Obama freezes pay, sets ethics rules

John Dimsdale Jan 21, 2009
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Obama freezes pay, sets ethics rules

John Dimsdale Jan 21, 2009
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: After a prayer service at the National Cathedral this morning and an open house with a few hundred of his closest friends at the White House, the president’s first order of official business was to sign his name a couple of times.

He’s trying to get his administration off to an ethical start with some new executive orders.

Our Washington Bureau Chief John Dimsdale’s with us. Hi, John.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Hello, Kai.

RYSSDAL: So, these new rules. What’s in them?

DIMSDALE: Well, they call for open government and tighter ethics for Executive Branch employees. Specifically, there will now be a third-party review of any decision to keep documents or meetings secret. Another one puts restrictions on former lobbyists who work in the new White House. And there’s going to be a longer ban on lobbying by people who’ve left the government. And finally, Obama ordered a sacrifice that hit even closer to home for White House staff who earn more than $100,000 a year.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: During this period of economic emergency families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington. That’s why I am instituting a pay freeze on the salaries of my senior White House staff.

RYSSDAL: Hmm. Any sign, John, this morning on what he plans to do about the economy?

DIMSDALE: Not really any specifics. We do know that his economic team is working on a large spending and tax-cut package that some say is going to be close to $1 trillion. The treasury secretary nominee, Timothy Geithner, was at his Senate confirmation hearing today and he said, to be effective, an economic recovery package has to be big. He said to look for a comprehensive proposal from the White House in the coming weeks.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, he also said, didn’t he, that we need not rush this, right? It has to be right the first time?

DIMSDALE: That’s right. That’s right. He doesn’t want to do anything precipitous. Although, you know, the House is going ahead with its own package. House committees this week are already working on a $825 billion bill. It’s a mix of spending on infrastructure and technology and aid to states, along with some tax breaks for individuals and businesses.

RYSSDAL: Is this going to be one of those packages where the House does one thing, the Senate does another, and we spend weeks for them trying to figure it out?

DIMSDALE: Well, the leadership in Congress says the urgency of this economy requires something to be on the president’s desk by the middle of February. But the sniping has already begun. Republicans are criticizing the Democrats for putting too much emphasis on spending and not enough on tax cuts. Republican leaders, by the way, asked for and got a meeting with President Obama where they’re going to discuss their concerns. The Republicans got some ammunition from the Congressional Budget Office today, which raised questions whether the government can physically spend $550 billion on brand new projects quickly enough to make a difference.

RYSSDAL: Think about that for a second — whether we can spend that money fast enough. . . . Marketplace’s John Dimsdale in Washington. Thank you, John.

DIMSDALE: You’re welcome.

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