Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How is Obama doing so far

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on February 12th in Metro √Čireann By Charles Laffiteau
I am heading back to the states tomorrow to present a paper at an international conference in New York and to take the pulse of citizens in my homeland regarding President Obama’s performance in office less than one month into his first term. So today I want to discuss what I think of President Obama’s first three weeks in office.
As I mentioned in previous columns I generally applaud the kind of people President Obama has selected to run the US government and various federal agencies and indeed the Congress has moved swiftly to approve the nominations of the vast majority of President Obama’s Cabinet nominees. But that isn’t to say President Obama hasn’t stumbled in a few cases, most notably with the nomination of Tom Daschle as both Secretary of Health and Human Services and White House Health Insurance Czar.
Given his legislative and lobbying experience on healthcare insurance issues and close personal relationship with President Obama, Tom Daschle was and, I believe, still is the best person for these critical positions in President Obama’s new administration. Unfortunately, Tom Daschle made a crucial error as regards paying his personal income taxes and the decision to withdraw his nomination for both posts in President Obama’s administration is the price Daschle and Obama now have to pay for this transgression.
Regardless of the whether or not one believes that Tom Daschle knew or should have know that having a gratis driver and limousine (courtesy of Washington DC insider and corporate media mogul Leo Hindery) at his disposal for the past three years had income tax consequences, that was not his biggest mistake. What sunk Tom Daschle’s chance to play a significant role in the President Obama’s new administration was his decision to wait until January of this year, just days before his Senate confirmation hearings, to write a check for the back taxes he owed. There is no excuse for this delay.
Even if one buys Daschle and President Obama’s contention that failing to declare the driver and limo perk as taxable income was an innocent mistake, the fact of the matter is Daschle knew he owed income taxes for this “oversight” over six months ago and yet waited until he was about to be grilled about this matter by members of the US Senate to pay up. This action alone calls into question whether or not Tom Daschle was acting in accordance with the “spirit” of President Obama’s administration’s new ethical standards.
As President Obama himself later acknowledged, there cannot be two sets of ethical standards for people who work in President Obama’s administration, one for those who have been his closest advisors and friends and another for those outside his inner circle. While President Obama should have recognized the ethical lapse and never nominated Daschle, it was still refreshing to see President Obama “fess up” and admit he had made a mistake trying to get Tom Daschle approved as a member of his Cabinet. President Obama’s admission stands in marked contrast to former President Bush, who could never admit that any of his administration’s personnel choices had been faulty.
But President Obama’s nomination of moderate Republican Senator Judd Gregg as his Commerce Secretary to replace his first choice, Democratic Governor Bill Richardson, demonstrated President Obama’s considerable political savvy in two ways. It underscored President Obama’s commitment to run the US government in a bipartisan manner by adding a third Republican and a fiscal conservative to his Cabinet, while also creating an opportunity for the Democratic Party to capture another open Senate seat in 2 years. Although another Republican, Gregg’s former Chief of Staff, Bonnie Newman, has been appointed to fill Gregg’s seat for the next 2 years, she will not be running for re-election in 2010, thus making it much easier for a Democrat to take over this Senate seat.
I also applaud many of the executive decisions and actions taken by President Obama during his first days as America’s Chief Executive. Following through on his campaign promises, President Obama signed a succession of executive orders which among other things, closed Guantanamo Bay as a terrorist detention facility and ended the separate but not equal justice system the Bush administration had tried to use to try terror suspects. President Obama also ordered his generals to develop a plan to withdraw American troops from Iraq within 16 months and a plan to deal with a resurgent Taliban insurrection and stabilize the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
President Obama also chose to make his first televised international media interview with a Muslim TV network and dispatched former Senator George Mitchell, who helped settle the conflict in Northern Ireland 10 years ago, to the Middle East to put a renewed focus on settling the Arab-Israeli conflict. Obama also reversed Bush directives that stopped the flow of US aid to NGOs that provided abortion assistance.
Closer to home, President Obama moved quickly to mandate an end to the use of questionable interrogation techniques by the CIA, opened federal coffers to provide more money for stem cell research and signed a bill to increase the number of uninsured children covered by a special SCHIP health insurance program.
President Obama also began a concerted push for a very large economic stimulus program that he hopes to sign into law the same day I arrive back in the states. Most Republicans say this 800 billion dollar package of tax cuts and infrastructure spending is too large and decry the effect it will have on America’s already huge budget deficit.
But I can’t help but wonder where these same fiscally conservative Republicans were, when George Bush was President and he sent Congress a variety of bills an increases in Defense spending that doubled the size of that deficit in only six short years. My fellow Republicans appear to have very short memories and are obviously hoping American voters do as well. But I will discuss President Obama’s economic stimulus measures in detail in next week’s column.

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