The Note, 1/12/09: Skin Deeper — Salesman-in-Chief Tests Sway

By Nitya

Jan 12, 2009 8:40am

By RICK KLEIN “Everybody’s going to have to have some skin in the game,” President-elect Barack Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Sunday’s “This Week.”  Well, Mr. President-elect — you didn’t think that wouldn’t apply to you, too, did you? As he presses his case for a stimulus package, plus the other half of the bank bailout fund — and as his would-be Cabinet fans out for confirmation week on the Hill — Obama himself has made this about more than just some legislative wins. He’s asking for patience. He’s asking for buy-in from lawmakers. He may yet get those things, along with the TARP money and the massive stimulus bill that could be the signature initiative of his whole term (who will be happiest if that is the case?). But by making the stimulus his first push, by pushing with the urgency that he is, and by pressing for it to pass in a big vote, Obama is seeking to turn this debate into a down payment on his future power in Washington. With eight days left before he gets the big job for real, Obama has a different one: Salesman-in-chief, with two products he needs to move fast. “Mr. Obama has sought to strike a balance: emphasizing the depth of the problem, to create a sense of political urgency for Congress to act quickly, while not being so pessimistic that he could further destabilize the jittery financial markets or deplete the sense of energy and hope accompanying his election,” Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg write in The New York Times. Think Lincoln plus FDR plus YouTube: “Mr. Obama’s aides said that for the next three weeks, he would pack his schedule with interviews, speeches, news conferences and limited travel to try to rally public support behind the effort. The overall political goal, aides said, was to ensure that Mr. Obama’s economic recovery program was approved quickly by a substantial bipartisan vote in Congress, while at the same time playing down public hopes about how quickly it might work,”  Nagourney and Rutenberg write. Obama is pressing for the stimulus — and even before we get there, action on TARP. But first — President Bush holds his last White House press conference at 9:15 am ET Monday — his first since July (!), per ABC’s Ann Compton. From Press Secretary Dana Perino: “The President will make a brief opening statement, commenting on the important role the White House press corps has in covering presidents and the White House, and then will take questions. The President is looking forward to discussing the important events of the last eight years as well as issues in the news today.” Among those topics: The Bush administration could ask for the second half of the $700 billion as soon as Monday — and Congress could move to block that (a vote that, itself, could be vetoed, and subject to a congressional override — get your procedural handbooks ready). “This is the week when the rubber meets the road,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on “Good Morning America” Monday. Just like a good salesman: Tapper notices Obama’s job-creation predictions for the stimulus package growing — from 2.5 million last month to 4 million by this past weekend. “It seems like every time Mr. Obama talks about his stimulus proposal, he is increasingly optimistic about how many jobs it will create,” Tapper said. On TARP: “Senate Democratic leaders said a vote could come as early as this week on providing a second $350 billion for the financial industry, after assurances Sunday by President-elect Barack Obama and one of his top economic advisers that the money would be better monitored and spent,” the AP’s Andrew Taylor and Philip Elliott report. “The Bush administration and the incoming Obama team have undertaken a tag-team effort to obtain the money from reluctant lawmakers, to have it waiting for Obama when he’s sworn in Jan. 20.”  “With much of the public frustrated with the spending of the first $350 billion, congressional officials say they expect the House to pass a resolution to block spending the rest of the funds. But Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said Senate Democrats could vote down the measure if Obama’s team provides enough assurances that they will spend the money differently than the Bush administration did,” Perry Bacon Jr. writes in The Washington Post.  “The request is certain to generate angry debate on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are reeling from last week’s projection of a $1.2 trillion budget deficit and will also soon be asked to vote on Mr. Obama’s $800 billion recovery package,” David M. Herszenhorn writes in The New York Times. “It remains unclear if there is a need to rush to release the money, or if the Obama transition team is just seeking to avoid what could become a major headache. The House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, said on the CBS program ‘Face the Nation’ on Sunday that he would oppose disbursing the money and said there was no justification for doing so now.”  The brand is the thing: “Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said Summers assured senators yesterday that the administration will insist on tougher ‘accountability standards,’ ” per Bloomberg’s Ryan J. Donmoyer.  Said Dodd: “The Obama administration wants to re-brand this process.” Deborah Solomon and Greg Hitt, in The Wall Street Journal: “Members of Mr. Obama’s team, including Treasury Secretary-nominee Timothy Geithner, are working to satisfy lawmakers’ concerns by proposing using the funds for new purposes, such as preventing foreclosures, and imposing tougher conditions on recipients, according to people familiar with the negotiations.”  Ready for warfare — on a different front: “President-elect Barack Obama and congressional leaders plan to move soon to block the estate tax from disappearing in 2010, suggesting the levy might outlive the ‘Death Tax Repeal’ movement that has tried mightily to kill it,” Jonathan Weisman reports in The Wall Street Journal. “The Democratic stance on the estate tax contrasts with Mr. Obama’s reluctance to press forward with his campaign pledge to raise income-tax rates on top earners, which he worries could have an adverse economic impact during a recession.”  “The Senate Finance Committee will move within weeks on legislation to reverse that law, and Mr. Obama is expected to detail his estate-tax preservation proposal in his budget next month, congressional tax writers said,” Weisman writes. Selling through sacrifice: Obama bought into Stephanopoulos’ description of a “grand bargain,” where everybody give a little. “Right now, I’m focused on a pretty heavy lift, which is making sure we get that reinvestment and recovery package in place,” he said on “This Week.” But what you described is exactly what we’re going to have to do. What we have to do is to take a look at our structural deficit, how are we paying for government? What are we getting for it? And how do we make the system more efficient?”  “Everybody’s going to have to give. Everybody’s going to have to have some skin in the game,” Obama said. Buying patience? “President-elect Barack Obama said yesterday that the $1 trillion-plus deficit and ailing economy would force him to move slowly and scale back on his priorities in the short term, and that getting the country back in strong financial shape will require sacrifices from all Americans,” Lisa Wangsness writes in The Boston Globe. “Obama vowed to eventually get the deficit under control and make significant adjustments to expensive entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which will cost trillions as the baby boomer generations retire, though he did not offer any specific proposals.”  Buying support? “The Obama team told about 35 Senate Democrats gathered at Sunday’s meeting that it would grow the size of an energy-tax incentive package and modify proposed tax credits for individuals and for businesses that hire new employees, according to meeting attendees,” Politico’s Manu Raju reports.  How will the left feel about these tidbits? Another 100 days (at least) of Guantanamo; no real desire to probe Bush administration policies on torture and detention; and thanks to Vice President Dick Cheney (though a no-thanks on water-boarding) for all the advice. (Bill Kristol: On Iran, “he’ll probably be calling Dick Cheney for advice.”) “His administration will face competing demands: pressure from liberals who want wide-ranging criminal investigations, and the need to establish trust among the country’s intelligence agencies,” David Johnston and Charlie Savage write in The New York Times. “At the Central Intelligence Agency, in particular, many officers flatly oppose any further review and may protest the prospect of a broad inquiry into their past conduct.”  This one’s for the left: “The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who became the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop in 2003 and last year entered into a civil union with his gay partner, will deliver the invocation for Sunday’s kickoff inaugural event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with President-elect Obama in attendance. The event is free and open to the public,” Politico’s Mike Allen reports. “An Obama source: ‘Robinson was in the plans before the complaints about Rick Warren. Many skeptics will read this as a direct reaction to the Warren criticism — but it’s just not so.’ “  He wants ideas? Paul Krugman takes the bait: “Money not squandered on ineffective tax cuts could be used to provide further relief to Americans in distress — enhanced unemployment benefits, expanded Medicaid and more,” he writes in his New York Times column.  “Mainly, though, Mr. Obama needs to make his plan bigger. . . . The way to do more is to stop talking about jump-starts and look more broadly at the possibilities for government investment.”  This will come down to a test of personal leadership — and Obama saw his own limits last week. Don’t forget who’s in charge: “Despite complaints from some Democrats that there’s not
enough stimulus and from Republicans that there’s too much, a good bet is that six weeks from now the president will have signed a stimulus package very similar to what he proposes,” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt writes in his column.  But Obama goes in wounded by his roughest transition week yet: “Obama justifiably figured that Burris was not worth a knockdown fight when he has so many bigger battles ahead of him,” David Broder writes in his Sunday Washington Post column. “But the lesson that other politicians have drawn is that Obama may not always be able to count on his congressional allies and they may not be able to count on him. That is not the way he wanted to begin.” And don’t forget who thinks (knows?) they’re in charge: “The question is whether last week’s ruffled feathers have been smoothed and whether there are more tensions ahead,” the Los Angeles Times’ Christi Parsons and Peter Nicholas report. “Some clashes could be the inevitable stumbles of a new relationship. Others may reflect contending visions of how to do business, involving basic differences between the Obama viewpoint and what the president-elect refers to as the Washington way.”  (Plus, don’t miss more committee chairs — Energy’s Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and EPW’s Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. — offering gentle reminders that it’s OK to give a committee chairman a head’s up on a big pick.) “Before the game even begins, he sees what he will be up against, and there is nothing new or different about that,” Mike Lupica writes in the New York Daily News. “You don’t have to agree with him on everything to agree that this is a practical man, getting the best advice from people who actually have the best interests of the country at heart. Give him a chance. You fight alongside this guy, not against him.” Thinking big: “He brings to the task not just a new team and a new agenda but the makings of a new kind of political machine,” New York Magazine’s John Heilemann writes — calling the president-elect a “party of one.” “The questions now are whether he can turn his rhetoric about transcending polarities into an effective governing strategy; whether he can forge a cohesive legislative coalition to advance his aims; and, if he can and does, whether the Democratic Party will still look remotely like itself — or more like, well, him.” Obama’s Monday: He has his first meeting with a foreign leader since winning the election, sitting down with Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, at 12:30 pm ET. Reuters’ Catherine Bremer: “Battling with spiraling drug murders and an economic crisis, Mexico’s Felipe Calderon will urge U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Monday to support his drug war and stick to the NAFTA trade deal.” In another presidential tradition: “The Canadian government announced Saturday, and the Obama transition team office confirmed, that Obama accepted the invitation of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to head up North for his first international excursion,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. The latest on the Illinois Senate seat: “Lawyers for Roland Burris will be in Washington Monday to meet with Senate attorneys and press their case for seating Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) controversial appointee,” The Hill’s J. Taylor Rushing reports. “A senior Senate Democratic aide said the various legal teams will review documents that Burris has collected in recent days, which he believes meets an 1884 Senate rule requiring all senators to have certificates signed by their states’ governors and secretaries of state.”  The Chicago Tribune’s Rick Pearson: “Senate Democratic leaders and their staff in Washington are reviewing newly submitted paperwork on behalf of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s Senate appointee, Roland Burris, and Sen. Dick Durbin said a resolution to the controversy could come before Illinois lawmakers finish Blagojevich’s impeachment trial.”  Confirmation week: “Recent history has shown that the confirmation process is an imperfect science in which even the most-qualified, most-well-known, most-vetted nominee can get tripped up and fail — sometimes even before a hearing’s opening gavel strikes,” McClatchy’s William Douglas and David Lightman write. “Perhaps the most dramatic hearing will occur on Jan. 15 when senators quiz Eric Holder on his nomination to be attorney general.”  Think Tuesday’s hearings will draw a camera or two? “Hillary Clinton, ever the preparation junkie, is cramming for Tuesday’s confirmation hearing — intent on downplaying old disagreements with Barack Obama and parrying questions about her husband’s overseas entanglements, aides say,” Glenn Thrush and Amie Parnes report for Politico. “Barring a bombshell revelation, all sides expect Clinton to be speedily confirmed as secretary of state. But her rendezvous with the Foreign Relations Committee at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday still offers its share of potential land mines.”  Talking points for retrospectives (and for White House pushback): “President Bush has presided over the weakest eight-year span for the U.S. economy in decades, according to an analysis of key data, and economists across the ideological spectrum increasingly view his two terms as a time of little progress on the nation’s thorniest fiscal challenges,” Neil Irwin and Dan Eggen report in The Washington Post.  “The number of jobs in the nation increased by about 2 percent during Bush’s tenure, the most tepid growth over any eight-year span since data collection began seven decades ago. Gross domestic product, a broad measure of economic output, grew at the slowest pace for a period of that length since the Truman administration. And Americans’ incomes grew more slowly than in any presidency since the 1960s, other than that of Bush’s father.” The Boston Globe’s Washington bureau takes a stab at the Bush legacy: “Academics, while echoing many of the criticisms, also note that Bush’s presidency won’t be an easy one for future historians to assess. While most unsuccessful presidencies, such as Jimmy Carter’s and Herbert Hoover’s, involved presidents who were considered captives of events, unable to muster effective responses, Bush’s was one of bold strokes that, for better or worse, will be debated for a long time,” they write. “From his precipitous decision to invade Iraq to his order giving wide latitude to CIA interrogators of terrorism suspects to his demand for $700 billion to shore up financial institutions, Bush’s presidency has been one of strong actions followed by equally strong — and in some cases even stronger — reactions.” Another GOP retirement (2010 is looking bleak already): “Sen. George V. Voinovich is expected to announce today that he will not seek a third term next year, The Dispatch has learned,” Jack Torry, Jonathan Riskind and Joe Hallett report in the Columbus Dispatch. “Voinovich spokesman Chris Paulitz declined comment. But Voinovich, R-Ohio, is scheduled to reveal his decision in a conference call with his most loyal supporters and fundraisers.” “Voinovich’s expected decision would end one of the most storied political careers in Ohio history. During his more than 40 years in politics, the 72-year-old Republican has held the offices of governor, senator, lieutenant governor and mayor of Cleveland.” The Kicker: “This has been tougher than finding a Commerce Secretary.” — Barack Obama, to George Stephanopoulos, on his puppy search (which is narrowed to either a labradoodle or a Portuguese water hound.) “Whoops.” — George W. Bush, corrected by his father about the appropriate place to leave a note for his successor, in keeping with presidential tradition. 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