JIM LEHRER: President-elect Obama appealed today for urgent action on his economic stimulus plan. He gave few details of the proposal that could cost $775 billion at least, but he did say Congress needs to work day and night to pass it.
NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president-elect chose George Mason University in Virginia this morning to deliver his first speech since the election. It came ahead of a report tomorrow expected to show hundreds of thousands more Americans have lost their jobs.
BARACK OBAMA, President-elect of the United States: We start 2009 in the midst of a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime, a crisis that has only deepened over the last few weeks.
Now, I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible. If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. In short, a bad situation could become dramatically worse.
That is why I have moved quickly to work with my economic team and leaders of both parties on an American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that will immediately jump-start job creation and long-term growth.
There is no doubt that the cost of this plan will be considerable. It will certainly add to the budget deficit in the short-term. But equally certain are the consequences of doing too little or nothing at all, for that will lead to an even greater deficit of jobs, incomes, and confidence in our economy.
It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe.
Only government can break the cycles that are crippling our economy, where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs, which leads to even less spending, where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit.
That's why we need to act boldly and act now to reverse these cycles. That's why we need to put money in the pockets of the American people, create new jobs, and invest in our future.
And that's why we'll invest in priorities like energy and education, health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century.
It is time to set a new course for this economy, and that change must begin now. We should have an open and honest discussion about this recovery plan in the days ahead, but I urge Congress to move as quickly as possible on behalf of the American people.
For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs, more families will lose their savings, more dreams will be deferred and denied, and our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.
That is not the country I know; it is not a future I accept as president of the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: At the Capitol, Republican leaders made clear the cost of the plan is a key issue.
House Minority Leader John Boehner.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: As you all know, yesterday the Congressional Budget Office announced the deficit for this fiscal year of $1.2 trillion. That does not include any money that will be spent on this economic rescue package. It does not include money for the war supplemental for this year or any other types of emergency spending. And I think it's very important, as we go ahead, that we find the right balance.
KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell talked about how quickly Congress could complete a package and suggested a cap on its size.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader: Well, given the deficit numbers, it really ought not be a trillion-dollar spending bill. I think we can start by saying that.
Second, in terms of the timing of it, I think we could, before the February recess, potentially deal with this in a relatively normal way, that is, with oversight hearings, opportunities for Republicans in both the House and Senate to offer amendments. All of that could be accomplished within a month.
KWAME HOLMAN: Leaders from both parties say the package must balance tax cuts and new spending and minimize the effect on the federal deficit.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Obama's tax cut plan of some $300 billion did run into resistance today from two top Democrats. Senator Kent Conrad said he doubts companies would use a new tax credit to hire more workers while business is bad. Senator John Kerry said he'd rather spend the money on public works and other projects.
But House Speaker Pelosi told the NewsHour she backs a 30-day time frame for action. She said the House won't recess until it's done. And we'll have that interview in its entirety right after this news summary.
Major retailers today reported the worst holiday season in 40 years. Sales were down sharply at K-Mart, Sears, Saks and Gap. Even Wal-Mart cut its earnings outlook.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 27 points to close at 8,742. The Nasdaq rose nearly 18 points to close at 1,617.
Israel came under sharp new criticism today over its actions in Gaza. The U.N. suspended aid deliveries after a truck was attacked. And the International Red Cross reported finding four children alive in a house full of bodies.
We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: This was one of four starving Palestinian children the ICRC accuses Israel of deliberately abandoning. For four days, ambulances tried to reach them, but the Israeli army said no. And when medics were allowed in, the children were found sitting among the corpses of at least a dozen people, including their own mothers.
There's no sign of a let-up to Israel's offensive. There was another three-hour lull today to let in badly needed U.N. aid, but in a bitter irony, the U.N. says it's now too dangerous to deliver it. That's because Israeli forces shot and injured two Palestinian drivers and killed another while they were on their way to pick up U.N. supplies today.
The only people allowed out of Gaza are foreign passport-holders, and diplomats escorted them into Israel from the border today.
PALESTINIAN CITIZEN: Happy to be out, but at the same time I feel shameful that I'm leaving my -- abandoning my family.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: An apartment block in the southern town of Rafah was one of more than 60 targets Israel says it hit from the air last night, as it tries to obliterate the militants' homes, their smuggling tunnels, their meeting places, and mosques, where Israel claims Hamas stores its weapons.
JIM LEHRER: Later, another Palestinian aide driver died of wounds, making roughly 750 Palestinians killed so far. About a dozen Israelis have died, including two soldiers killed today.
In another development, several rockets were fired from Lebanon into northern Israel. The Lebanese group Hezbollah denied responsibility.
Russia offered today to restart natural gas flows to Europe through Ukraine. The Russian gas monopoly said it would resume shipments once international monitors are in place. They're to verify Ukraine is not diverting gas from the pipelines. A pricing dispute between the two countries has cut off gas to most of Europe in the middle of severe cold.
Winter floods caused chaos across parts of the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. today. In Washington state, heavy rain and warm weather melted 10 inches of snow in the Cascade Mountains in a matter of hours. The deluge shut down a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 5. It also triggered mudslides and avalanches and halted most rail service.
Meanwhile, Alaska registered extreme cold, as low as 60 degrees below zero in some areas.
The Senate got to work today on confirming the Obama cabinet. First up was Tom Daschle, the nominee for secretary of health and human services. The former Senate majority leader will be charged with leading a sweeping reform of American health care systems. And we'll have more on the hearing later in the program tonight.
Congress today officially certified the outcome of the presidential election. A joint session counted the electoral votes from each state and the District of Columbia. Vice President Cheney, presiding over the Senate, announced the results.
DICK CHENEY, Vice President of the United States: Barack Obama, of the state of Illinois, has received for president of the United States 365 votes.
Joseph Biden, of the state of Delaware, has received for vice president of the United States 365 votes.
This announcement of the state of the vote by the president of the Senate shall be deemed a sufficient declaration of the persons elected president and vice president of the United States.
JIM LEHRER: The formal tally of the Electoral College results is mandated by the Constitution.
Republican Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri announced today he's retiring after next year. He came to the Senate in 1986 and won re-election three times. Bond became Missouri's youngest governor at the age of 39. Today, he said he does not aspire to become Missouri's oldest senator. He's now 69 years old.
The Illinois legislature moved closer to impeaching Gov. Rod Blagojevich today. He's accused of trying to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate vacated by President-elect Obama. Today, a special committee reported, "This information is sufficiently credible to demonstrate an abuse of office of the highest magnitude." The state house could vote on impeachment tomorrow, setting up a trial in the state senate.
American policy in Afghanistan came under fire today. The U.S. Institute of Peace, funded by Congress, issued a highly critical report. It warned the U.S. and its allies have pursued short-term goals without any coherent strategy or any understanding of Afghan society. The U.S. is in the process of sending another 20,000 troops to Afghanistan.