What's Obama's priority No. 1?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 9 2008 7:27 AM

The Big To-Do List

The Washington Post devotes most of its front page to a package of stories about the incoming Barack Obama administration. The paper leads with a piece on the unusually graceful transition being orchestrated between the Bush and Obama staffs. The New York Times leads with a look at the issues Obama will try to tackle first. The Los Angeles Times ran its story on Obama's priorities yesterday, and so it leads with Congress looking at using infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy.

The Bush administration has extended an unprecedented level of access to the Obama team, especially where the Treasury Department is concerned. The hope is that a smooth handoff will provide comfort to the already jittery financial markets. That's not to say that the old and new guards are really working together. Obama's team is already working on identifying Bush administration policies they can quickly undo without passing legislation, such as lifting limits on stem-cell research.

Obama says fixing the economy will be priority No. 1 when he takes office in January. But what else will he be tackling straight away? The NYT explores two philosophies vying for supremacy inside the Obama transition team. Some staffers favor being bold and ambitious, taking on every problem at once in order to take advantage of Obama's momentum. Others want to focus on a few issues at a time, in order to keep the administration from being bogged down. Both sides cite historical examples of presidents flailing in their first months because they tried to do too little or too much at once. One possible compromise is focusing on economic-stimulus programs but then using those programs to support secondary goals like expanded health care and alternative energy.

Public-works projects have been part of government strategies for spurring economic growth for decades. But this year, the LAT reports, Congress and the White House decided that simply issuing checks to taxpayers would stimulate the economy faster. But now that the economy appears to be in an extended downturn, lawmakers are taking another look at infrastructure spending, which directly creates jobs and provides a slow, steady trickle of money into the economy. Meanwhile, the WP fronts coverage of Congress' attempts to shore up the economy by securing some of the $700 billion in bailout money to aid ailing Detroit automakers.

The LAT fronts a feature on Obama's "inner circle," focusing on old friends from school or from Chicago. The trouble with the story is that it's full of details about how the president-elect relies on old friends to get him through tough times, but it's noticeably short on examples of how these people could influence the way he'll govern. It says that some of the people may well follow him to the White House but never explains what sort of impact they'd have. What do these people bring to the table? What are their agendas? What would their appointment mean for the administration?

Rounding out the WP's Obama package is a pair of stories about the inauguration. The paper reports that hotel rooms are selling out all over Washington as people come from around the world to be part of the historic occasion. Subsequently, the paper fronts an amusing piece about Washingtonians getting calls from long-lost acquaintances looking for a place to crash during the festivities.

The NYT goes under the fold with analysis of the suddenly gracious rhetoric former Obama foes are using to describe his historic victory. This wild shift in tone is far from universal, and it probably doesn't translate to an increased willingness to cooperate, says the paper. The story posits that perhaps it's just that no one wants to be remembered for booing the first black president before he even takes office.

Texas didn't turn 'blue' last Tuesday—not even close. But that's not to say that the Lone Star State will be red forever. According to the LAT, some Democratic strategists think that just as growing numbers of Democrat-leaning Latinos helped deliver New Mexico and Florida for Obama, they might someday put Texas up for grabs. The story argues that if these trends continue in state level races in 2010, then a serious push in 2012 or 2016 might not be so far-fetched.  If the prospect still seems crazy to you, Virginia provides a handy example of how a highly partisan state can turn into a tossup in just a few short years. The WP goes inside with coverage of the state's changing political makeup.

The WP fronts a piece on Iraqi security forces' concerns about the U.S. pulling troops out of Iraq. While violence has died down there, the paper says the security forces are still heavily dependent on U.S. forces for support, logistics, and training.

Public defenders across the country are having trouble coping with the burgeoning number of defendants they represent each year. Lawyers in several states are refusing to take on more clients or else they're suing to limit their case loads. They argue that taking more cases would be unethical, since they're already unable to give most clients the time and effort necessary to defend them. The NYT has all the details.

What happens if an uninsured immigrant goes to a hospital in the United States and ends up needing long-term care? The answer, as the NYT discovers, is mostly up to the hospital. The patient might be given the care he needs, even if he can't pay. Or the hospital might have the patient sent back to his homeland, even if he came to the U.S. legally. The paper follows several different cases to show how the discretion of hospital administrators can make all the difference.

Remember those nifty swimsuits the U.S. Olympic swim team used to win all those gold medals? Well, the WP says that they're quickly becoming commonplace for competitive swimming at every level, despite costing hundreds of dollars and needing regular replacements. Some are worried that the cost of the suits could put competitive swimming out of the reach for lower-income families and less-affluent schools.

The WP notes inside that when the college basketball season begins tomorrow, it will do so with a revised 3-point-line, now set a foot farther back in an attempt to reinvigorate the sport's ailing midgame. The paper examines the history of the line and examines a few predictions about the new rule's impact.

Instead of raising the price of common household items, some manufacturers are simply reducing the size of the package, effectively charging more for less. Is anyone noticing? The LAT has the story.

The NYT Magazine explores the Saudi government's plan to use group therapy to deprogram would-be terrorists.

Jesse Stanchak is a writer living in Washington, D.C.

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