Week in Review: Economy; Fla. Primary; Gaza

Highlights of the week's news include a House deal with the White House on an economic stimulus package; the upcoming Florida primary; and chaotic scenes from the Egypt-Gaza border as a barrier is breached.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

This week, congressional leaders reached an agreement with the White House on the economic stimulus package. Democrats campaigned in South Carolina. Republicans geared up for next week's Florida primary. And, chaotic scenes from the Egypt-Gaza border as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt.

NPR senior analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And let us, please, begin with the economy…

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: …because on Monday, when U.S. markets were closed, around the world, they fell early…

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: …in the week, seemed to rally toward the end of the week. How do you characterize the week?

SCHORR: Well, but the Wall Street looks so very nervous as a week in - on Wall Street closes. I think that the air of confidence that was breathed by the administration has some effect on foreign markets. But they're really in the state of teetering and of emergency. I think you're going to see them go up and down as they try to learn how much trouble are we really in.

SIMON: And the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, without a scheduled meeting with the Fed board, cut a key interest rate.

SCHORR: That's right. And they're apparently hoping that by cutting the interest rate, it would be able to provide a shot in the arm for this lagging economy. And, you know, it's sort of, you do your best. There's nothing else they can do except to try a monetary approach to it rather than fiscal, and hope.

SIMON: The White House and the House of Representatives were able to reach an agreement pretty quickly on the economic stimulus package. It still has to get through the Senate. How do you see that process playing out? Any differences?

SCHORR: I think what's happened is that it really is an agreement and everybody believes that nobody will gain from lagging at this point. So they really are in a hurry. What they simply did was to strip the package of whatever it was that the Bush administration wanted, which was to make the tax cuts permanent and strip it of what the Democrats wanted, which was to get more money for unemployment, insurance and food stamps, and leave in it what they could both agree on. It looks as though it will pass the Senate - apparently it promises to pass it by mid-February.

SIMON: Recognizing the predicting in politics and sports and economics, particularly, is hazardous. What do you see the effect of the stimulus package being…

SCHORR: Well, that's what everybody is waiting to see. I'm not an economist. But having read along the material on it, the way I get it, it goes like this. The stimulus that comes from this package will be very minor and very late. It is almost as though when I speak not very, in economical terms, it is really almost as if somebody tells his friend he has cancer. And the fellow says, oh, that's too bad. Have a cookie, you'll feel much better.

SIMON: To the week in politics. Three Democratic candidates - Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards debated in South Carolina, Monday night. What were your impressions of the debate and the campaign week that followed?

SCHORR: Well, increasing sovereignty between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, and the beginning of the rifts among voters on the race alliance was everybody on Democratic side had tried to avoid, but it appears to be coming. It's hard to tell if they do split on racial alliance who have been the more prominent. But already, you're beginning to see signs of trouble. John Edwards sat there during the debate, while the other two were tussling with each other and saying, I represent the mature wing of the Democratic Party.

SIMON: And let me ask, of course, about the Republican side of the ballot. Rudolph Giuliani was ahead for months. Senator McCain and Mitt Romney now seemed to have closed that gap, and Mayor Giuliani's a few points behind, at least according to the polls, and they've been wrong.

SCHORR: Well, Senator McCain is clearly now the Republican frontrunner. And Florida will become very important at that point for Giuliani because he has bet so much on it. He avoided a lot of the other places. It didn't matter. He said just wait until you see me in Florida. Well, having set Florida as a testing ground for him, he better do very well or he's in trouble.

SIMON: Chaotic scenes this week in the border between Egypt and Gaza strip with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians pouring in over Egypt to get supplies.

SCHORR: Yes. The Hamas broke a big hole in the wall and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians went through it because they were hungry. They wanted food. They don't have food. It's fairly clear that they don't even have electric power at home because the fuel comes in a very short supply. And this is a whole new element in this awful, awful situation there, as now you got this 100,000 going into Egypt ready to go back. But they want some place where they can go get something to eat.

SIMON: NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr.

Thank you, Dan.

SCHORR: Thank you, Scott.

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