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American Morning

Obama Takes His Economic Message to Leno's Show; House Passes Bill to Tax Executive Bonuses of Companies That Received TARP Money; Sit-Down Interview With Tim Geithner; Ron Paul Weighs in on AIG Outrage

Aired March 20, 2009 - 07:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: We're coming up on 7:00 right on the nose here in New York on this first day of spring. The big stories we're going to be breaking down for you this morning. Congress says that we'll tax it out of you. The plan to impose huge taxes on some Wall Street bonuses, including the $165 million awarded to AIG execs. That bill heads now to the Senate, passed the House 328-93. CNN money team is here to break it all down for you.

We also have a CNN exclusive you won't see it anywhere else, the man once known as client number nine. Disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer sitting down with our Fareed Zakaria. The two talk about the economic meltdown as well as the AIG outrage.

Spitzer investigated the insurance giant earlier in his career. He also weighs in on how the prostitution scandal has affected his life after he was pushed from office because of it. We have a preview coming up.

And he's been a consistent dissenting voice on the president's economic plan. Now, he's taking Congress to task over the AIG bonuses. Congress, meaning his colleagues. We're talking to former presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul. He's live in just 15 minutes.

Also, a meeting of the minds. After his late night chat with Jay Leno, President Obama is back in Washington. This afternoon he's sitting down with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And on the agenda, investigating America's transportation system.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CO-ANCHOR: All right. All this week we're on the "Road to Rescue," a CNN survival guide. We're taking dead aim at the economy, arming you with the knowledge you need to get successfully through this whole thing. The unmatched resources of CNN are at your disposal.

Stephanie Elam and the entire CNN money team up early to help you and your family. We're taking your calls, your iReports, your e- mails. For real problems, real solutions, call us 1-877-my-amfix.

CHETRY: All right. We begin the hour with the president's history-making appearance on "The Tonight Show." He took his economic message outside the Washington bubble. President Obama becoming the first sitting commander in chief to appear on a late night talk show.

And our Suzanne Malveaux is live at the White House this morning. He's getting some mixed reviews today, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is, Kiran. That was a format that he was obviously very casual, very comfortable with, even at times charming. But this was obviously a very clear attempt to get beyond the AIG controversy and to broaden his message.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": The 44th president of the United States, please welcome President Barack Obama.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): And in front of a crowd of fans and millions of viewers, President Obama played it mostly straight on "The Tonight Show," but did spend a lot of time talking bonuses.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Stunned -- stunned is the word. The immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem, but the larger problem is we've got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough, and people have a sense of responsibility.

MALVEAUX: A sense of responsibility that Mr. Obama says needs to extend beyond just AIG.

OBAMA: Who in their right mind, when your company is going bust, decides we're going to be paying a whole bunch of bonuses to people? And that I think speaks to a broader culture that existed on Wall Street where, I think, people just have this general attitude of entitlement.

MALVEAUX: The appearance was meant to tout his stimulus plan and ease Americans' concerns about the economy. The commander in chief says reform is on the way.

OBAMA: When you buy a toaster, if it explodes in your face, there's a law that says, you know, your toasters need to be safe.

LENO: Right.

OBAMA: But when you get a credit card or you get a mortgage, there's no law on the books that says that if that explodes in your face financially, somehow you're going to be protected.

MALVEAUX: Sprinkled in with the policy talk, the president's staunch defense of his treasury secretary, Tim Geithner.

OBAMA: This guy has not just a banking crisis, he's got the worst recession since the Great Depression. He's got an auto industry on, you know, that has been on the verge of collapse, and he understands that he is on the hot seat. But I actually think that he is taking the right steps and we're going to have our economy back on the move.

MALVEAUX: Earlier in the day, the president felt the need to defend himself over the much hyped appearance.

OBAMA: Somebody was saying today I think that I shouldn't be on "Leno." I can't handle that and the economy at the same time.

MALVEAUX: It's that kind of scrutiny Obama later told Leno, it takes some getting used to.

OBAMA: It's a little bit like "American Idol" except everybody is Simon Cowell.


MALVEAUX: And, Kiran, obviously, the president as well as the White House very much eager to move on beyond the AIG controversy. You're also going to hear some more optimistic talk from the president regarding his economic plan -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Suzanne Malveaux for us in Washington, thanks so much.

Well, the president's appearance on late night TV may end up being remembered for a gaffe, a poor attempt at humor near the end of the interview. Listen to this.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Are they going to put a basketball? I imagine a bowling alley has been just burned and closed down.

OBAMA: No, no, I have been practicing bowling.

LENO: Really? Really?

OBAMA: I bowled a 129.


LENO: Oh, no, that's very good. Yes. Oh, that's very good, Mr. President.

OBAMA: It was like Special Olympics.

LENO: Oh, that's very good.

OBAMA: No, listen, I'm making progress on the bowling. Yes.


CHETRY: The White House was asked about the comment and also said that the president "made an offhanded remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics. He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world."

We also reached out to the Special Olympics for comment. They say they have no comment on the president's remarks.

ROMANS: And developing right now, we're learning more about who knew what and when about those AIG bonuses? This time it's the treasury secretary, Tim Geithner. AMERICAN MORNING found the clip of Geithner talking about those very bonuses at a hearing back on March 3rd. New York Democrat Joseph Crowley was grilling him at that time. Take a look.


REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: This makes no sense to my constituency. But this company claims to be on the brink of disaster and it's handing out bonuses. I would like to work with you in structuring tough, common sense compensation limits at AIG and this new government loan, which would include voiding these bonuses to AIG FP employees as well as claw back $56 million in bonuses already paid to AIG FP employees December 2008 and 2009, some of whom are not even American citizens, but who are living large on taxpayer funds.

Can you please share with us, this committee, your thoughts on taking these actions?

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: I just want to point out that compensation practice across the financial services industry over the last years and decades just got out of whack with basic fundamentals.

Now, it's very important that we make sure that we're providing exceptional assistance to these firms, that that assistance is going again to achieve the objectives of these programs, not to reward the kind of executives that got us in this mess. I'm deeply committed to that objective.


ROMANS: He's making that promise on March 3rd. That tape is from March 3rd. That was one week before Geithner claimed he found out the full extent of AIG's plans to hand out $165 million to the very people who brought the firm to its knees, the very division that brought to its knees.

Late last night, a treasury spokesman is telling the "New York Times," "Although Congressman Crowley raised the issue of the bonuses two weeks ago, Secretary Geithner was not aware of the timing or full extent of the contractual retention payments or the other bonus programs until his staff brought them to his attention on March 10th."

President Obama defended his top moneyman on late night last night, but many critics say Tim Geithner dropped the ball with AIG and your money. Our chief business correspondent Ali Velshi sat down for an exclusive interview with the treasury secretary and asked him about it.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, Christine, the situation with Senator Chris Dodd has come to light so I asked Secretary Geithner about it, because as Senator Dodd said, somebody from treasury asked him to put an amendment into the stimulus bill, allowing for bonuses, contracted bonuses to go to employees of some of these companies that the government is bailing out including AIG. Listen to what the treasury secretary had to say.


TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: Let me just start by saying that Chairman Dodd has played an enormously important leadership in this as he's doing the right thing and trying to make sure that the assistance we provide don't go to benefit people that shouldn't benefit from these things. And I'm enormously impressed by the importance of what he's trying to do in this case.

VELSHI: But did somebody, have we figured out who told him to put this clause in?

GEITHNER: On this specific provision?


GEITHNER: We expressed concern about this specific provision because we wanted to make sure it was strong enough to survive legal challenge, but we also worked with him to strengthen the overall framework. And his bill has this very important provision we're even relying on now to go back and see if we can recoup payments that were made that there was no legal ability to block.

VELSHI: But inadvertently might somebody at treasury have told Senator Dodd to do something that has now resulted in these payments not being able to be paid back?

GEITHNER: No, again, what we did is just express concern about the vulnerability of a specific part of this provision, the legal challenge, as you would expect us to do. That's part of the legislative process. But again, his bill also has this very important provision that allows us to go back and see if we can recoup these payments and we're going to explore that. But in any case, we're going to make sure that the American people are compensated for any payments we can recoup.

VELSHI: Do we know who in treasury had this conversation with whomever on the banking committee?

GEITHNER: Treasury staff. We're working with Senator Dodd's staff throughout this process. Again, that's part of the legislative process.

VELSHI: But you weren't involved in that directly?

GEITHNER: Oh, I did have with other officials some conversations with Chairman Dodd as he was going through this process but about other provisions.

VELSHI: Not about this particular one. It wasn't you telling Senator Dodd... GEITHNER: No, but I'm not sure that's relevant because treasury staff did express concern about whether this provision was vulnerable to legal challenge.


VELSHI: The bottom line is, Secretary Geithner believed that any measure in the stimulus bill that canceled existing contractual agreements on bonuses and other payouts may not hold up in a court of law. But the treasury secretary did say that's not stopping them from renegotiating future payouts at AIG or other companies.

On the economy, Treasury Secretary Geithner told me that he expects to see the economy start to stabilize and growth to start to come back later this year. It's a view that's shared by a number of economists. The important thing is that the government does everything that's necessary to achieve that goal -- Kiran, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Ali.

Don't miss it Saturday and Sunday night. I'll join Ali Velshi and the entire CNN money team in our search for truth inside the AIG scandal. See what we find in "AIG: FACTS AND FURY." That's on CNN Saturday and Sunday at 8:00 Eastern.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we want to keep you involved all morning long. There are many ways that you can get your "amfix." You can call our hotline, 877-my-amfix. That's 877-692-6349. You can check out our new blog as well,, when you get to work.

It's 11 minutes after the hour.

ROMANS: After all the outrage, taking back the bonus money. The House just passed a bill to tax executive bonuses at AIG and bailed out banks. Getting your money back. How it will work, ahead on the "Most News in the Morning."


ROMANS: And welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. We're on the "ROAD TO RESCUE." We're taking your calls and airing your AIG outrage. Listen to this.


QUESTION: My name is Keith Calvert (ph), in Upland, California. And Congress and the Senate and the president unanimously should demand AIG be taxed for every penny that they're stealing from the American people, because it's not their money, and they did not earn it.


ROMANS: And that's exactly what the House did, passing a bill to tax executive bonuses at AIG and bailed out banks at a rate of close to 100 percent. It's kind of a back doorway of getting the money back that Congress initially OK'd in the first place, Stephanie.

It's interesting. Congress allowed it to go through and now it's trying to reel it back in.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're trying to basically use a tax rule to get back the money. And if you think about all the companies that were affected by the TARP. Is that a big group of companies that received money from the TARP? We got a list right there that you can see there, all the way up from Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp, JPMorgan, Bank of America, all of these companies.

If any company received more than $5 billion in TARP money, they are saying for any individual who gets a bonus, if their base salary is $250,000, any bonus that they get they'll tax at 90 percent. That's the idea here.

Basically like they're saying going around backwards to get that money back. That's $250,000 per family. If an individual, it's $125,000.

ROMANS: This is a lot of people. I wonder what the unintended consequences are. I'm sure that there are folks in the banking industry who are saying wait a second here. You know, I mean, we may have done nothing wrong and have not been tarnished at all by these particular departments or areas that were so risky and this could mean a lot of folks.

ELAM: Well, and also think about the people who do make let's say their spouse makes $250,000 alone, and they have a much smaller income, and they get a small bonus, then they'll be taxed on that as well. So there's nothing stopping this, also nothing saying how that's going to affect people if the TARP money gets paid back.

The other thing I need to make sure I point out to as far as this bonus list at AIG, they have transferred that list over now to the New York attorney general, Andrew Cuomo. He is not releasing those names right now because of that security issue that Edward Liddy of AIG did say that, you know, I'm afraid for my employees. I want to make sure that they're safe. So for now that list is staying.

ROMANS: You know the "New York Post" is reporting that one of the people who is rumored to be a big recipient has decided not to take it in the first place, taking Ed Liddy's advice to AIG CEO and saying, you know, I'm not going the bonus at all. It's not worth it.

ELAM: Also, for some people who do take the bonuses, after taxes will end up paying more than the bonus they got in the first place. So --

ROMANS: What a mess. Stephanie Elam, thanks -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Well, he's taking on his colleagues calling the bonus tax on AIG a disgrace. Is everyone to blame because no one reads these bills before voting? We're going to ask Congressman Ron Paul live straight ahead.

It's 17 minutes after the hour.

ROMANS: With so many men losing their jobs, what being unemployed is doing to their egos.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It starts eroding my confidence.


ROMANS: The emotional impact of a job loss on a man. What's a guy to do?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's my job to beat things on the club and drag them home and dress them and serve them for dinner.


ROMANS: The jobless men, behind closed doors.




ROMANS: Ahead on the Most News in the Morning.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 20 minutes past the hour. There's been a lot more finger-pointing going on in Capitol Hill over the AIG bonuses. So who is ultimately responsible? Our Ali Velshi got reaction from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in an exclusive sit-down. Here's a little bit of it.


ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Senator Dodd said that he had a clause that was put into the stimulus bill that basically allowed these payments to be made to people at AIG in this particular unit and he says that somebody at treasury asked him to put it in. Have we figured out who told him to put this clause in?



GEITHNER: We expressed concern about this specific provision because we wanted to make sure it was strong enough to survive legal challenge. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: All right. So why did no one else see this coming? Congressman Ron Paul says it's because no one's reading these bills. And he joins us live with more on this right now.

Thanks for being with us this morning.

So this whole...

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Thank you.

CHETRY: ... AIG debacle, Congressman, what do you think? What do you think about why it happened?

PAUL: Well, it happened because we did something that was outrageous. These bonuses are outrageous -- $165 million is a lot of money -- but so is $700 billion of unconstitutional appropriations. That's where the problem came from.

So yes, people are concentrating on these bonuses right now, but they're missing the point; the point is that we shouldn't be in the business of bailing out all these companies. And we don't even know where the rest of the money went. We just discovered -- probably inadvertently -- that there were bonuses.

Now everybody is outraged -- which they should be -- so what do they do? They passed $700 billion worth of unconstitutional appropriations, then they come in and they discover this, the public gets notice of it, so the Congress has to act and feel outraged. So they pass a bill which is an ex post facto bill as well as a bill of attainder, which is unconstitutional, so they're using the tax code to punish people. So they do one harm -- one thing wrong -- they create a problem an unintended consequence, then they go back and they will solve the problem by more of the same.

CHETRY: Right. Well, you...

PAUL: That's essentially what we're doing with our economy.

CHETRY: Right. Well, you voted no on this bonus tax legislation. You agree that the bonuses were outrageous, but you also called this bill that was quickly put together because of all the outrage, a disgrace. What were you saying to your fellow Congressmen and women about what was going on?

PAUL: Because they -- in Congress they panic. They react minute-to-minute, whether it's passing the Patriot Act or doing all these things. They react in emotional ways. So when the banking crisis hit, instead of dealing with over the last decade, which I've been begging and pleading for them to do, they wait and oh, there's a financial crisis. Oh, it came from too much spending, too much taxes and too much printing of money. So what do they do? They spend more. They blindly appropriate this money, and I just think the whole process is outrageous. And we're on the verge of a major crisis. We're in the middle of it and it will get a lot worse. You know, the day we did this -- on Thursday -- was the day after the Federal Reserve announced, Oh, OK, we're going to buy another $1.25 trillion worth of government debt and mortgage debt, and the dollar goes down 3 percent and the next morning it goes down 1.5 percent, and we're talking about these bonuses, about passing an unconstitutional law in a way to punish people.

So they compile their mistakes and they avoid looking at the real problem. And even in my statement on the floor, I said, what we ought to be talking about is why don't we find out from the Fed what they're doing with these trillions of dollars? But we're not even allowed to ask them questions. The Fed doesn't have to answer any questions...

CHETRY: Right.

PAUL: ... about where their money goes.

So, we're missing the point.


PAUL: We're missing the target. I'm glad we're talking about the bonuses, but it's so distracting.


CHETRY: No, you're right. This is -- something that we've been talking about here on CNN this morning as well is that, you know, all of this hemming and hauling back and forth over this stimulus, which, I mean, over these bonuses -- which is a lot of money; I mean, $165 million -- but then, on the same day, the Treasury just floods the market with $1 trillion.

But this is what you said last time you were on the show -- this was from January. You were really looking into your crystal ball here. Let's take a look.


PAUL: There were five copies available to the House and I think five to the Senate. And that wasn't available until the House opened at noontime. So no, essentially, it was not available to us. And who could stay up all night and read 1,000 pages? So, obviously, it was done like business as usual. Things have been going on like this for a long time. But this one was a little bit worse and it was bigger than usual, so it was not a very good day for America.


CHETRY: You actually said that on February 16th, talking about the stimulus bill. Is what we're experiencing right now in this AIG bonus fiasco just being a small my microcosm of that? What happens when our elected officials aren't able to read this legislation?

PAUL: Yes, it is. And that's why we're responsible. You know, there's a lot of blame to go around. Even the American people have some blame for allowing their members of Congress to do what they do. But Congress is supposed to be protecting the purse. And the president did sign these bills -- rather, the last president and this current president. They're very much involved in what's going on.

But ultimately, Congress should assume responsibility. This is what's happened over the many, many decades that we have transferred the responsibility of the Congress into the executive branch. The executive branch writes laws and the courts rule and Congress has reneged so much on their responsibility. And now, all we know what to do is spend money. We don't say how it should be spent, and then we allow the Federal Reserve to print money. We can't audit the Federal Reserve.

And so it's the Congress's fault. If Congress would wake up, we could rein in a lot of this. So to me, it was very annoying to concentrate on doing what we were doing on Thursday and pretending we were going to improve things. This is just a gross distraction from the important issues that we should be dealing with.

CHETRY: Congressman Ron Paul, always great to get your point of view. Thanks for being with us this morning.

PAUL: Thank you.

ROMANS: More men than women are being laid off. What's behind it, and could women, women be the key to our economic recovery? We're looking at the unemployment gender gap.

It's 26 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. We're continuing our special coverage "ROAD TO RESCUE" devoted to helping people, like our next caller. Listen to this.


QUESTION: My name's Earl. I'm in Sarasota, Florida. I'm in the construction business, and I've been unemployed for 14 months. And I've managed to find work, but it's for pennies on the dollar. I mean, you can't even make a living in this country anymore.


CHETRY: And you can share your thoughts with us, too. Give us a call. It's 877-my-amfix.

First though, 29 minutes past the hour. A look at the big stories we're following for you right now.

And just in to CNN, President Obama reaching out to Iran on the first day of the Iranian new year with a new video. In it, the president signals a willingness to speak directly with Iran about its nuclear program and also its hostility toward Israel.


OBAMA: In this season of new beginnings, I would like to speak clearly to Iran's leaders. We have serious differences that have grown overtime. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us and the pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.


CHETRY: The White House says a Farsi-subtitled version of the video is being given to select news outlets across the region.

Well, Wal-Mart spreading the wealth around. The world's largest retail chain is only getting bigger in the shrinking economy. It says it's giving hourly employees $2 billion in financial incentives that includes close to $1 billion in bonuses. And for those of you who fear commitment, AT&T is reporting planning to offer a contract iPhone that starts next week. According to the gadget Web site, it will cost you more off the bat $600, or $700 depending on how much memory you want, and that's more than twice the cost of the iPhone right now with a two-year contract.

ROMANS: Yes, the sheriff of Wall Street before a prostitution scandal pushed him into political exile. Now former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is talking about his investigation of AIG in his first televised interview since his resignation with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Spitzer says those bonuses may be small potatoes compared to what else is going on.


FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA -- GPS": So, do you think the problems that AIG got into later on stem from some of the same practices that you were trying to get at?

ELIOTT SPITZER, FMR. N.Y. GOVERNOR: They stemmed from an effort from the very top to gin (ph) up returns whenever and wherever possible and to push the boundaries in a way that would garner returns almost regardless of risk. Back then I said to people, AIG is at the center of the web, the financial tentacles of this company stretched to every major investment bank. The web between AIG and Goldman Sachs is something that should be pursued, and as I have written -

ZAKARIA: Meaning what? That a lot of the money that we, the taxpayers gave AIG has ended up being paid to Goldman Sachs?

SPITZER: Precisely.

ZAKARIA: And other companies.

SPITZER: The so-called counterparties to these very sophisticated financial transactions. When AIG initially received $80 billion, the decision that was a consequence of a very brief meeting of the president of the New York fed, the secretary of the Treasury, perhaps Chairman Bernanke and arguably some reports say the chairman of Goldman Sachs, $80 billion, virtually all of it flowed out to counterparties $12.9 billion to Goldman Sachs.

Why did that happen? What questions were asked? Why did we need to pay 100 cents on the dollar on those transactions if we had to pay anything? What would have happened to the financial system had it not been paid. These are the questions that should be pursued. Bonuses, real issue, it touches us viscerally. The real money and the real structural issue is the dynamic between AIG and the counterparty.

ZAKARIA: You know, there are a number of people who are watching who are going to say Eliot Spitzer doesn't have credibility to talk about these issues because of what happened over the last year, with your own behavior. What would you say to them?

SPITZER: I would say to them that I never held myself out as being anything other than human. I have flaws, as we all do arguably. I failed in a very important way in my personal life and I have paid a price for that. I have spent a year with my family, with my wonderful and amazing and forgiving wife and three daughters, and have rebuilt those relationships and hope to do that as time goes on.

I also feel that, to the extent if I'm asked, and I can contribute to a very important conversation, I will do that as well. That is our right, arguably our obligation as citizens. I will do what I can and with full awareness and heaviness of heart about what I did.


ROMANS: Here's somebody known as the sheriff of Wall Street, who spent the last year, you know, in political exile while this huge thing is blowing up, something that he has incredible knowledge and insight into, just kind of a shame, you know, but here he comes back. You can see this exclusive interview in its entirety Sunday on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" at 1:00 p.m. and also at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.

CHETRY: It was a fascinating interview. But he brings up a point that you said also was being lost in all of this, that we really had no control with what Congressman Ron Paul said it as well. What the Fed is doing and Congress really doesn't have any control over that and also once this money when to AIG where it was being distributed, and like a double bailout for some of these companies.

ROMANS: That's absolutely right and that counterparty, the second payout that he is talking about that really got lost in the - cry over $165 million but that's something that needs to be followed up on as well, big questions there.

Also, help for homeowners from homeowners. Stephanie Elam is twittering and taking our calls. One viewer has an interesting idea no one's talking about. It's 34 minutes after the hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHETRY (voice-over): How would you like to be in charge of $17 billion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will keep you up at night no, doubt about that.

CHETRY: Meet the young man with one state's entire stimulus in his hands.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A little hint, no swimming pools.

CHETRY: If spent wrong, it's his neck. Ahead on the most news in the morning.



ROMANS: We're continuing our special "ROAD TO RESCUE" coverage all this morning. The nation's unemployment rate is still climbing but it's affecting a lot more men than women. The bureau of labor statistics puts unemployment over eight percent for men but under seven percent for women. That has some experts wondering could women be our key to an economic recovery. For more let's bring in Jacki Zehner with the Women's Funding Network and also Linda Butler, a woman who has benefited from that network.

Jacki, thanks for joining us.


ROMANS: Let's talk a little bit about these numbers. We know that these numbers show that since this recession began, the jobs that have been lost, the bulk of them have been jobs lost for men. Women have fared a little bit better. Is that telling us something about the economy right now?

ZEHNER: Yes and no. I think it's telling us that look, there have been massive layoffs in constriction-related jobs, finance, these are areas where men dominate. I think the hidden fact is that the unemployment rate underlying our whole economy is actually much higher for women.


ZEHNER: They're unemployed, more likely to be in part-time jobs, women are much more likely to be in poverty. So the headline is saying yes men are suffering but the real news is women have always suffered more in this country.

ROMANS: So how are women a key to an economic recovery?

ZEHNER: You know what? This is national. "The Economist" magazine has said this over and over, its economic theory at this point that investing in women leads to economic growth globally, period, end of story. So how do we do that is really the question. But I'd love to see the administration really embrace the fact that investing in women is a road map to a strong economic future.

ROMANS: You call that the women's effect, one what are the economics of investing in women? How does it help?

ZEHNER: Exactly. Well, the idea is if you provide economic and financial security for a woman, she does so for her family, for the community, for the nation, for the world. It is in providing the security, which is I think the story we're going to hear today for a woman, it lifts them out of poverty and that just has a ripple effect throughout the economy.

ROMANS: One of the big challenges when you look at the labor market and you look at the economy is trying to grow jobs for women that are not super low-paying, low-skilled jobs. The trick is doing jobs programs and the likes so that women can get skilled, they can be paid more.

For example, there is a huge growth in health care for women but many of these are very low skilled, low paid jobs -

ZEHNER: Right.

ROMANS: You don't really help someone climb up to the next rung of the ladder. How do we do that?

ZEHNER: Well, I think you do that in a number of ways. I mean, programs you'll hear about today really go for job training, enhancing the education especially for women that have single family households. So that's the bottoms up, we have to provide these opportunities for women to improve their education, but there also is a big top-down component to this. I mean, let's just the fact we need more women in leadership positions in this country, period, end of story, and I really wish the administration and President Obama would put his stake in the ground and say that time is now for women in leadership.

Let's bring in Linda Butler. Because she's someone who has benefited from the kind of jobs programs Jacki is talking about and Jacki supports. Linda, tell us quickly your story. You went from a position where you were making some $11,000 a year, really struggling, and then you've got yourself in a program and did some re-training and things have turned around for you.

LINDA BUTLER, BENEFITED FROM JOBS TRAINING PROGRAM: I did. Actually, back in 2000, I was a single mother, 49 years old, making $11,000. I had no health insurance, I worked all weekends. I had no holidays off, and it was a struggle to take care of my family. I was fortunate enough to get involved in one of these incredible programs that is funded by the Washington area Women's Foundation, and it completely transformed by life.

It was an office simulated environment. They taught us computer, English, business math, computer calculations, public speaking. They even gave us vouchers for two suits that we could have to go out and do our interviews with.

ROMANS: So this really changed your life. Now, you're making more money. What are you doing now and how has this transformed you and let you go up the ladder and how important do you think is in this economy that people like you and women everywhere can get the skills so that it's not the real low-wage jobs that are the growing jobs and they can really be a key to economic recovery.

BUTLER: Well, right now it's crucial, with our economy, the way it is. Women have to stand up and help our families to support them. If it weren't for the women's foundation that has these incredible programs, that support these women to change their lives, I don't know where I would be today.

ROMANS: Linda Butler, thank you so much for telling us your story. We're going to be hearing an awful lot more.

BUTLER: Thank you.

ROMANS: Also, Jacki Zehner about jobs programs for men and for women, frankly, as the economy continues to struggle here, the jobs market struggle. We hope that everyone can get the tools that they can to try to get the skills we need to compete here. It is 43 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY (voice-over): Recession-proof jobs. The funeral business, the wedding industry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very, very encouraging that people are still getting married. They're still, you know, living that dream.

CHETRY: Looking for work? Recession-proof positions. We've got the list ahead on the Most News in the Morning.



CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. We're continuing our special coverage "ROAD TO RESCUE." We're taking your calls. Stephanie Elam is also back with us now. Stephanie, good to see you this morning. So we have a call from Gretta (ph). And she has a question. Well she's actually questioning the president. Actually, no, that's not the one.

ROMANS: No, that's not the one. Yes. That's an old one.

ELAM: Let's go ahead and listen to it.

CHETRY: This is Bridget about saving.


QUESTION: Hi, my name is Bridget from Georgia. I'm calling, I have three boys, I wanted to know how I can start saving for them without anything happening to their money in the future.


ELAM: OK, so you hear Bridget there talking about -- she's worried about saving, which is really a great thing that people are looking to take care of their children. I'd say there's really one good way. She should look into a 529 which could help her put away money for college. The good thing about this is she has three boys. You can put that money in there. It will grow. It will compound. She's in control of the money and she can leave some in there for the next child that is going away to college, say if one doesn't go. So it's a great way to invest money and keep it there.

CHETRY: One 529 for all three? You have to open up individual --

ELAM: No, that same one. She can use that same one to do that. And if she needs, if there's money left over she can even use some for her own educational needs. So it's really a great way to save money and make sure that's OK. Obviously, she could also do a savings bond as well and that would be available after they're older. So that's one good way, I should say she should go for it.

CHETRY: And you can take them out tax free, the 529 money. All right. Let's listen to one more caller about bad credit.


QUESTION: My name is Diane from Clinton Township, Michigan. I'm just trying to find out people with bad credit, are we able to buy homes now?


ELAM: That's a rough question. Because generally the answer is it's tough out there for people with good credit getting mortgages right now to get a home. So I would say right now, the focus should be on cleaning up your credit, paying your bills on time, doing the best you can to get your credit score higher so that you can go ahead and look into that, but as of now I'd say it's going to be difficult.

CHETRY: Lenders are skittish.

ELAM: Lenders are skittish. Yes. You know, it's one of those things that's constantly watched and you can make it better. So that's one good thing. So you can work on your credit. And if I could break a little bit of news here,


ELAM: It's officially spring! Yay! We're into spring for four minutes.

CHETRY: It's officially spring, yet it's snowing.

ELAM: It's snowing here in New York City right now. Look at that lovely spring shot. It's been spring now for four whole minutes.

CHETRY: Nothing says spring like fog and a little bit of blowing snow.

ELAM: Hey but you got the yellow, I got the teal. We've got the spring colors.

CHETRY: We're bringing spring in, kicking and screaming.

ELAM: Yes, exactly.

CHETRY: Stephanie, thanks so much.

CHETRY: We also want to have you involved in our conversation all morning long. Call our hotline, it's 877-my-amfix, 877-692-6349. You can also check out our new blog at 49 minutes after the hour.


ROMANS: Welcome back to our special "ROAD TO RESCUE" coverage right here on AMERICAN MORNING. A recession-proof job, you know that is something we'd all love to have, right? They are out there. From health care to utilities, even the funeral business. Our personal finance editor Gerri Willis tells us where the best recession proof jobs are.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The design of the casket is an urn shape.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR (voice-over): These days, Steve Koosmann's job is hot commodity. He is a funeral director and runs a school that teaches the ins and outs of the funeral business.

STEVE KOOSMANN, ST. LOUIS COMMUNITY COLLEGE: This is the first semester that we are offering double sections of each class just because the interest has increased so much.

WILLIS: Ed Rahe enrolled after getting laid off from his advertising job last year.

ED RAHE, STUDENT: It's a radical departure. I was just -- I was sitting behind a desk and a computer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Death and taxes are one -- the two things that everyone say are a constant so they're not going to see a lot of layoffs.

WILLIS: Author Lawrence Shaken (ph) compiled information from the Department of Labor to come up with a pool of careers that he says are secure in good times and in bad. The best recession-proof jobs --

Computer systems analysts and network administrators, teachers, physical therapists, and pharmacists made the top 10. LAWRENCE SHAKEN, AUTHOR: Then there are government careers, law enforcement has to go on all the time. That includes things like Homeland Security, the borders, the people inspect stuff at the airports and nursing is a huge career now.

WILLIS: New York University's College of Nursing has seen a 66 percent increase in applications in the last year. Many applicants described as career-changers.

BARBARA KRAINOVICH-MILLER, ASSISTANT DEAN, NYU COLLEGE OF NURSING: There has been a steady trend that come from the business world, finance, and I think now, who knows, when you start to look at the auto industry and the loss of jobs there, that may become a next pool.

WILLIS: NYU student John Campbell earned a living as a river guide and had hoped to become an architect. Now he is thinking nursing is the better route.

JOHN CAMPBELL, NYU STUDENT: Nursing offers a career where I had control over my financial life.

WILLIS: Wedding planner Vicki Johnson isn't bothered by plunging stock options and layoffs, she's self employed and business is booming.

VICKI JOHNSON, WEDDING PLANNING: We probably have, you know, 25 to 30 weddings on the calendar as of last summer and our phone is still ringing for 2010. So I mean it's very, very encouraging that people are still getting married, they are still, you know, living that dream.

WILLIS: One key to a successful business? According to Shankin, offering a service like weddings for customers who won't cut corners. Gerri Willis, CNN, New York.



CHETRY (voice-over): Your questions. Your voice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am just totally infuriated as an American citizen.

CHETRY: Get your AMFix. We want to hear from you, live on the "ROAD TO RESCUE."

Plus, watch out, women. From cars to office supplies, companies are targeting you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can take this into the dining room.

CHETRY: Men lose their jobs, so women have all the money?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is going to be fun. CHETRY: Girl power. You're watching the Most News in the Morning.



ROMANS: And welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING's special coverage of the "ROAD TO RESCUE." Imagine the pressure of being in charge of $17 billion worth of stimulus money. Well you can track how the stimulus is being spent on But who signs off on the projects state-by-state? Actually 250 million dollars was put aside out of that stimulus to hire watchdogs to supervise all of this money and our Candy Crowley talked to one.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran and Christine. You know, right here in New Jersey, they will be getting about $17 billion in stimulus funds. And let's face it, this is not a state with a stellar reputation for the use of public money. So with that sort of reputation and that kind of money, who are you going to call? Matt Boxer.

MATTHEW BOXER, N.J. STATE COMPTROLLER: It's a bit like three- dimensional chess. It is a bit of a puzzle.

CROWLEY: New Jersey's independent comptroller. The guy with two versions of the stimulus bill in his office. Have you read it?

BOXER: Most of it. Most of it.

CROWLEY: It's real exciting stuff, right?

BOXER: It will keep you up at night, no doubt about that.

CROWLEY: There is a lot about this task to keep him up.

JOSEPH MALONE, N.J. STATE ASSEMBLY: We've seen a half a dozen state legislators go to jail in the last year for corruption and fraud and mismanagement.

CROWLEY: There is that. And a byzantine process which has the money coming into the state in a hundred different streams, different pots of cash to different coffers with different federal guidelines and suggestions.

BIDEN: A little hint. No swimming pools in this money.

CROWLEY: So new to his job, his office has no name plates. Boxer was tapped a year ago to clean up New Jersey and it made him a natural to follow the stimulus money.

BOXER: Does it present unique challenges with eliminating all fraud? It does. It does. We're working hard to deal with that as an issue, but to believe that it will easily be conquered is - would be naive for anybody.

CROWLEY: The state transportation office has picked the projects it wants to fund but, first, there were questions.

BOXER: How did you arrive at this list? And ensuring that the projects were arrived at using merit-based appropriate criteria so we don't end up with the swimming pools.

CROWLEY: Armed with a team of auditors and former FBI investigators, Boxer is in for the duration. $17 billion is at stake. And more.

MALONE: And I said this directly to him. This will shape your career, Matt. If there is any cloud of suspicion, that there is any fraud or abuse or any kinds of malfeasance with the use of this money, you'll ride this thing your entire career.

CROWLEY: Yikes! And just last week, Boxer put on his new hat and came to Washington for a pep talk - kind of.

OBAMA: If we see money being misspent, we're going to put a stop to it and we will call it out and we will publicize it.

CROWLEY: No pressure here.


CROWLEY: Still, even if every project is given a clean bill of health from start to finish, it won't be over. That's when state officials here in Trenton will begin to look how many jobs were created, was it worth the money? Kiran and Christine.