The Note, 3/12/09: Practically Imperfect — Meet The New Rules, Same (Roughly) As The Old Rules

Mar 12, 2009 8:08am

By RICK KLEIN: Just like that, with a signing statement as exclamation point, it’s done. The old era is out, the new era is in, and Washington stands warned by the new president that the world is about to change. Except if it won’t. What’s remarkable about the carefully book-ended White House events — the private signing making 8,500 earmarks law, and the public statement saying that such earmarks will never again become law with such ease — is how old Washington it all looked. This was about accommodation: President Obama did not choose a frontal assault on the earmarking process that’s survived natural disasters, wars, and power shifts in the White House and Congress. Instead he chose to get something done — a compromise that the president admits is “imperfect.” It may mean just about nothing by the time the next round of spending comes around. But it may also mean that more than nothing will be able to happen with the rest of the president’s agenda. Might this mark a tonal shift? After 50 days of telling the nation the time to act is now — on healthcare, on education, on the economy and more — this was a president saying it’s OK to act later. This was a concession to the possible, at the expense of the ideal. Do as I say I will, not as I do now: “As a candidate, Barack Obama once said that a president has to be able to do more than one thing at a time. Wednesday he proved it, though not in the way he had in mind,” McClatchy’s Steven Thomma and David Lightman report. “It was a day when rhetoric met reality and politicians on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue scrambled to get on the safe side of a volatile issue, while still advancing favorite projects,” The New York Times’ Peter Baker and David Herszenhorn report. “Republicans who passed record numbers of earmarks when they were in charge chided Democrats for passing their own. The president and fellow Democrats who had promised they would curb the practice when they took charge promised they really would next time.” (Think he really wants to take this on? “I am tired of talking about doughnut holes,” said House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-Wis.) A political calculation? “White House counselor David Axelrod suggested a veto would send a strong signal that Mr. Obama’s Washington really would represent change. But the president decided it wasn’t worth adding a fight with his own party onto a plate that is already overly filled,” Jonathan Weisman and Greg Hitt report in The Wall Street Journal. “The old bulls won,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin writes. “Pulled between his campaign rhetoric and his own party’s congressional barons, President Barack Obama largely sided with his Hill allies in unveiling an earmark proposal Wednesday that shies away from any strict crackdown on the practice.” The AP’s Andrew Taylor sees a missed chance for reform — but a calculated one: “In proposing only modest changes in how lawmakers finance their pet projects, President Barack Obama tossed aside a golden opportunity to work with Sen. John McCain. Instead, the president stood foursquare with his Democratic allies, the people he needs most to advance his ambitious agenda.”  “President Obama’s call to rein in the use of earmarks was met with derision yesterday even from some of his past reformer allies, dealing an early blow to his attempt to change how business is done in Washington,” Paul Kane and Scott Wilson write in The Washington Post. “As he vowed to press Congress to shun earmarks in the future, a bipartisan collection of lawmakers said the proposals he offered yesterday would do little to curb the practice and would do nothing to address the appearance of a connection between campaign contributions and spending programs ordered up by lawmakers.” Choose your metaphor: “It’s like washing down a doughnut with a Slim-Fast shake,” said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Give me sobriety, but not yet,” Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., told the Chicago Tribune’s James Oliphant and Christi Parsons. “The president blinked,” Steve Ellis, of Taxpayers for Common Sense, tells The Note. What really is new? “The bulk of the proposals in the House reforms have either already been put in place or were expected to be used during the coming appropriations process by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii),” Roll Call’s John Stanton and Steven T. Dennis write. “But Pelosi included new initiatives to provide the executive branch greater review of earmarks sought by lawmakers, as well as a requirement that earmarks for for-profit businesses undergo a competitive bidding process.” Two days after saying signing statements should be used carefully — Congress is “advisory?” “President Obama on Wednesday issued his first signing statement, reserving a right to bypass dozens of provisions in a $410 billion government spending bill even as he signed it into law,” Charlie Savage writes in The New York Times. “In the statement — directions to executive-branch officials about how to carry out the legislation — Mr. Obama instructed them to view most of the disputed provisions as merely advisory and nonbinding, saying they were unconstitutional intrusions on his own powers.” The signing came “behind closed doors and away from the glare of the cameras,” per ABC’s (birthday boy) Jake Tapper — and with a signing statement appended. “The reforms he proposed are already either there or meaningless,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.  McCain is making good on his promise to make earmark sponsors “famous,” ABC’s David Chalian writes. “McCain has taken to the digital bully pulpit of Twitter that has been all the rage in official Washington of late. He has been regularly tweeting top 10 lists of the spending projects he finds most egregious.” (And Twitter as reporting tool. This Tweet from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.: “George S.:Ultimately just couldn’t do it. Not just earmrks tho, also increase in spendng(8%too much)& failure to reconcile $ with stimuls.”) Coming Thursday, per The White House — Obama checks in to make sure no one’s messing with Joe: at 11 am ET, “the President will stop by the Recovery Act Implementation Conference and discuss the need for dollars invested and spent as part of the Recovery Act are effective, transparent and efficient.” Later in the day, it’s some Abe Lincoln action, and a presidential address to the Business Roundtable in Washington. Wonder if he’ll be asked about: “U.S. President Barack Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner received failing grades for their efforts to revive the economy from participants in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey,” Phil Izzo writes in The Wall Street Journal. For your emerging consensus files: “President Obama’s honeymoon is beginning to fade,” The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes. “Members of Congress and old political hands say he needs to show substantial progress reviving the economy soon.” Where’s the focus? “Today Washington’s discrepancy is not architectural but political. It is between the extraordinary powers and competences the administration claims it has and the administration’s inability to be clear or plausible about what it is doing,” George Will writes in his column. “The administration insists that it really does have a single priority: Everything depends on fixing the economy. But it also says that everything depends on everything: Economic revival requires enactment of the entire liberal wish list of recent decades.” Thing Newt Gingrich is scared? “No one should underestimate the danger posed by these policy failures,” he writes for Time. “Gigantic economic dislocations have gigantic noneconomic consequences. The Great Depression led to the rise of Nazi Germany and a militaristic Japan, the spread of communism and World War II.” Karl Rove judges the Rush Limbaugh dispute a loser for the White House: “Here’s the problem: Misdirection never lasts long. Team Obama can at best only temporarily distract the public; within days, attention will return to issues that clearly should worry the White House.”  And yet — something new to distract the driving public. The DNC’s Jen O’Malley Dillon on Thursday will announce the winner of the Rush Limbaugh billboard contest. After some 80,000 suggestions, and some 50,000 votes, the following will go up on up a billboard in West Palm Beach (and will be printed on T-shirts): “Americans didn’t vote for a Rush to failure.” Treasury Secretary Geithner is on the Hill Thursday, again. Per a Treasury official, he’s talking budget, then will go to the Business Roundtable, “where he will walk through the details of the Administration’s comprehensive plan to stabilize the financial system and get lending flowing again — by ensuring banks have the confidence to lend, jumpstarting securitization markets, stemming the foreclosure crisis and providing financing to help the private sector purchase the distressed assets weighing down balance sheets.” As for the next steps — it’s going to mean more money, and look for the rest of the bank plans in the next week or so: “President Obama met with his team, late into the night on Tuesday — past 10 o’clock on Tuesday night — and he signed off on this final part of the bank plan, whereby the government will partner with hedge funds — finance hedge funds, to buy up these toxic assets from the banks,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported on “Good Morning America” Thursday. “The government thinks this is best alternative to temporary nationalization of the banks.” A defense of Geithner — sort of: “Here’s Geithner’s problem: He’s an Inside Man. Inside Man has the brain of Einstein and the presence of a flea. Inside Man can’t catch a break in our telegenic age,” Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson writes. “Inside Men don’t make nice, or need to. They’re not running for office, just running to save the world.”  RNC Chairman Michael Steele talks to GQ — and probably doesn’t do himself many favors in his bid to hang on to his job. “I see the power of life in that — I mean, and the power of choice! The thing to keep in mind about it. . . . Uh, you know, I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth,” Steele said. “The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other,” he said. Question: “Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?” Steele: “Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.” Question: “You do?” Steele: “Yeah. Absolutely.” (At what point does he stop playing pundit and start playing party leader?) The clarifying statement from Steele: “I am pro-life, always have been, always will be. I tried to present why I am pro life while recognizing that my mother had a ‘choice’ before deciding to put me up for adoption. I thank her every day for supporting life. The strength of the pro life movement lies in choosing life and sharing the wisdom of that choice with those who face difficult circumstances. They did that for my mother and I am here today because they did. In my view Roe vs. Wade was wrongly decided and should be repealed. I realize that there are good people in our party who disagree with me on this issue. But the Republican Party is and will continue to be the party of life. I support our platform and its call for a Human Life Amendment. It is important that we stand up for the defenseless and that we continue to work to change the hearts and minds of our fellow countrymen so that we can welcome all children and protect them under the law.” Did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., abuse her travel privileges? Not so fast. “The treasure trove of documents obtained by Judicial Watch from the Department of Defense regarding Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s use of military aircraft doesn’t seem to prove the organization’s allegation that Pelosi has made ‘unprecedented demands’ for the flights,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Luis Martinez report. “In fact, it appears that Pelosi uses military aircraft less often than her predecessor, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.”  Did Sen. David Vitter, R-La., abuse his travel privileges? Investigation underway: “The Transportation Security Administration is examining Sen. David Vitter’s much-reported decision to open the closed gateway door to his plane — even though he was warned against it by an airline worker,” Hotline’s Jennifer Skalka reports. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a statement from Vitter: “After being delayed on the Senate floor ensuring a vote on my anti-pay-raise amendment and in a rush to make my flight home for town hall meetings the next day, I accidentally went through a wrong door at the gate.” How long before we see the book deal? (“I Could Have Seen Russia From My In-Laws’ House.”) “Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin, the teenage daughter of Gov. Sarah Palin, have broken off their engagement, he said Wednesday, about 2 1/2 months after the couple had a baby,” the AP’s Rachel D’Oro reports. Robin Roberts interviews First Lady Michelle Obama Thursday at Fort Bragg — look for it on “GMA” Friday. The Kicker: “If that’s the case why isn’t Zimbabwe a rich place? . . . Why isn’t Zimbabwe just an incredibly prosperous place? ‘Cause they’re printing money they don’t have and sending it around to their different — I don’t know the towns in Zimbabwe but that same logic is being applied there with little effect.” — Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., arguing that stimulus spending in states doesn’t create jobs, per CNN’s Jessica Yellin. “The doctors tell me that as people age, they become more vulnerable for example to having these muscles — like if I write a lot or play video games or you know, just do anything like that, anything . . . my fingers and these things tighten up or I’m tired if I’m working hard. It will cause your hands to shake.” — President Bill Clinton, telling Sanjay Gupta that he’s been tested and does not have Parkinson’s. Follow The Note on Twitter: http://twitter.com/thenote Bookmark the link below to get The Note’s daily morning analysis:
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