If Obama is elected and disavows, as he has begun to, all or most of his campaign rhetoric, the press and media folks portray his flips and flops as a sign of maturity and good intellect, then how can voters assess where he will take the nation, ie. far right- far left? Will Congress have something to say about his agenda or even set it? If so do we want Reid and Pelosi determining the nation's future along with the various current Senate and House Chairpersons of important committees?
After WW 2 concluded, we never repealed many of Roosevelt's Socialist policies that allegedly helped us recover from The Great Depression when, in fact, it was Pearl Harbor that actually put the nation back on its feet and back to work. War bailed us out lamentably as that may sound. Many of the problems we face today represent the after-birth of FDR's policies and their expansion by subsequent administrations and Congresses.
An Obama election, most likely, will align us philosophically with Europe by growing government's intrusion into the market place resulting in more control over life choices. If you fear what GW's has done by way of your personal freedom fighting terrorism (mostly nothing on a personal level) you haven't seen anything yet because Obama's government will cost us more than terrorism in terms of personal freedom and choice. It will crush many private sector functions and supplant them with government bureaucracies.
Any nation that could afford the Congresses we have had for the past 50 years, must have been doing something right. Well it has finally hit the wall and though it is popular to blame GW for all our ills they actually extend back to policies initiated long before he was even born. They began shortly after his folks first married.
The financial current melt down in Fannie and Freddie, is based on the mystical belief they are too big to fail because they are backed by the moral commitment of the U.S. Government which, based on the declining dollar and government off balance sheet debt obligations, is proving a poor calculation.
Electing a president we know virtually nothing about in the current environment connotes uninformed despair rather than intelligence and with the black crepe of Iran hanging over the world the question is how far down must we go to reach bottom? McCain presents an equal problem.
We will get through these problems in time. The critical issue is to avoid doing something stupid and in an election year that is almost impossible. Why? Because politicians like their jobs, will buy their re-election with stupid policies or the appearance of doing something at a great future cost as if there were a free lunch. [If you did not read Kimberley Srassel's: "Dick Durbin and The Chicago Boys" op ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal you must. Bret Stephens tells me, Kimberley is a bright up and coming member of the WSJ's staff. I am trying to get her to come and speak.]
(See 1 and 2 below.)
And how would Democrats govern with Obama as president? Some thoughts from Messrs Cohnand Friel.
Turn it all over to Democrats and things will change alright and when they do you may not recognize your country again as has become evident as a result of the impact of some of FDR's legislation initiatives. Though many were probably necessary at the time many should have been repealed post WW 2and were not and thus, the expanded role of intrusive government was launched and has led us to where we find ourselves today.
Obama and company will expand upon our current plight and you can bet on that.The Europeanization of America will begin. (See 3 below.)
1) A Delicate Balance
By Steven Pearlstein
You know something's up when both the secretary of the Treasury and the chairman of the Federal Reserve give speeches calling for a new mechanism to allow them to manage the orderly liquidation of a major financial institution.
You have a sense that things are getting desperate when General Motors has to offer six-year loans at zero-percent interest to unload its gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, and people openly speculate about how long it will be before the automaker runs out of cash.
And you can feel the foundation shaking under Wall Street when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have to pay three-quarters of a percentage point more to borrow money than the U.S. Treasury, which implicitly guarantees their debt, and top government officials feel compelled to reaffirm their support.
We're nearing that delicate point in the cycle when even the usual cheerleaders have hung up their pompoms, consumer and business confidence has disappeared and investors are driven mostly by fear rather than greed.
What started out as a credit crisis and then morphed into a broader financial crisis has finally worked its way into the real economy. That economic downturn -- a recession, inevitably -- is beginning to wash back on the already weakened financial sector, creating the kind of self-reinforcing vicious cycle that is difficult to control.
This is the way a market economy corrects for its excesses -- in this case, an excess of cheap debt that had the effect of inflating the demand for goods and services and the value of stocks, bonds, real estate and commodities. Now that that cheap credit has disappeared, the value of most of those assets has fallen while some of that demand for goods and services has begun to disappear.
As part of that "de-leveraging" process, households and some businesses are being forced to reduce their indebtedness, either by paying it down or admitting that they can't. But it is in the financial sector, where debt was piled on debt in ever-more complex arrangements, that things have begun to get real dicey. Prices for many credit instruments have collapsed, forcing banks and investment houses to take billions of dollars of real or paper losses. Meanwhile, creating new credit has been dramatically curtailed.
In such an environment, it is understandable that regulators want to force banks and other financial institutions to raise large amounts of fresh equity capital to replenish what has been written off. It is encouraging that regulators want to demonstrate that they have learned from their past mistakes by clamping down on loose lending and requiring more honest accounting. But there is a danger in pushing these things too fast and too far.
While it may make sense, for example, to require any one institution to raise billions of dollars in new capital from equity investors, it may be unwise to make all of them raise it all at the same time. The effect may be to unnecessarily increase the cost of that capital, drive down already-depressed stock prices, jeopardize credit ratings and raise borrowing costs -- hardly a winning strategy for nursing a financial institution back to health.
Similarly, we all applaud the belated effort of accounting regulators to prevent institutions from hiding liabilities or avoiding capital rules through use of "off-balance sheet" vehicles. But requiring them to make the changes now, in the middle of a credit crisis, is a bit like throwing gasoline on a fire you're trying to put out.
There's also the hot issue in regulatory circles of "fair value accounting," which has to do with how to assign a value to complex securities that are in such bad odor that they can be sold only at a deep discount to the value of the assets that lay behind them.
Accounting purists want to force banks to value these securities at current market prices and take the huge write-downs, arguing that if and when the markets recover, they can record a profit in future quarters. But things will never get to that point if, as a result of massive write-downs, these institutions are put out of business or forced to raise cash by selling the securities into already-depressed markets.
A financial crisis like this one calls for policymakers and regulators who can keep a cool head and remain flexible and practical rather than insisting on strict adherence to economic orthodoxies. Not every instance of regulatory forbearance need be viewed as a step down a slippery slope toward Japanlike stagnation. Nor is it particularly constructive to characterize every instance of government involvement in the private sector -- whether it be refinancing a troubled home mortgage, opening the Fed lending window to cash-strapped investment banks or orchestrating a private-sector rescue of a failing hedge fund -- as a massive government bailout.
As for Fannie and Freddie, nobody would be particularly happy if it became necessary for the Treasury to inject some fresh capital into the mortgage giants, in exchange, say, for newly issued preferred stock that could be sold back at a profit when the mortgage market recovers. But even the editorialists at the Wall Street Journal acknowledged yesterday that this wee bit of socialism might be the most effective and least costly way to keep the mortgage market functioning and prevent a meltdown in global credit markets.
A financial crisis is not a morality play. What matters most isn't the precedents that are set, the amount of taxpayer money that's implicated or whether people are made to suffer fully for their financial misjudgments. In the end, what matters most is that we get through it as quickly as possible with an economy and a financial system intact.
2) Our Social Security:
Franklin Delano. Roosevelt (Terms of Office March 4, 1933, to April 12, 1945), a Democrat, introduced the Social Security (FICA) Program. He promised:
1.) That participation in the Program would be Completely voluntary.
2.) That the participants would only have to pay 1% of the first $1,400 of their annual Incomes into the Program.
3.) That the money the participants elected to put Into the Program would be deductible from Their income for tax purposes each year.
4.) That the money the participants put into the Independent 'Trust Fund' rather than into the General operating fund, and therefore, would "only" be used to fund the Social Security Retirement Program, and no other Government program, and
5.) That the annuity payments to the retirees would never be taxed as income.
Since many of us have paid into FICA for years and are now receiving a Social Security check every month -- and then finding that we are getting taxed on 85% of the money we paid to the Federal government to 'Put Away' -- you may be interested in the following:
Dwight David Eisenhower
34th. President, Republican,
Term Of Office: January 20, 1953 to January 20, 1961
Insert by Vincent Peter Render,
If I recall correctly, 1958 is the first year that Congress voted to remove funds from Social Security and put it into the General Fund for Congress to spend.
If I recall correctly, it was a democratically Controlled Congress.
From what I understand, Congress' logic at that time was that there was so much money in Social Security Fund that it would never run out. be used up for the purpose it was intended and set aside for.
Lyndon Baines Johnson 36th. President, Democrat
Term Of Office: November 22, 1963 to January 20, 1969
Question: Which Political Party took Social Security from the Independent 'Trust Fund' and put it into the General Fund so that Congress could spend it?
Answer: It was Lyndon B. Johnson (Democrat, Term Of Office: November 22, 1963 to January 20, 1969) and Democrats who Controlled The House and Senate.
Question: Which Political Party eliminated the income tax Deduction for Social Security (FICA) withholding?
Answer: The Democrats.
Move The Clock Forward:
William Jefferson Clinton
Democrat Term of Office: January 20, 1993 to January 20, 2001
Question: Which Political Party started taxing Social Security annuities?
Answer: Democrats, with Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. (Al Gore) [Vice President Term of Office: January 20, 1993 to January 20, 2001] casting the 'tie-breaking' deciding vote as President of the Senate, while he was Vice President of the US
THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL'S BACK !
James Earl Carter, Jr (Jimmy Carter)
39th. President, Democrat
Term of Office: January 20, 1977 to January 20, 1981
Question: Which Political Party decided to start giving Annuity payments to immigrants?
Answer: That's right! James Earl Carter, Jr. (Jimmy Carter) (Democrat, Term of Office: January 20, 1977 to January 20, 1981) and the Democratic Party.
Immigrants moved into this country, and at age 65, began to receive Social Security payments! Democrats gave these payments to them, even though they never paid a dime into the system.
After violating the original contract (FICA), Democrats turn around and tell you the Republicans want to take your Social Security away!
And worst of all, uninformed citizens believe it!
CONGRESS GIVES THEMSELVES 100% RETIREMENT FOR ONLY SERVING ONE TERM!!!
3rd. President, Democrat
Term of Office: January 20, 1777 to January 20, 1781
"A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have."
- Thomas Jefferson
3) Yes They Can … Govern?
By Richard E. Cohen and Brian Friel
Democratic lawmakers are already thinking about how to deal with a president of their own party in 2009. In fact, some of them seem almost overwhelmed.
In speeches and interviews this year, Barack Obama has laid out an initial agenda focused on three priorities. The first, changing course in Iraq, does not require congressional action. But the second two priorities—introducing universal health care legislation and pushing a package to deal with energy problems and global warming—will center on Capitol Hill.
“Within my first six months of office, I will have introduced a health care plan, and I want to try to pass it by the end of my first year in office,” Obama said at a June 13 campaign stop in Ohio. “I want a universal health [more...]
For House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., and some other senior congressional Democrats, the possibility that they may soon be conducting business with Barack Obama in the White House is daunting. Although they surely are excited about a potential Election Day sweep, Clyburn articulated the corresponding anxiety that Democrats on Capitol Hill are feeling as they begin to mull the immense challenges that would await them once the confetti has fallen.
"It will place a tremendous burden of responsibility, unlike any president has ever had, except Lincoln," Clyburn said in an interview, just before the July Fourth recess, in his office overlooking the National Mall. "We haven't had that kind of fundamental division in this country since then.... The economy, health care, education, energy, Iraq: All of these things will converge on [Obama] at one time, which he cannot do [at once]. We will need to discuss these in earnest the day after the election, and hit the ground running the day after inauguration."
But as Clyburn laid out his preliminary thoughts on organizing the 11 transition weeks between those two grand events, he worried about the current lack of comprehensive discussions and planning among top Democrats on the Hill and the Obama campaign. "Things need to bubble up, and not operate top-down," he cautioned. "You bring people in at the beginning to decide what will be done on the first day."
"Things need to bubble up, and not operate top-down. You bring people in at the beginning." --James Clyburn
Clyburn's hope is that national Democratic leaders will engage in intense consultations, so that Congress is prepared to act in its first 100 hours of business and the new president is ready to quickly issue a set of executive orders addressing urgent problems in anticipation of later legislative action. According to other Democratic lawmakers, those early actions could include several issues on which President Bush has stifled their party--such as expanded children's health insurance coverage, stem-cell research, and the war in Iraq.
As president, Obama would have "the biggest bully pulpit of any president since Franklin Roosevelt," Clyburn contended. With legislative success, he added, the current dismal state of national confidence would shift, and "the United States overnight would become a can-do and will-do nation." Clyburn also worried, however, that the "American people are into instant gratification and are not willing to wait."
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., is also raring for direction so that he can begin planning for an Obama administration. "Time is not our friend," he warned. "Our staffs are talking, but we have not started. There are many different approaches to take." Rangel--whose panel has sole jurisdiction in the House over taxes and entitlement programs, and plays a major role on health policy--pointedly added, "I want to have a head start" before the November election.
Rangel--an early and enthusiastic ally of his home-state senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in the Democratic presidential campaign--said he has not raised these issues with Obama, although he noted, "I have told others I would like to discuss them.... I am scared to death that so much has to be done, and I'm anxious to get started." He voiced hope that both during the campaign and beyond, "nothing [Obama] proposes will be locked in cement ... and there will be as little detail as possible, to try to avoid conflict."
"Time is not our friend. Our staffs are talking, but we have not started. There are many different approaches to take." --Charles Rangel
According to Rangel, he has shared his sense of urgency about laying the groundwork for the 111th Congress with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other House leaders, but their response has been to say "great" and add little more. "This is the awkward period," he noted.
Pelosi's public comments about preparations for a complete Democratic takeover have indeed been oblique. At a late-June breakfast session with reporters, National Journal asked about her plans for working with a possible President Obama. "We are ready for that, I tell my colleagues," she replied. "Expectations will be high. Results will have to happen.... We understand the challenge, and we welcome it." But the paramount priority, she added, is ensuring Obama's election.
In recent interviews with two dozen House and Senate Democrats, many of them seemed almost overwhelmed by the notion that in just six months, they could be back in control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for the first time in 14 years. They said there is so much they want to do after the frustrations of the Bush years. Yet they are also keenly aware that so much power is always accompanied by the potential for peril.
"The infighting is almost inevitable when you have everything," said Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis. "I've seen this happen--under both Democrats and Republicans--twice now. It's almost inevitable. There's a tendency, first of all, to take the other party for granted, enrage them and give them a passion to fight you. The other thing is that you have petty jealousies and power games that go on within the ruling party that leads to some pretty bad consequences."
Some Democrats fret about the usual institutional tensions between Congress and the White House. Some worry about Obama's limitations: his lack of executive experience, his short time in Washington, including his unfamiliarity with most members of the House. Others caution that one of his biggest challenges will be the need to tamp down expectations.
"The democratic process is not designed for quick action. Managing expectations will be very important," said Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., a senior Ways and Means member. "On some issues, President Obama will need to say we are in tough times and can't solve problems quickly."
Nonetheless, many of Obama's closest allies view the glass as at least half full. "When he is elected, he will change the atmospherics in the country. He will have the back of a majority of Americans ... in taking on the special interests and the entrenched [federal] bureaucracy," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. "This will be a transformative election."
Even those Democrats most eager to begin post-election planning concede that some major factors that would guide an Obama administration remain uncertain. "What are the House and Senate numbers?" said a party insider working on Obama's campaign message. "If Obama has coattails, what is the mandate? What are the nation's conditions, i.e., how bad are things?"
Still, the clock is ticking and every day matters. Consider the insight of Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., who at 82 is the dean of the House and its most experienced chairman. Dingell, who recently chatted privately with Obama, voiced optimism that "the tide of history is going our way," and said he expected great things from him as president. But Dingell also had some advice for his junior colleague.
Obama "needs to start working with us now on how to legislate and what needs to be done," Dingell said. "Members will give him honest and friendly criticism on how he will assemble legislation.... There is a certain rhythm to legislating well. He has to figure out what will work, and understand the politics. That is part of getting elected."
Learning Lessons From History
So far in the nascent general election campaign, Democrats have stuck with the strategy of tying John McCain to Bush by claiming that the presumptive GOP nominee would continue the unpopular incumbent's policies into a third term. Eventually, they will focus on painting for the voters a pretty picture of Democratic rule, in which a President Obama works in harmony with Democratic lawmakers and cooperative Republicans to solve the nation's economic and foreign-policy problems. But history shows that such promises can quickly dissolve.
Congressional Democrats in control of the majority have a long track record of asserting their power against both Republicans and Democrats in the White House. They also have had a tendency to overreach--at least according to their more-conservative members--or to mire themselves in intraparty squabbles that impede legislation.
Democrats have controlled the White House for only 12 of the past 40 years, during which their successes were limited. Their two most recent presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were former governors who ousted incumbent Republicans by running against Washington. They put in place White House teams with heavy Georgia or Arkansas accents and with chips on their shoulders. It didn't take long for conflict to ensue with the congressional Democratic majority and for the new president to find himself struggling.
Such tension between the White House and Congress is built into the Constitution, even when one party controls both branches. Howard Paster, who served as President Clinton's congressional liaison in 1993, said that a Democratic committee chairman once lectured him on the separation of powers. "Presidents come and go," the chairman warned Paster. "We stay."
Michael Waldman, a former Clinton speechwriter, recounted sitting in a meeting shortly after the inauguration in which Clinton and Vice President Gore proposed taking up campaign finance reform to appeal to the one in five Americans in the 1992 election who voted for independent Ross Perot. "House Democrats basically said no way," Waldman said. "Members of Congress still think differently than people who've run for and won the presidency."
If Clinton had tried to railroad campaign finance reform through Congress over leaders' objections, he would have no doubt fanned resentment. "We don't have a parliamentary system," said Paster, now an executive at the London-based WPP group, a public-relations conglomerate. "At the end of the day, the leadership in the Congress is very powerful."
Clinton nonetheless alienated some lawmakers early on by pushing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military. "Gays in the military became a topic of major interest when we needed to focus on other issues," recalled House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C. "The president needs to keep his eye on the prize."
Clinton's broader legislative agenda quickly got tripped up in 1993-94 as his proposals either split the Democratic caucus or ran into opposition among Democratic leaders. A major strategical error came when his White House tried to dictate a highly complex and sweeping health care reform plan to unreceptive Hill allies.
"Some things went well," Dingell said of the early Clinton years. "He got his budget, and it was a good one. He created millions of new jobs. But we had to fight the health insurance lobby. We need to learn those lessons." House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., added, "His program was complicated and not well explained."
Clyburn said that the failure of Clinton's health care initiative resulted partly from the new president's decision to act "in concert with Wall Street," and partly because he paid less attention to "people in the minority community" on that issue and others.
President Carter also got off on the wrong foot in 1977: His decision to veto a popular western lands bill early in his term on fiscal responsibility grounds engendered hostility among Democrats that lingered for months. It didn't help that many members felt that Carter was politically disengaged and uninterested in forging relationships with them, as well as unable to hone a focused agenda. "Jimmy Carter suffered greatly because of his problems with Congress. He never got his bearings or figured out how to deal with Congress," said Vic Fazio, a Washington lobbyist who served 20 years in the House, including as Democratic Caucus chairman.
In a 2002 interview with the Jimmy Carter Library, Frank Moore, the former president's congressional liaison, recalled being on the receiving end of lawmakers' ire. Carter "sent a lot of legislation up there, and we got complaints: 'You're overloading the circuits and we can't cram all this in here, and which do you want done?' " Moore said. "[Carter] did set priorities, but it wasn't No. 1--it was one through five, or one through 15." Eventually, congressional leaders set their own priorities.
Former Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., wrote in his recent memoir, "Carter just didn't hobnob with senators or congressmen. He didn't cultivate confidants on Capitol Hill. Plenty of Democratic lawmakers were privately frustrated at the distance they felt from the White House."
Carter's failures helped contribute to his 1980 landslide re-election defeat to Ronald Reagan and the Democrats' loss of 12 seats and control of the Senate that year. Similarly, Congress's inability to work well with Clinton helped Republicans take over the House and Senate in 1994--the first time in 40 years that the GOP captured the House, where they gained 52 seats. "Both presidents paid a very dear price in not concentrating on Congress," said Anthony Eksterowicz, a political science professor at James Madison University.
Current Democratic insiders are quick to offer "lessons learned" from those experiences. Some are at least mindful of history and aware that they must strike a balance between separation of powers and intraparty cooperation, and between one-party hegemony and bipartisan cooperation.
"Lessons need to be learned that a president needs to work with Congress, but that it needs to go both ways. It is a give and take. We will need to have an ongoing dialogue," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., a chief deputy majority whip who was first elected in 1996. "We have learned lessons on the need for cooperation, and to keep the greater good in mind."
For his part, though, Rangel cautioned against seeking parallels. "It's like a brand-new card game. You can't learn anything from the past. You play the hand that is dealt you."
Although Carter and Clinton were both former governors, the previous two Democratic presidents, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, were former senators. Johnson had been Senate majority leader before serving as Kennedy's vice president, and he was an unsurpassed master of legislative maneuvering. The more-relevant lessons may come from Kennedy's three-year presidency.
Like Obama, Kennedy had been a best-selling author. Unlike Obama, he had been a war hero, and his eight years in the Senate--and six years in the House--gave him more time to develop relationships than Obama's four years will have given him. But Kennedy, too, had been a backbencher with no experience in leadership or even at the helm of a major committee. Larry O'Brien, Kennedy's congressional liaison, noted in an interview for the Johnson Library that JFK's Senate tenure actually gave the 43-year-old a bit of discomfort once he moved into the Oval Office.
"Now, here's a president of the United States sitting there who was, indeed, a neophyte in the Senate, very much junior, not in the power structure of the Senate," O'Brien said in describing a White House meeting with Kennedy and Senate leaders. "And here are all these fellows that he knows, but not intimately. It created a climate. At least in his mind he found it, I think, difficult.... He probably would have been more comfortable if he had never known them. I think that's natural. There was a slight reticence."
Kennedy was well aware that numerous senators wanted his job. The same would be true for Obama, since at least 13 other sitting senators would have at some time campaigned for the presidency and lost. "That is played out on the part of some senators by being inordinately sensitive to the executive branch activities, retaining, at least in their mind, the power of the Congress, the authority of the Senate, and the need to achieve advice and consent, approbation and approval in just about every instance," O'Brien said.
Setting an Agenda
A successful campaign message can help to shape governance. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both ran pledging big tax cuts, and those initiatives successfully shaped their early months in office as president. Of course, as Democrats note, delivering tax cuts is relatively easy compared with what they now face: The economy is struggling, most of the policy choices are painful, and public confidence in Washington is close to rock-bottom.
Democratic leaders have been maintaining that they are on the same page with the Obama campaign. "If you look at the Senate Democrats' agenda and Senator Obama's agenda, they're very close," Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters in June.
Other Democrats are more forthcoming, however, in describing the difficult choices that a President Obama would face in selecting his "must do" items from many competing issues, all of which have strong advocates on and off the Hill.
"The new Obama administration will have to establish priorities on the issues that they need to address," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who is also a key player at the Energy and Commerce Committee. "With the economy, health care, energy, and environment, each issue is very difficult and complicated legislatively. And the president has a limited period of time to act. This will require a lot of coordination."
Spratt added, "Most presidents come in with plans. But they find that the traffic of ad hoc causes them to lose perspective." And although "it will be an important public psychology to get a quick start," Spratt also cautioned that Obama's prospective program won't be an easy sell. Even though Democrats would relish one-party control of Washington, Spratt noted, "most of us know the thorns come with the roses."
At some point, Democrats might face the dilemma of deciding whether the greater risk is doing too much or too little. "Intellectually, Obama and his crowd may understand the challenges that they face," a veteran Democratic lobbyist said. "Experientially, they may not understand them."
Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., a senior Energy and Commerce Committee member, said his sense is that the Obama campaign will not devise a legislative game plan until after the election. But Boucher noted that "mechanisms can be put in place to get advice before the election in certain subject areas.... An individual congressman can offer advice in his subject area, and I am doing that in the areas that I am familiar with: energy policy and air quality."
A Democratic insider close to the Obama campaign echoed Boucher's comments, and noted that the campaign will emphasize transforming Washington. "Our focus is on winning the election," this source said. "There will be some discussion of options for after the election, but we can't decide anything pre-November.... If there are bumps before the election, they can be resolved from November to January."
The first major legislative test next year for Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress is likely to be agreeing on a new federal budget. During a phone conversation with Obama in May, Spratt emphasized the need to quickly prepare a budget after the election that would anticipate a shift in federal priorities, including trying to balance the budget within five years. These shifts would require making broad decisions before the election so that senior aides can prepare the outlines.
"Most presidents come in with plans. But they find that the traffic of ad hoc causes them to lose perspective." --John Spratt
"We need to understand what is in the realm of possibility in order to avoid problems in the campaign," Spratt said.
But those early budget decisions present plenty of pitfalls for Democrats. "As a party, we are dogged by 'tax-and-spend' [criticisms], so we need to show restraint," said former Rep. Fazio. "And we know that deficit reduction is easier in theory than in reality."
Other Democrats play down the risk, and contend they have little choice but to make tough decisions, both on budget matters and other pressing issues. "There will be some hesitancy. But the nature of the problems is that we don't have the luxury of not dealing with them," McDermott said. "Some will cite the problems of the 1994 election. But the American people will support us if we are doing the things to get us out of the woods.... With the nation's huge debt, we will have to take some tough votes."
Assuming that a President Obama and Democratic leaders can agree on an agenda, he seemingly wouldn't have to break much of a sweat getting it through the House, where Democrats are comfortably in control. Their majority increased to 236-199 this spring with the pickup of three GOP seats in special elections. More than two dozen House GOP open seats will give Democrats a good opportunity to increase their control in November, campaign strategists in both parties say--quite possibly with a double-digit gain.
House rules historically give the majority party great sway in scheduling and setting the terms of debate, and under Pelosi, that grip has been tightened further, to Republicans' dismay. Veteran Democrats also underline what they expect would be a huge contrast between Pelosi's support for Obama and the more distant relationship that then-Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., had with Clinton during the first two years of his presidency.
"Each issue is very difficult and complicated legislatively.... This will require a lot of coordination." --Henry Waxman
"We now have a speaker committed to moving forward," Waxman said. "Tom Foley relied more on the committees working their will, and he took a more laissez-faire attitude."
Dingell, a firearms enthusiast, was especially critical of the handling in 1993 of Clinton's "silly gun bill"--the Brady bill that required a waiting period for handgun purchases. "Foley was a very weak speaker and that cost us the House," Dingell said. "We now have a strong speaker."
The bigger problem for a President Obama would be the Senate, where Democrats currently hold only 49 seats and rely on independent Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut to achieve a majority. Democrats would have to capture at least nine seats in November to achieve the 60 votes needed to overcome GOP filibusters, a tall order that seems unlikely at this point.
Even if Democrats picked up an impressive six Senate seats--the same number that they picked up in 2006--they would still need to call on at least three Republicans to overcome filibusters. That task would be all the more daunting because winning six seats would require the defeat of some of the moderate Republicans most likely to support Democratic proposals. And the Senate could be left without two of its key deal-makers next year: The health problems of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., may prevent him from returning, and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is retiring.
Obama "knows that he will not be able to accomplish his agenda unless we pick up a significant number of senators." --Charles Schumer
Obama "knows, and has said to me, that he will not be able to accomplish his agenda unless we pick up a significant number of senators, that he would even have to trim his agenda--what he proposes--if we don't pick up many," said Schumer, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Obama, of course, has highlighted his desire to work across party lines. He has already adopted a proposal--offered by none other than Lieberman, who has endorsed McCain--to hold regular meetings as president on foreign policy with the Democratic and Republican leaders of the committees dealing with foreign affairs, defense, and appropriations. But reaching out to Republicans would require compromise, and knowing when to compromise is a tough call. Picking the wrong times to deal with Republicans could upset Democratic supporters.
"It is always a very difficult thing to manage," Feingold said, pointing to one-party control under both Clinton and Bush. "The way to manage it is to insist that you will engage members of the other party where appropriate, so that Democrats know they can't just fight with each other, and the Republicans know they're welcome at the table where appropriate. That's the best way to govern. I'm not saying it's easy. I've seen, frankly, not a very good result either time I've witnessed this."
From the GOP point of view, Senate Republicans would hold the party's only leverage in a Democratic town--putting enormous pressure on them to close ranks.
"I think he can work with Republicans," Schumer said of Obama. "Their penchant for filibustering and going along with the filibuster--we see very few moments of independence--don't bode well. He can work well with them. The question is, can they work well with him?"
"It will irritate some of my party how much [Obama] will be willing to sit down and work with Republicans." --Claire McCaskill
Obama's close allies say that he's committed to working across the aisle. "This bipartisan thing, this working together--this is not a gimmick," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said. "In fact, it will irritate some of my party how much he will be willing to sit down and work with Republicans. There will be some Democrats that will be cranky about President Obama's efforts to work with Republicans. I'm ready right now."
Keeping Democrats Happy
A President Obama would face a Democratic majority decidedly fresher than the one that met Clinton in 1993, when Democrats were starting the 39th year of their House reign. "In that period, the Democrats in Congress felt that they were in Congress by right," said former Clinton aide Waldman. For current Democratic leaders--including Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., each of whom took the reins before their party won control of Congress in the 2006 elections--the painful memories of life in the minority are still vivid.
Some observers suggest that Obama would have something of a honeymoon with Democratic lawmakers impressed with the considerable public support he has enjoyed on the campaign trail.
"If the anecdotal evidence is right and we have enormous numbers of new [voter] registrations that are associated with Senator Obama's candidacy," said Elizabeth Edwards, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, "there will be members of Congress who at least believe they owe their seats to those registrations, and may have more allegiance than you might have seen in previous presidencies."
Hill Democrats who have worked closely with Obama say that he has the temperament to forge solid partnerships from the White House. He built strong personal relationships during the 2006 election season, when he used his already-apparent star power to help fellow Democratic senators raise money for their re-elections and campaigned for winning freshmen. Several of the beneficiaries, including McCaskill and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., were early Obama supporters during this year's presidential primaries.
"In the last two general election cycles, Barack Obama has been the most-sought-after Democrat to campaign for our candidates across the nation, in red states and blue," said Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., who as a home-state colleague would be a natural Hill ally for a President Obama.
Although Senate Democrats have worked with Obama since he came to Washington in 2005, many of them do not know his top campaign staff well, and those aides would likely play prominent roles in an Obama administration. So Reid invited Obama adviser David Axelrod to the Senate Democratic Caucus luncheon in June. "The Obama campaign is an interesting campaign," Reid told reporters. "The chief organizers and the people who put this campaign together are always under the radar screen.... The campaign manager, [David] Plouffe, is someone that people have rarely met. I thought it was very important that David Axelrod come and talk to us."
Obama has built confidence in his abilities among Senate Democrats through his legislative work. Reid tapped him in early 2006 as a point man on ethics and lobbying reform, a role he continued until the legislation became law in September 2007. "He called me on my phone--as I was driving with my family in our Saturn to Washington [after the 2006 election]--to try to get all the freshmen together to try to figure out what we would do and we wouldn't do" on ethics issues, recalled Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Feingold, Obama's partner on the ethics reform effort, said that his openness and willingness to work with others would help him as president, as would his understanding of how to get things done. "He knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em," Feingold said. "He knows when it's necessary for him to get in the weeds. But my impression is, he's a pretty good delegator. He wouldn't be overly detail-oriented. I think he's got a good balance."
In contrast to their Senate counterparts, few House Democrats have had more than cursory experiences with their prospective president. Asked in late June how well he knew Obama, Hoyer replied, "Not very well; we talked about an hour [in May] in my office. I am comfortable talking with him, and we have a basis to build a long-term relationship." Hoyer added, "We have begun to discuss campaign relations so that we understand each other's expectations and priorities. We need to work on details." Pelosi, likewise, has said that her contacts with the Obama campaign have been chiefly through her chief of staff, John Lawrence.
Even though Obama wrapped up the Democratic nomination in early June, his staff and Pelosi lieutenants moved slowly in scheduling a seemingly routine meeting for him with the House Democratic Caucus. In part, they explained, they wanted Senator Clinton to meet with the caucus first; that happened when she returned to the Hill on June 25. An Obama appearance is expected this month before the August recess and the party conventions.
The Obama campaign may be seeking to assure that the candidate keeps his distance from Congress and its low public-approval ratings. Asked for an interview for this article, an Obama adviser e-mailed the following reply: "Isn't it a little early for a story like this?"
In an important sign that Obama is ramping up his contacts and coordination with Hill Democrats, his campaign recently brought on board Phil Schiliro, Waxman's longtime top aide. Schiliro brings the benefit of a quarter-century of work in the House, with brief interruptions when he ran unsuccessfully for a congressional seat in New York in 1992 and 1994, plus a stint in 2004 as the chief leadership aide to then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. Over the next four months, Schiliro is expected to operate with a small staff at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, and he will focus on coordinating the campaign and its message with Democratic lawmakers.
In another indication that senior Obama advisers are reaching out to lawmakers, the candidate's Chicago-based strategist, Valerie Jarrett, had breakfast with Clyburn in the Windy City on June 28 to discuss the campaign and the whip's views on the transition. "Ms. Jarrett respects my opinion," Clyburn said in a subsequent interview, while giving no details.
There is little doubt that Pelosi will be an active and enthusiastic supporter of Obama, including when she chairs the Democratic convention in Denver. "Pelosi will have a very significant role with Obama," said Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., a leading Obama ally in the House. "She handled the primaries in a way that gave great confidence to the Obama campaign. She recognized the splits in the Democratic Party and handled them in a dignified way."
Davis cautioned, though, that the many House Democrats who have not served with a Democratic president and don't know Obama face "an adjustment that will create a sea change and will have complications. Congressional leaders will need to chart their course with the White House."
Among both House and Senate Democrats, Obama will have to thread the needle between the liberal and conservative flanks. In particular, the fiscal conservative Blue Dogs in the House will be guarding against financing progressives' long-held wish lists with runaway government spending.
Moderate Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., advises Obama to move to the center both ideologically and stylistically. "We believe the best solutions start from the center out," Landrieu said of the Democratic Leadership Council, of which she is a member. "[Obama's] record is more liberal, and I strongly urge him to move more to the center on some of these issues."
Of course, relationships can change depending on where the players sit, and overestimating the ease with which a President Obama could work with Democratic lawmakers could be a mistake. Moore, the former Carter liaison to the Hill, noted that many members never got over early offenses in 1977, when the White House was so overwhelmed during the transition that it failed to return hundreds of lawmakers' phone calls.