLE) also goes back to TARP. I think the second TARP, we put some on the house foreclosure and go to the concept of bad banks buying off the assets. That gives a lot of confidence in the marketplace.

In terms of the fiscal stimulus, I think the size is right. Anything above $1 trillion would send a sticker shock to the population. Now, between the mix, I am more in the camp of not again focusing on tax cuts, because it is good, we all feel good about tax cuts, but what is needed is money to be spent to create jobs, and primarily on infrastructure jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIVEK GHOSAL, GEORGIA TECH ECONOMICS PROFESSOR: First, there has to be the financial sector. So however it's done, the good banks/bad banks stuff, because their toxic assets have to be off the books, essentially. Without that, I do not see the credit channels easing up. And unless the credit channels ease up, it is going to be one hell of a difficult time for small companies, medium-sized companies to continue business.

Keep in mind that many of these are actually currently running profitable businesses. All of the focus is on how much losses the big companies are making. A bunch of small companies are doing actually quite well; right? So unless the credit starts slowing, that is not going to get fixed. So that's why we need this good bank/bad bank thing. And actually (INAUDIBLE) of a short-term capital gains tax cut, I would say it's going to be strictly short-term, maybe a two- year horizon, maybe a three year horizon because a lot of companies need short-term relief because stuff they don't have to pay back in taxes, it allows them to shelter their current operations, maybe make investments that they do right now. And I think that's good. And in terms of the stimulus, it has to be less. So a capital gains tax cut, a small amount, has to be layered with a fiscal stimulus. And my preference would be that the fiscal stimulus, the largest fraction, actually goes to hard construction assets, hard infrastructure assets, as well as green energy sort of development.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Everybody's got a different idea. Man. All right. Which parts of the stimulus plan are necessary and what might be considered pork? Your answer may depend on who you are.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: You know, it's been a really tough fourth quarter earning season for most companies and the losses they've posted have taken a big bite out of the stock market to be sure. That's not what we're seeing today though. What is going on today? Let's find out from Stephanie Elam, who is at the New York Stock Exchange.

Good to see you, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you too, Tony.

Got a little change of action here. That's part of everything that's going on today. We've got that $825 billion stimulus bill working its way through the House. It is one factor helping to boost sentiment, along with some better than expected earnings from, get this, a big bank.

Wells Fargo posted a $2.6 billion quarterly loss. Mostly tied to its acquisition of Wachovia. I know that sounds pretty bad, but here's the deal. If you eliminate the charges, the results actually beat expectations. And Wells Fargo says it has no plans to ask for additional government bailout money. No doubt about it, that's making investors happy. And Wells Fargo shares, well, they are on the upside by 26 percent.

Meanwhile, we've got Boeing. They reported a $56 million quarterly loss as a strike by its workers cut into plane deliveries, along with charges related to delays to its new 787 dream liner and a new version of its 747 jumbo jet. In the last hour we actually got some news from Boeing, that they are going to cut an additional 5,500 jobs. That brings the total job cuts announced by Boeing this month to 10,000. The cuts will be companywide but will be largely centered in Washington state. Boeing shares are on the up side right now by about 2 percent on that news.

Tony.

HARRIS: Well, Stephanie, how is the overall market reacting? Overall through all of this.

ELAM: Well, you know, the good thing is, we've been solidly higher for the entire session with financial shares actually leading the charge here. In addition to Wells Fargo's surge, Citigroup, Bank of America, they're also jumping nearly 20 percent at this hour.

Let's take a look at the major averages, see how they're doing. The Dow on the up side by 127 points at 8,301. The Nasdaq is better by 3 percent right now at 1,550. So some solid gains that we've had all day long, Tony. We'll see if we can make it happen today.

HARRIS: How many days in a row? Two, three?

ELAM: This would be three for the Dow and four for the Nasdaq and S&P. We're going to make it happen.

HARRIS: I knew you had the answer. Thank you, Stephanie.

ELAM: Sure.

HARRIS: The $825 billion stimulus bill headed for a vote in the House later today. But what exactly is in the bill? Our Lou Dobbs is taking a closer look with his series called "Lou's Line Item Veto." Kitty Pilgrim reports on projects one watchdog group says Lou should veto.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): The economic stimulus plan is supposed to generate jobs immediately to get the economy going. Hundreds of pages of projects. An $825 billion. It's raising real worry.

RYAN ALEXANDER, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: We've got real concerns in terms of the -- you know, just how thoroughly Congress is evaluating all these ideas. They're trying to do too many things at once. It would be better to do the couple things that we know work, that there's -- you can definitely pass right away.

PILGRIM: On their line item veto list, Taxpayers for Common Sense would have $1 billion for the 2010 census. Some of it to hire and train workers. Taxpayer for Common Sense says it's not stimulative.

$50 million for repairs to NASA facilities for storm damage from hurricanes. Taxpayers' view, it looks like a backdoor special interest earmark.

$4.5 billion to make military facilities more energy efficient. President Obama says it's part of his plan to make America independent from foreign oil. Taxpayer says it won't generate enough civilian jobs.

Another $2.8 billion to spur rural broadband projects. Telecom companies say they can put people to work digging trenches and installing fiber optic cable. Taxpayer says it's a worthy project but not likely to stimulate jobs immediately.

Overall, the White House is saying the stimulus spending will create or preserve 4 million jobs, many in infrastructure.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think you have a hard economic argument to make that paving a road or fixing a bridge doesn't create jobs.

JOAN CLAYBROOK, PUBLIC CITIZEN: They have to be things that inspire the public trust. Because if the public thinks that there's a waste of this money, there's going to really be a revolt.

PILGRIM: Now not all infrastructure projects are alike. Taxpayers for Common Sense says they favor projects that repair infrastructure that's already in place because the jobs are generated quickly. But projects that have to be designed and built from the ground up, for example, they say take too long.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Let's stay on this for a bit longer here. You know, some lawmaker and some private groups are complaining that there is pork in this bill. But what exactly makes something pork? Our Josh Levs has been looking into the bill and getting your reactions throughout the day.

Good to see you, Josh. What are you finding?

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you too.

You know something, Tony, one person's pork is another person's job. And that's important to keep in mind when we look at this stuff. And from that perspective you can really see arguments on either side for some of these expenditures we're hearing about.

Listen to me for a second. I want everyone to see this. This is the bill behind me. Six hundred, forty-seven pages. So good luck if you feel like piecing through it. I want to show you the language that's associated with some of the spending that we're hearing complaints about. Let's start with this right here, $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. Now the bill says it would fund arts projects and activities, Tony, which preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector.

How about this one here, $44 million for the Department of Agriculture Buildings for necessary construction, repair and improvement activities. So you can see how that correlates to jobs.

Let's do one more. This is a big one a lot of people are talking about. $650 million for helping ensure a timely conversion to analog digital TV. Now that money could include education, consumer support, outreach. To some it sounds extraneous on the surface, right, but, you know, it would take people to carry out those programs. And TV is a massive industry. So when you really look at these things, you can see there are arguments on all the different sides.

Tony.

HARRIS: OK. And the truth here, lawmakers have already made some changes because of the complaints, correct?

LEVS: Yes, they've been making some changes already. Let's start off with this one right here. Got a lot of press. Now it's gone. The National Mall Revitalization Fund. That bill included $200 million. It said it was to spruce up The Mall. So the House Rules Committee dropped that one.

Also let's zoom in on the board again. Check this out. This is section 5004, which refers to family planning. This is one you heard a lot about. It included free contraception for low-income families. And you can see, Tony, how if families are on government assistance, there could be an argument for that as an economic positive. But, you know, lawmakers are saying, the ones who are complaining, that the real question is, what belongs specifically in this stimulus bill at this time.

HARRIS: Yes. Are you on rumor control when it comes to this bill?

LEVS: I am on rumor control. There's a lot to watch out for.

HARRIS: Yes.

LEVS: Let me actually show you something. You know, one of our favorite websites here, politifact.com. They're our brethren in truthsquading (ph). Let's zoom in. I'm going to click on this website here. You can check it out. They have been following some of the complaints and claims surrounding this stimulus bill. They talk about Congressman Eric Cantor and his statement that the stimulus offers $300,000 for a sculpture garden. They say that's false. So they gave him a "pants on fire" ruling. They also give President Obama, right here, a half-truth on his assertion that if nothing is done, a family of four could use $12,000 in income. They say that's an over simplification. It requires explanation. More, of course, politifact.com there. HARRIS: Hey, Josh, we promised that we would hear from folks of some of our e-mails, folks at home who have some thoughts about this.

LEVS: Yes, let me show you some of these, because what this boils down to, what you and I were just talking about, is really this question of what is pork. You know, and they -- you know, some people it's a job, some people it's pork. We're going to zoom in one more time, going to open up my e-mail screen for you. You're going to be able to see some examples right here.

This is what one person said. "Just as many families have and are going to continue making choices between essential and non-essential, so should our leaders eliminate any non-essential spending." That's from Peggy.

And how about this one. "Pork, to me, is anything thrown into a bill that has nothing to do with the original intent of the bill." That's from Dayton.

And I think we got one more. "Pork is projects that have had any lobbying money to push them through. It's the lobbyists that taint the project. Pork is those projects that have no oversight and no repercussions if it's found out later money was ill-spent."

And everybody could keep weighing in. This discussion is going to keep going. Cnnnewsroom@cnn.com.

HARRIS: Good stuff. Josh, appreciate it. Thank you.

LEVS: Thanks, Tony.

HARRIS: Our i-Reporters are letting us know how the ice and snow are impacting them. We will be sharing their stories with you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: It is really nasty outside. And we really feel for you, particularly our friends who are stuck at airports right now. Jacqui Jeras is joining us now.

And, Jacqui, you've got the pictures to prove just how bad it is outside.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you know, it really is. And a lot of people are stuck at home and a lot of people stuck at home without power. Eight hundred thousand people at the peak of this storm were without power. And we're still in the hundreds of thousands at this time.

Our i-Reporters capturing some fantastic images. Check this out. This is from our superstar i-Report Barbara Rademacher from Rogers, Arkansas. That's really where some of the worst of the ice has been, one to three inches of accumulation in this area. Barbara says that there are trees down everywhere. On her roof, on her shed and one just barely missed her car. She caught one of these branches coming down on tape. Go ahead and take a listen. Wow! Did you hear that big crunch? This is why it's so dangerous and a good idea to stay inside. Barbara says she lost power briefly yesterday but thankfully -- knock on wood -- it's back on.

OK. Let's move on now to Lexington, Kentucky, and i-Reporter Nicole Powell sent us this picture of her ice-covered front yard. Everything, she said, was coated and she's playing hostess right now to her father and her brother because they don't have power. She says it's like an ice skating rink out there. By the way, Lexington, Kentucky, had record precip yesterday, 1.72 inches. That's your liquid equivalent because you had freezing rain, some sleet and some snow in the Lexington area. And you guys aren't going to get above freezing probably not till the weekend. So you know that that ice is going to stick around and really make things difficult for a lot of folks for a number of days yet, Tony.

HARRIS: Yes, it sounds like it.

JERAS: Please, though, send us your i-Reports! I love them. I'm going to be putting them on the air all day long. Ireports.com.

HARRIS: Thank you, Jacqui.

President Obama stocked his cabinet with a few political rivals. Can one-time competitors be team players? How's it working out?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Eric Holder for attorney general today. Republicans held up the vote a week. They questioned Holder's role in several pardons in the closing days of the Clinton administration. And the Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled to vote today on retired Admiral Dennis Blair. He would succeed Mike McConnell as director of National Intelligence. Both Holder and Blair face approval by the full Senate.

Pushing for progress, President Obama's Mideast envoy is crisscrossing the region. He is holding talks with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem today. Next stop, the West Bank for meetings with the Palestinian leadership. But new violence is casting a shadow over Mitchell's mission. Israeli warplanes have been pounding smuggling tunnels in Gaza in retaliation for a Palestinian bombing that killed an Israeli soldier.

President Obama preparing to tackle world issues with a team of heavyweights to advise him. CNN foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Hillary Clinton, center stage in the president's foreign policy lineup. But look who's stage left, Vice President Joe Biden, who, in the Senate, was a leading voice on international issues.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. President, your choice of our colleague Senator Clinton is absolutely the right person, in my view, at the right moment in American history.

DOUGHERTY: So far, Biden and Clinton, former Senate colleagues, couldn't be more collegial. Tuesday, after breakfast at the vice president's residence, Clinton made a point of telling State Department reporters off camera Biden's an old and dear friend.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think that you can really conclude anything other than this is a united effort.

DOUGHERTY: But it's a team of heavyweights. The defense secretary, the national security advisor, the U.N. ambassador, two high-level envoys, each with their own strong ideas, each with a strong desire to get the president's ear.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am confident that this team is what we need to make a new beginning for American national security.

DOUGHERTY: Could this team of rivals turn into a tug-of-war? Under President Bush, foreign policy started and ended at the White House. Vice President Dick Cheney often calling the shots, doing an end run around Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. President Obama says he wants different perspectives to help him make better choices.

No one knows how this will work. A former senior U.S. diplomat who knows the team tells CNN, there are sure to be tensions. But the challenges are so profound, this official says, there should be fewer power struggles than in the past. And Clinton herself claims, after the past eight years, there's a lot of damage to repair.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, the State Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: President Obama wants to send more troops to Afghanistan. A top administration official says the president will expect more from the Afghan president and NATO leaders. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the focus of talks today at the Pentagon. President Obama going there to meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs. The president considers Afghanistan the central front in the war on terror. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is criticized for not being able to govern outside Kabul and for allowing the country to further deteriorate into a narco (ph) state as the Taliban gains ground.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan a big focus for President Obama today. About four hours from now, as we mentioned, the president will meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon. On the agenda, how to safely pull U.S. troops from Iraq and build up forces in Afghanistan. Secretary Gates has been testifying about the urgent need for more troops on the Afghan front lines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It is also clear that we have not had enough troops to provide a baseline level of security in some of the most dangerous areas. A vacuum that has increasingly been filled by the Taliban. And that is why the United States is considering an increase in our military presence, in conjunction with a dramatic increase in the size of the Afghan security forces.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: And again, we're told the Obama administration expects stronger efforts from the Afghan government and NATO as the U.S. builds its troop presence in the country.

He is the man charged with leading the plan. What are the new Treasury secretary's top priorities?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Yo know, he doesn't wear a big "s" on his chest, but plenty of people see the new Treasury secretary as a financial superman who will rescue the economy. Here's White House correspondent Dan Lothian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): If the bad U.S. economy is a run-away train, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has just been thrown into the locomotive. Stopping the train loaded down with job losses, bank failures and a mortgage meltdown is priority number one.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: We are at a moment of maximum challenge for our economy and for our country. And our agenda, Mr. President, is to move quickly to help you do what the country asks you to do.

LOTHIAN: In his first official move as Treasury secretary, Geithner targeted lobbyists and special interests, putting new rules in place that will limit their influence on the $700 billion rescue program and try to ensure that politics plays no role in how money is handed out. This comes amid criticism that some companies, like General Motors and Wells Fargo, ramped up spending on lobbying the government for more money last year, even as they were getting billions of dollars in taxpayer funded bailouts. In a statement, Geithner said, "American taxpayers deserve to know that their money is spent in the most effective way to stabilize the financial system."

GEITHNER: I, Timothy F. Geithner . . .

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do solemnly swear . . .

GEITHNER: Do solemnly swear . . .

LOTHIAN: At his swearing-in ceremony, a reminder from the president, as if he need one, that the task ahead is daunting.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've got your work cut out for you, as I think everybody knows.

LOTHIAN: Mr. Obama said Geithner has his deepest trust and full confidence and again stressed that the economic turnaround will not be quick. But at the conservative Heritage Foundation, questions about how the recovery with Geithner leading the way will play out.

J.D. FOSTER, PH.D., HERITAGE FOUNDATION: The American people are not known for their patience. The president is going to have to move very quickly to put in place policies that will work to stimulate the economy. Unfortunately, I'm afraid their policy is not only not going to be helpful in getting the economy back on its feet, it's -- their policies are actually going to make matters significantly worse.

LOTHIAN: But the administration believes that spending from the bailout package and the stimulus plan will jump-start the economy. And Mr. Geithner is pushing for transparency, accountability and oversight in how all this money is spent.

Dan Lothian, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: And CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Fredricka Whitfield.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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