World and Nation

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With Spending Set, at Least for Now, the Knives Come Out

The White House echoed on Monday with familiar expressions of determination to make tough decisions, as President Barack Obama used a “fiscal responsibility summit” to promise to do his part to move the nation’s balance sheet back toward balance.

Rising budget deficits, he told the invited group of lawmakers and policy experts, “will require us to make difficult decisions.” He will be “going through our budget line by line to root out waste and inefficiency,” and “eliminating programs that don’t work.” And he “will stop the fraud and abuse” and “make more tough choices,” he said, “to start living within our means again.”

Most of the invitees had heard it all before, from other presidents. They are likely to hear it again from Obama on Tuesday night, when he addresses a joint session of Congress and tells the nation of his goal to cut annual deficits in half before his term ends in the 2013 fiscal year.

But by Thursday, when the president unveils his first budget, projecting spending and revenues for a decade, Obama will have to begin showing how he plans to do that, and where he is willing to make painful cuts or raise new revenues.

Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said he would come through. “You will see the president making hard choices, the president making specific, some specific cuts,” he told reporters.

Many Plans, but Little Action, to Curtail Use of Plastic Bags

Last summer, city officials here became the first in the nation to approve a fee on paper and plastic shopping bags in many retail stores. The 20-cent charge was intended to reduce pollution by encouraging reusable bags.

But a petition drive financed by the plastic-bag industry delayed the plan. Now a far broader segment of Seattle’s bag carriers — its voters — will decide the matter in an election in August.

Even in a city that likes to be environmentally conscious, the outcome is uncertain.

“You have to be really tone-deaf to what’s going on to think that the economic climate is not going to affect people,” said Rob Gala, a legislative aide to the city councilman who first sponsored the bill for the 20-cent fee.

Regarded by some as a symbol of consumer culture wastefulness, plastic bags have been blamed for street litter, ocean pollution and carbon emissions produced by manufacturing and shipping them.

Momentum for imposing fees or bans has expanded from a few, often affluent, liberal cities on the West Coast — San Francisco was the first big city to ban plastic bags, in 2007 — to dozens of legislative proposals in states like Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia.

Tech and Industrial Shares Trip Up The Markets

On a day when stock indexes sank to their lowest point in more than a decade, Wall Street did not need the dire problems of banks to lead the way to the bottom.

A broad sell-off on Monday sent the Dow Jones industrial average tumbling 251 points and pulled the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index to its lowest close since April 1997.

Unlike in recent weeks, financial stocks did not post the biggest declines. In fact, battered shares of Citigroup and Bank of America ended higher as the government moved closer toward taking direct ownership stakes in troubled banks.

But the losses piled up everywhere else, providing few signs that would indicate the end of the bear market. Stocks of technology companies including Intel, Google and IBM fell, as did scores of retailers, manufacturers and media companies. The materials sector — makers of raw materials aluminum, chemicals and plastics — fell the most among the 10 major industries in the S&P 500.

The deepening global downturn is dragging down businesses across every sector of the economy, and analysts said the sell-off on Monday was a sign that investors were simply pulling up their stakes.

Survey Reveals Broad Support for President

President Barack Obama is benefiting from remarkably high levels of optimism and confidence among Americans about his leadership, providing him with substantial political clout as he confronts the nation’s economic challenges and opposition from nearly all Republicans in Congress, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

A majority of people surveyed in both parties said Obama was striving to work in a bipartisan way, but most Americans faulted Republicans for their response to the president, saying the party had objected to the $787 billion economic stimulus plan for political reasons. Most said Obama should pursue the priorities he campaigned on, the poll found, rather than seek middle ground with Republicans.

Obama will deliver his first address to Congress on Tuesday evening against a backdrop of deep economic anxiety among the public, with worries spanning party, class and regional divides. A majority of Americans, 55 percent, say they are just making ends meet, with more than six in 10 concerned that someone in their household might lose his job in the next year.

Americans are under no illusions that the country’s problems will be resolved quickly, but the poll suggested they will be patient when it comes to the economy, with most saying it would be years before significant improvement.