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Other Obama Picks Appear At Hearings

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Other Obama Picks Appear At Hearings

Politics

Other Obama Picks Appear At Hearings

Other Obama Picks Appear At Hearings

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Many other confirmation hearings took place on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Peter Orszag, President-elect Barack Obama's pick for director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; Shaun Donovan, his pick for secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Arne Duncan, his pick for Education Secretary; and Steven Chu, his pick for Energy Secretary, all appeared on Capitol Hill.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

There were four other confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill today. It was smooth sailing for each of them as well.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

But behind closed doors, Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner met with senators amid reports that he did not pay some personal taxes and failed to check the immigration status of a housekeeper.

NORRIS: The Obama transition team says these issues were honest mistakes that were quickly addressed by Geithner. Geithner is the head of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, and he has his confirmation hearing later this week.

BLOCK: During today's hearings, one big topic was the current financial crisis. Peter Orszag is Barack Obama's choice to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget. He spoke to the Senate Budget Committee and was blunt about the grim state of the economy.

Dr. PETER ORSZAG (Appointee, Director, White House Office of Management and Budget, Barack Obama Administration): In the short run, we face the most severe economic crisis that has occurred since the Great Depression. Over the medium and long run, we face the prospect of large and growing deficits that are unsustainable. These twin challenges of economic recovery and fiscal responsibility will make the job of OMB particularly challenging. But again, if confirmed, I relish and look forward to attempting to meet those challenges.

BLOCK: That's Peter Orszag, nominated to be director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

NORRIS: Shaun Donovan talked about another part of the faltering economy. He's New York City's housing commissioner, and President-elect Obama's choice for secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Mr. SHAUN DONOVAN (Appointee, Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Barack Obama Administration): In the past, owning a home was emblematic of financial success. Sadly, we know that the landscape has changed. As President-elect Obama has said, the housing crisis has shaken not only the foundation of our economy, but the foundation of the American dream.

NORRIS: That's Shaun Donovan, nominee for secretary of Housing and Urban Development, on Capitol Hill today.

BLOCK: To education now and Chicago's schools chief, Arne Duncan. He's Mr. Obama's pick for education secretary. At his hearing today, Duncan talked about what he calls the Obama Effect.

Mr. ARNE DUNCAN (Appointee, Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, Barack Obama Administration): What we have with the president-elect and his wife are two people who are living symbols, who embody the value of education. And children throughout our country today look at those two and say that if they worked hard, I can do it, too. And what you see is children saying not just that I want to be the president like the president-elect, they're saying, I want to be smart like the president-elect. And so we have a time collectively as a country to capitalize on something I think is simply extraordinary. Never before has being smart been so cool.

BLOCK: That's Arne Duncan, the president-elect's choice for secretary of education.

NORRIS: Finally, to the nominee for energy secretary, physicist Steven Chu. Chu won a Nobel Prize for his work on renewable energy and climate change. Today, he emphasized engaging other countries on those matters.

Dr. STEVEN CHU (Physicist; Appointee, Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy, Barack Obama Administration): We need to start working with China and India to, actually, concurrently develop some of the technologies, starting with efficiencies. If we can develop, invent new methods of - for example, building efficiencies that China can use as they build their new cities, it's important that the United States and others help China do it right. I think all the countries of the world have to be part of this overall thing because it is the world we're talking about.

NORRIS: Physicist Steven Chu, Mr. Obama's pick to head the Department of Energy.

BLOCK: All five nominees on Capitol Hill today faced specific questions about policy, and each received a largely friendly reception.

NORRIS: All are expected to be confirmed by the full Senate next week after President-elect Obama is sworn in.

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Obama Picks Pledge Broad Policy Changes

Hillary Clinton may be grabbing Tuesday's spotlight as a Senate panel considered her nomination for secretary of state, but President-elect Barack Obama's picks for energy, education and housing and urban development secretaries also were facing Capitol Hill hearings.

The nominees have the potential to influence key policy initiatives in areas of climate change, the foreclosure crisis and how to fix America's struggling public school system.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu said if confirmed as energy secretary, he will aggressively pursue policies aimed at addressing climate change and achieving energy independence.

Education Secretary-designate Arne Duncan pledged to overhaul President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative, which has been criticized by some for relying too heavily on standardized tests to assess student and teacher performance.

Shaun Donovan, who has been tapped to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be charged with heading an agency that has been criticized for its implementation of a mortgage refinance program called Hope for Homeowners. It was designed to rescue up to 400,000 troubled borrowers but has reworked fewer than 1,000 loans.

Chu's strong backing of the science that indicates a man-made cause for global warming could be key to making good on Obama's campaign promise to reverse White House policy on controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

"It is now clear that if we continue on our current path, we run the risk of dramatic, disruptive changes to our climate in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren," Chu said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Chu said the Obama administration would push for a carbon cap-and-trade system, which would require power plants, oil refineries and other industrial facilities to buy and sell pollution permits. The move is aimed at putting a market limit on overall emissions.

That Obama is pushing for such a plan "speaks to the importance he views this area," Chu said.

Duncan, 44, has been CEO of Chicago public schools since 2001. His tenure has featured rising student test scores and graduation rates, and he is credited with improving the quality of teaching. However, his critics contend that test scores already were on the upswing when he took over the school system.

Duncan expressed concern that the federal No Child Left Behind program, a cornerstone of the Bush domestic policy legacy, could in fact leave behind children with disabilities or those learning English as a second language.

"Let's not take too blunt an instrument to an entire school," Duncan said. "Those teachers are doing a herculean job and we need to recognize that. We need to reward that."

HUD nominee Donovan told senators that the Hope for Homeowners program had addressed only "a tiny trickle" of the problem loans.

"I think it's clear to everyone that there needs to be some changes to make sure that program is effective," Donovan said.

Among Donovan's tasks as HUD secretary will be to manage the Federal Housing Agency, a Depression-era program that policymakers hope will become an important tool to refinance troubled mortgages.

Meanwhile, the Senate Budget Committee was examining Obama's picks of Peter Orszag for director of the Office of Management and Budget and Robert Nabors II for deputy OMB director.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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