President-Elect Obama Goes On Working Vacation

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President-elect Barack Obama has gone to Hawaii for the holidays. Obama leaves Washington with his Cabinet and White House picks in place. It's a transition to executive office that many view as one of the most efficient ever. However, there are some daunting tasks facing Obama when he returns to Washington.


This is Morning Edition. From NPR News, I'm Linda Wertheimer, sitting in for Steve Inskeep. He's taking this holiday week off.


And I'm Renee Montagne. President-elect Barack Obama is spending his holidays in Hawaii. He begins his vacation with all his Cabinet and White House picks in place and a transition that appears to be going smoothly. Still, when he returns to Washington, even before the inauguration, he'll face daunting tasks. Joining us now, as she does most Mondays, is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Good Morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: We know that the Obama team is considering a major economic stimulus package, and that package appears to be growing.

ROBERTS: It does. The President-elect says he wants to save or create two and a half million jobs over the next couple of years. And he's consulted a lot of economists, both people who are likely to be inside his administration and outside his administration, including some Republican economists, who all say, apparently, that it should be a bigger package rather than a smaller package. So you're hearing numbers like $850 billion.

He also has announced, or his vice-presidential pick Joe Biden announced over the weekend that they will be focused on the middle class, that Biden will be heading a middle-class task force, whatever that means.

And, you know, we've heard the broad outlines of this stimulus package, that it's likely to be a big public works construction project - roads, bridges - shovel ready they call it. Lots of things ready to go so they could get moving right away. And then a focus on green, on environmentally good projects, particularly clean energy.

MONTAGNE: And in this Democratic Congress, are lawmakers likely to challenge what Mr. Obama is proposing?

ROBERTS: Well sure. First of all, there are bound to be challenges to the number because, as I say, the number - the dollar amount just keeps growing. And also, the President-elect has been clear that he doesn't want this getting loaded up with pet projects from individual members of Congress, and usually that's the easiest way to get something passed. So if that's not the case, it becomes a little bit harder.

But also, Renee, this is something that you haven't heard much about, but you know, these kinds of public works projects, or even green energy, don't really do anything by way of hiring women. And, you know, women make up 46 percent of the labor force now. And this happened the last time we had one of these great big stimulus packages in a recession, in 1982 when the unemployment rate was 10 percent.

Congress came back in a lame-duck session, worked on a stimulus package, which they didn't pass before Christmas, but came back after Christmas and passed it, very similar situation to this. And the women in Congress, there were only 21 of them at the time, said, you know, this isn't fair, you're not doing anything for the women, and they insisted on a public-service component.

And I think you're likely to see something similar here. A lot more on health care, the states can use that too, helping pay their Medicaid bills, child health bills. So, I think you'll see a little push in that direction.

MONTAGNE: And Cokie, Congress itself is still in flux, what's going on with those Senate seats that are still unfilled?

ROBERTS: Well, of course, New York is the one that has everyone interested. Caroline Kennedy - is she going to be appointed or not? My guess would be yes, even though there's some grousing about the fact that she hasn't held public office before, but neither had Hillary Clinton before she went to the Senate from New York.

And then, Colorado now is going to be open because Ken Salazar is going to the Cabinet apparently. Minnesota is still being counted, and that looks like that count could go on for a very long time. And then there's Illinois, and nobody knows what is going to happen in Illinois if Governor Blagojevich insists on staying in, as he says he does.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

ROBERTS: Merry Christmas.

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