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Clinton Confirmed for State, Congress Works on Stimulus

January 21, 2009 at 6:50 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: And in the other news of this day, the House formally began work on an economic stimulus plan offered by Democrats. It would cost $825 billion. But Congressman David Obey, chairing the Appropriations Committee, warned it may still be too small.

REP. DAVID OBEY (D), Chair, Committee on Appropriations: This package is no silver bullet. By itself, it cannot solve the problem. There is a reasonable probability that this package is not big enough to match the size of the problem at hand. It may undershoot the mark, and we may have to make adjustments down the line.

JIM LEHRER: Republicans disagreed on the need for more spending. They said tax cuts are the best way to stimulate the economy. They also said they want to make their case face to face tomorrow at the White House.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: Trying to get money back into the economy quickly, to preserve jobs and to create jobs, has to be the goal. And fast-acting tax relief, we believe, is the best way to do that. When it comes to slow-moving government spending programs, it’s clear that it doesn’t create the jobs or preserve the jobs that need to happen.

JIM LEHRER: Later, the House approved a Democratic bill governing the use of federal rescue funds. Congress released the second half of the $700 billion last week. The bill calls for spending up to $100 billion on halting home foreclosures. Its fate in the Senate was uncertain.

Wall Street rebounded today from its big losses on Inauguration Day. An upbeat earnings report from IBM helped fuel that rally. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 279 points to close at 8,228, up 3.5 percent. The Nasdaq rose 66 points to close at 1,507, a gain of 4.5 percent.

The Senate confirmed Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state today. She was easily approved after Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas held up the vote by a day. He asked for more information on foreign donors to President Clinton’s foundation.

Democrats and Republicans also argued over delays affecting Treasury Secretary Geithner and Attorney General nominee Eric Holder.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: We want the Republicans to have input and to have the ability to debate these, but if that’s not something they’re wanting to do, that is, they’re just stalling, then we’re going to have to go through the process of bringing the nomination up, doing cloture. We’re going to do that over the weekends — plural — if that’s what they want to do.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: I think most all Republicans feel that all the appropriate questions ought to be asked. And you can do that without prejudging the final outcome of both of those nominations. But there are legitimate questions that have been raised, and efforts are underway in both committees to ensure that the questions are answered.

JIM LEHRER: The nominee for transportation secretary, Republican Ray LaHood, did have his confirmation hearing today.

Sen. Ted Kennedy was released from a Washington hospital today, a day after suffering a seizure. Doctors said fatigue was most likely to blame for his collapse yesterday at the inaugural luncheon in the Capitol. Kennedy is 76 years old; he was diagnosed with a brain tumor last May.

Israel completed its military pullout from Gaza today, as Hamas militants worked to repair smuggling tunnels. Meanwhile, thousands of Gazans waited for help amid the wreckage.

We have a report from Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN MILLER: That watchtower is 200 yards away in Egypt. This side of the border was Israel’s target number one; its F-16s hit Rafah hard. This boy is standing in a massive crater.

Israel’s prime military objective: destroy the tunnels through which Hamas imports its Qassam rockets. There are reckoned to be 2,000 tunnels, and bombs did wreck a lot of them, but the very day the Israelis announced their full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Rafah’s tunnelers got back to work.

While the tunnel repair teams are in action and the structural engineers have moved in, they’re trying to get things up and running again here in Rafah. Just behind the green sheeting over there, there’s a tunnel which has been completely obliterated by the bombing, and there’s buildings all over this area which have been very, very heavily hit by the bombs.

But, despite this, there are still tunnels here completely unscathed, including this one, which is up and running.

Traveling north again, a roadside Palestinian cemetery, where Israeli tanks have parked up. They’ve driven over graves. Some families have had to reinter their dead.

By now, we were halfway up the 25-mile-long finger of semiarid land that is the Gaza Strip. It’s a jumble of cities, villages, and refugee camps. Until this morning, Israeli tanks, parked on a nearby ridge, made it impossible to get here. What we found was breathtaking: a village wiped off the map.

JIM LEHRER: In Washington today, President Obama made a round of telephone calls to the Middle East. He spoke to the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and Jordan. He promised to help stop smuggling by Hamas and to help rebuild Gaza.