HARI SREENIVASAN: The president faced new questions today about leaving Afghanistan. He told reporters in Oslo he’s sticking to his plan to start U.S. troop withdrawals in July of 2011. But he promised the pullout will be gradual.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think it’s very important to understand that we’re not going to see some sharp cliff, some precipitous drawdown. Our whole concept here is to train and partner with Afghan forces and to transfer to them, even as our troops are fighting alongside each other.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, General McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, played down concerns about the timetable. He told a House hearing that insurgents will see the U.S. commitment and realize — quote — “A date doesn’t change anything.”
Defense Secretary Gates has arrived in Iraq from Afghanistan. He met today with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to offer U.S. help, after the Baghdad bombings on Tuesday. Those attacks killed 127 people. Today, the umbrella group for al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility. And it warned, the list of targets has no end.
A weeklong winter storm left much of the U.S. Midwest and Northeast in a deep freeze today. At least 17 deaths were blamed on the storm nationwide. “NewsHour” correspondent Kwame Holman has more.
KWAME HOLMAN: After days of blizzard conditions in the Midwest, temperatures plunged into single digits, with wind chills down to 25 below zero.
WOMAN: It’s so freezing cold out here. It’s unbelievable.
KWAME HOLMAN: And the Northeast prepared for more snow amid bone-chilling winds. Gusts in Buffalo were clocked at 60 miles an hour. The massive storm system dropped more than a foot of snow on a dozen states this week. In northern Arizona, it left some 30 elk hunters still stranded today. And, nationwide, there were more school closures, airport delays, power outages, and traffic accidents, some deadly.
BOB CONRAD, Iowa State Patrol: When it comes right down to it, people have just got to understand, on a day like today, if you don’t need to go, stay home.
KWAME HOLMAN: As the bulk of the storm pushed into Canada, parts of northern New York braced for a total of three feet of snow by week’s end. And southwest Michigan was under a blizzard warning of its own. Regions spared snowfall had their own struggles with wind and rain. In Ohio, a trampoline was blown on to this man’s roof.
MAN: How did it even get through there?
KWAME HOLMAN: And drivers in parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast faced flooded streets again. The storm also left a long trail of debris, from downed trees to blown-down buildings, to be cleaned up.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The U.S. House has approved a huge spending bill to fund 10 Cabinet departments on a party-line vote. The bill ran 1,100 pages long and cost $1.1 trillion. Democrats said domestic programs were starved in the Bush years and need help now. Republicans said the spending means the era of big government has returned. The bill also needs Senate approval.
The Wall Street banking giant Goldman Sachs will not give cash bonuses to 30 top executives this year. The company paid back its federal rescue loans last summer, allowing it to escape curbs on compensation. Just yesterday, Britain announced a one-time tax of 50 percent on bonuses for high-paid bankers there. And, today, the leaders of France and Germany embraced the idea as well.
Treasury Secretary Geithner today defended his decision to extend the bank rescue program until October. The $700 billion TARP program had been set to end this month. But Geithner told a federal oversight panel he needs more time to wind down the effort without doing economic damage.
TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. Treasury Secretary: We will keep the government out of the business decisions of these companies and we will exit from our investments as soon as is practical and return ownership to private hands. This strategy requires a limited temporary extension of the authority provided by the Congress under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The oversight group was created by Congress. Chairwoman Elizabeth Warren and others questioned the need to keep the TARP going. She said it prevented a financial collapse, but failed in a number of key missions.
ELIZABETH WARREN, chairwoman, Troubled Assets Relief Program Oversight Committee: TARP has been far from an unmitigated success. Credit for consumers and small businesses remains scarce. The foreclosure crisis continues unabated. And treasury’s mitigation programs have not achieved the scope, the scale, or the permanence necessary to stabilize the housing market.
HARI SREENIVASAN: On Wednesday, the Treasury Department estimated it will lose about $60 billion on aid to insurance giant AIG and to Chrysler and General Motors. It will make a profit of nearly $20 billion on assistance to banks.
On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 68 points, to close at 10405. The Nasdaq rose seven points, to close at 2190.