Week In Review: Stimulus Debate, Cabinet Blunders

This week, members of the Senate worked on a compromise economic stimulus package as President Obama pressed or quick action. Meanwhile, the president issued a mea culpa for the tax controversies surrounding some of his Cabinet picks. Scott Simon talks with NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. This week, members of the Senate worked on a compromise to pare down the multibillion-dollar stimulus package. President Obama continued to press for quick action. Meanwhile, the president - the president, forgive me - said, my bad for a controversy surrounding some of his Cabinet picks, and the words of a British bishop have created a new controversy for the Vatican. We're joined now by NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr. Dan, good morning.

DANIEL SCHORR: Good morning, Scott, and Happy Stimulus Day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, also, look, before anything else, you became a grandfather this week. Congratulations to you and everybody else.

SCHORR: I thank you very much.

SIMON: Looks like the Senate has a deal to whittle down the stimulus package, cutting it down from over 900 billion to about 820 billion, a billion here and a billion there. What are the chances of it passing on Tuesday?

SCHORR: I think fairly good now. The president has changed his stance a great deal. After inviting everybody over for drinks at the White House and being very nice, finding that didn't work with the Republicans, he then began to say, no more Mr. Nice Guy. And that may have had some effect, along with the coincidental but very important publication of the latest unemployment figures - 598,000. And between the one thing and the other, he managed finally to split off or maybe three or four moderate Republicans but enough, probably, to ensure passage in the Senate along with the - he sent an airplane to Florida to bring back Senator Kennedy to make sure they had that one vote.

SIMON: Aside from the stimulus bill, we're looking over the horizon. The Obama administration is getting ready to release the second half of the $700 billion bank bailout.

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: And President Obama had some hard words for corporate executives today - this week that are getting special help from the government, and actually talked about capping their salaries at half a million dollars a year.

SCHORR: Well, that's right. Apparently, the American public is so upset about these multimillion-dollar reimbursements for people even while they're accepting taxpayer money to continue, and he found it was a very useful thing to do to, set limits on compensation for our executives.

SIMON: Now, it apparently will pertain to just a literal handful of executives. But what about the argument that now is the time when you need the most talented executives?

SCHORR: That's right, but some of these executives have not shown very much talent, judging by the number of companies that have gone buoy(ph).

SIMON: And the president said, I screwed up this week. He was referring to Tom Daschle to be nominated head Health and Human Services. Nancy Killefer was going to be chief performance officer. They both ran into questions about their taxes. Any political damage you know that extends beyond this week?

SCHORR: Well, it's a great deal. This person came in, and the tenet which he proposed was going to make life very different in Washington, and it was going to be a whole new ballgame, and people would now act ethically, and found out first chance he got to do something about it that it didn't work so well, and he's sort of settling down. Well, life is a little more difficult than saying it's going to be changed.

SIMON: Meanwhile, Leon Panetta, President Obama's choice to head the CIA, got a pretty friendly reception from the Senate Intelligence Committee. Do you see his confirmation as being likely?

SCHORR: I think it's in the bag. He handled himself very well. There were a couple of questions involving interrogation and torture and at one point, he had to reverse himself on one thing he said. But on the whole, handled a very touchy situation with enormous skill. Everybody, including the Republicans on the committee, said nice things about him.

SIMON: Iraq held its provincial elections a week ago, as we were on the air. Apparently, allies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki won in a number of key provinces and in Baghdad. How do you see this as affecting the future of Iraq, especially as the Obama administration is obviously contemplating that six-month - 16-month withdrawal schedule?

SCHORR: Well, having a big election without too much trouble, not many guns going off, is probably a good thing, demonstration of Iraq sovereignty. Sovereignty is a very important word for them. They're trying to display sovereignty. It may mean - but not for sure - that it will shorten the time before American troops can leave. It was sort of a little bit of good news in another words - otherwise dark world.

SIMON: Finally, this week, controversy at the Vatican. Last month, the pope decided to rescind the excommunication of four bishops, one of whom was Richard Williamson, a British bishop who has questioned whether the Holocaust actually occurred. The pope's decision to bring him back into the church has caused some outrage, and now the Vatican is demanding that Bishop Williamson recant his comments before he can be brought in. What are your reflections? You, of course, were based in Germany during the post-war.

SCHORR: I was based in Germany. I also visited Auschwitz to do commentary there. And to me, there is no question about whether there was a Holocaust or not. What is interesting is that this Pope Benedict has been very good about reaching out to the Jews, and he has done it again, and he has demanded that Bishop Williamson recant his statement that there wasn't any Holocaust. It is very difficult to square this with what has been going on in the Catholic Church. I suppose the pope could probably say, I screwed up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: To quote another great statesman. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr. Thanks so much, Dan.

SCHORR: Yep.

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