Obama Appoints Officer To Oversee Spending

President-elect Barack Obama announced Wednesday the latest appointees to his administration, including an officer to oversee government spending — a position that will take on new importance with the $300 billion dollar stimulus package.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Noah Adams.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up, they've had years of education, so why didn't most economists see this financial collapse coming? A few thoughts on that just ahead.

ADAMS: But first, Democrats in the Senate say they do plan to accept Roland Burris as the replacement for President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. NPR's Brian Naylor is following the story. Brian, why is the Democratic - what is the Democratic leadership actually saying, and why did they change their minds?

NAYLOR: Noah, the Democratic leaders met a little while ago with Mr. Burris in the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Afterwards, Reid came out and said that there are still a few formalities that have to be cleared up, a few more I's dotted. Specifically, they want to see the Illinois secretary of state sign the certification that Mr. Burris has been appointed by Governor Blagojevich. And there is a court case pending in the Illinois Supreme Court on that as to whether or not the Illinois secretary of state can block that from happening.

If the court rules that the certification cannot be blocked, then once the paperwork is in, basically, what it seemed like the Democratic leaders are saying, that they will be willing to seat him. And I think that they're looking for a way to save face. As you may recall, when the appointment was first made, the Democratic leaders were adamant that they wouldn't be seating Burris because of the cloud hanging over the appointment.

But since then, there have been a lot of legal opinions issued. In op-ed columns, there's been some sentiment on behalf of African-American members of Congress, and outside Congress, that Burris, who is African-American, should be seated. Also yesterday, a key senator, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is the chair of the Rules Committee, said she thought he should be seated.

And then you had this sort of unseemly spectacle yesterday of Mr. Burris trying to get into the Senate for a meeting and basically turned away. I think all of these things have made Democratic leaders realize that they're on the wrong side of what's become a bit of a public relations debacle, and so they're trying to look for a way to back out of this and save some face.

ADAMS: Now, President-elect Barack Obama this morning gave a news conference about the economy. Did he make predictions about the deficit? What did he say?

NAYLOR: Well, he said that the deficit is likely to be over a trillion dollars. They're talking about a $1.2 trillion deficit for the fiscal year that ends in - at the end of September. And Mr. Obama has been meeting with his economic advisers here in Washington this week and looking for a way to stimulate the economy. And he's been talking about a stimulus package and is aiming toward trying to boost the economy with - by federal spending which could in itself add up to a trillion dollars.

ADAMS: Now we have a new - the country will have a new chief performance officer. That's a brand new job. Nancy Killefer is going to do that job. What is it really?

NAYLOR: Well, her job is going to be to scrub the budget and look at the budget for programs that can be eliminated.

ADAMS: Thank you, Brian. Talking with us from Washington, NPR's Brian Naylor.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Noah.

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