President Obama’s First Priorities, Cont’d.

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Over the weekend, the Financial Times scored a short on-the-record interview with future Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who pointed to a couple early priorities of the Obama administration that the Washington Post appears to have missed.

In the interview, Emanuel “brushed aside” concerns that Obama needs to start small and move incrementally. He suggested that Obama will act quickly on a stimulus package (if one is not passed in the lame-duck session), including a “$25bn emergency package for Detroit” to help struggling automakers. Emanuel said that the meltdown on Wall Street will not delay action on energy, healthcare and education, which he described as “crises you can no longer afford to postpone [addressing].” (Update: Emanuel mentions S-CHIP as an immediate priority in an interview with the WSJ.)

In short, the new team is going to play some strong offense. That’s normal enough. Clinton entered office with an aggressive budget plan aimed at reducing the deficit. Due to the fact that it increased taxes, it met with strong Republican opposition. Clinton passed it only after a fight. Bush took the White House with a plan for tax cuts for the wealthy, which also faced resistance from the opposition.

My prediction? Obama achieves bigger things early in his administration than either Clinton or Bush. Three reasons. (1) He has a more pliant Congress. Clinton’s first Congress was Democratic, but it was run by old bulls who weren’t on the same page as the upstart from Arkansas. Bush had to work with a small majority in the House and an evenly divided Senate. (2) Obama faces more dire times than either Clinton or Bush did at the outset of their presidencies. More of a market for bold action. (3) Obama won a mandate from voters, which Clinton and Bush didn’t. Clinton couldn’t capture 50 percent of the popular vote and Bush lost the popular vote. Obama won by over 7 million.

The only thing left to secure early-administration victories is political will. And if Emanuel’s comments to FT are any indication, this new administration will have it.


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