Tue, Jan 06, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Obama bids farewell to Chicago, arrives in DC

AGENCIES , WASHINGTON AND CHICAGO

US president-elect Barack Obama landed in the Washington area on Sunday evening, setting up the final march toward his Jan. 20 inauguration.

Obama landed hours after his pick for commerce secretary, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, took his name out of the running amid a federal grand jury investigation into government contracts.

Obama has a busy week ahead of him. Yesterday he was scheduled to meet Democratic and Republican leaders about a proposed economic plan. He also has some high-profile members of his administration to name, including a director of national intelligence and a CIA director, and must find a replacement for Richardson.

Richardson withdrew as commerce secretary nominee, saying a legal inquiry in his home state would have complicated his Senate confirmation for the job.

Richardson denied any wrongdoing in connection with the probe of a company that had done business with the New Mexico state government.

But he said an investigation lasting possibly weeks or even months “would have forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process.”

An extensive public discussion of the New Mexico case, which news reports have said involves a probe of payments by a California company to political action committees run by Richardson, could embarrass an Obama camp already fighting to distance itself from a “pay-to-play” scandal involving the Democratic governor of Illinois.

Obama was heading to Capitol Hill yesterday to push for quick action on a broad economic stimulus package that congressional leaders had said would not be ready until the middle of next month at the earliest — almost a month later than the president-elect wanted.

Obama planned to meet on Monday with House and Senate Democratic leaders and with a bipartisan group of key lawmakers. He had hoped to have Congress enact the recovery plan in time for him to sign it when he takes office on Jan. 20. But even his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, conceded on Sunday night that was “very, very unlikely.”

Obama has insisted bold and quick action is necessary if the nation is to rebound from the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. He has said repeatedly he wants a plan that will create 3 million new jobs.

Obama aides have said the package Obama dubbed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan could cost as much as US$775 billion.

Congressional aides briefed on the measure say it likely would include tax cuts of US$500 to US$1,000 for middle-class individuals and couples, as well as some US$200 billion to help revenue-starved states pay for health care programs for the poor and other operating costs.

Obama advisers told the New York Times on Sunday that tax cuts for workers and businesses could total US$300 billion.

Meanwhile, Obama has tapped Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Citing unnamed sources and “Democrats familiar with the decision,” the Washington Post and the New York Times said Kaine would succeed Howard Dean.

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