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Other News: Signing Statements Under Review, Economic Outlook Worsens

March 9, 2009 at 6:20 PM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: President Obama also ordered a review today of the Bush policy on signing statements. Those are legal documents issued by the president the day a bill becomes law. They include instructions for how the law should be executed.

Former President Bush used them to challenge 1,200 provisions during his eight years in office; that’s almost double the number challenged by all the previous presidents combined.

The economic outlook in the United States and around the world went from bad to worse today. Ray Suarez has our report.

RAY SUAREZ: From the trading floor to the factory floor, 16 months of recession has taken its toll, and there’s no end in sight. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, a self-proclaimed optimist, issued this stark assessment today on CNBC.

WARREN BUFFETT, investor: It’s fallen off a cliff. And not only has the economy slowed down a lot; people have really changed their behavior like nothing I’ve ever seen.

RAY SUAREZ: So much that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has plunged 2,200 points since last fall, when Buffett urged people to buy stocks. Today, he said unemployment will go much higher and a recovery could take five years, but it will happen.

WARREN BUFFETT: Business works overall. It doesn’t work every day or every week or every month, and sometimes it really gets gummed up, and then you need government intervention sometimes to get the machines back working smoothly. But the machine works.

RAY SUAREZ: To that end, Buffett, a long-time Obama supporter, urged Congress and the president to do more to restore confidence. That drew a response from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

ROBERT GIBBS, White House press secretary: I think Mr. Buffett would agree that — and, in fact, said, in not so many words, but — that this problem isn’t going to be fixed overnight.

RAY SUAREZ: None of the talk did much to help the mood on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost another 79 points to close at 6,547. The Nasdaq fell 25 points to close at 1,268.

European stocks managed small gains, but Asian markets slumped across the board, with Tokyo’s benchmark index closing at a 26-year low.

The selling followed a World Bank report that the global economy will contract this year for the first time since World War II. The bank also predicted trade will hit its lowest point in 80 years.

And in the Financial Times, President Obama’s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, called for greater economic stimulus worldwide. But two leading Republican senators said the Obama administration should instead scale back, at least when it comes to rescuing big banks.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, R-Ala.: Close them down. Get them out of business. If they’re dead, they ought to be buried. We bury the small banks; we’ve got to bury some big ones and send a strong message to the market.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: I don’t think they’ve made the hard decision, and that is to let these banks fail, to let General Motors go into bankruptcy and re-emerge and reorganize with new contracts with labor and others. I don’t think they’ve made the tough decisions. Some of these banks have to fail.

RAY SUAREZ: President Obama did not respond directly, but his auto task force met with officials from G.M. and Chrysler in Detroit. And the United Auto Workers union and Ford agreed today on contract changes to save money.

GWEN IFILL: Drug-maker Merck and Company announced today it’s buying rival Schering-Plough for $41 billion. Merck said it wants to cut costs and products amid increased competition and slumping sales. The merger would create the world’s second-largest maker of prescription drugs, but eliminate 16,000 jobs.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in two cases affecting future elections. In one case, the court ruled a key part of the Voting Rights Act affects only congressional districts where minorities are the majority. The justices also let stand a lower court decision against state laws that regulate ballot access for independent presidential candidates.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted today Northern Ireland will not go back to the days of sectarian war. On Saturday, Irish Republican Army dissidents shot and killed two British troops outside their barracks in Antrim, west of Belfast. Four civilians were wounded. Prime Minister Brown met today with political leaders in the province after visiting an army barracks.

GORDON BROWN, prime minister of Britain: These are callous murderers. These are terrorists who showed no sympathy towards people who were dying. These are callous people who carried out executions in the — outside these barracks. And I believe the whole population of Northern Ireland is saying what the people of Antrim said yesterday, that these people have got to be hunted down and brought to justice as quickly as possible.

GWEN IFILL: Saturday’s attack marked the first killings of British troops in Northern Ireland in 12 years.

Canadian authorities have confirmed a Canadian soldier was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday. He was part of a NATO force hit by a roadside bombing in the south. The announcement came as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, said the coalition is struggling in the south and the east. He spoke to the BBC.

Over the weekend, President Obama told the New York Times he is open to attempts to make peace with elements of the Taliban.

A rocket attack in Iraq killed a British soldier today, and 12,000 U.S. troops began the countdown to September when they will be out of Iraq. U.S. officials announced Sunday the pullout will happen over the next six months. The withdrawals represent 10 percent of the current U.S. troop presence.