Micheal Steele elected chairman of RNC

After several ballots, Michael Steele has been elected and the new Chairman of the Republican National Committee.

In many ways this is a good choice. Steele is very articulate and he’ll be a good spokesperson for the party on television. As a minority he will help the party shed it’s image as a party that is unfriendly to minorities. In his speech, he seems to be embracing an inclusive strategy.

That said, even with all his charisma, Steele has a cocky approach at times, and it will be interesting to see how he handles himself in the spotlight.

Also, he is not popular with some conservatives in his party, so it will be interesting to see how the Limbaughs of the world react to this.

Getting down to business

Some have observed that President Obama’s Inaugural Address didn’t meet his high standards for powerful speeches. Yet other have noted that Obama wanted to stress the need to get serious about the problems facing our nation. It was time to get to work.

Joe Klein points out that Obama has continued with this tone during his first week in office.

Just as he could have opted for the adrenaline rush of grand rhetoric in his Inaugural Address but didn’t, he could have turned any of the profoundly serious actions of his first week into a whiz-bang photo opportunity. He could have planted solar panels and a wind turbine on the White House roof or blasted the Bush Administration as he signed an Executive Order banning torture or lacerated the bankers who got us into the economic mess. But that’s not his style, apparently. He has reversed the tactical, win-the-news-cycle sensibility of recent presidencies. During his first week in office, at least, he opted for strategy and substance over showbiz.

Which is not to say there weren’t symbolic gestures. But the groups Obama lavished his attention on were an unlikely bunch: diplomats, Muslims and Republicans. The gestures involved a geographic humility that was a clean break from the presidential past: he went to the State Department, to the Capitol, and appeared on the Al Arabiya television network before granting an interview to any of the American channels. In each case, the gesture was made more for its long-term effect than its short-term bang.

The President visited the State Department on his second full day in office to send a message: diplomacy will now take precedence over military force in U.S. foreign policy — and his Administration’s will be a diplomacy of constant, persistent attention to the world’s problem areas rather than slapdash summitry. The occasion for Obama’s visit was the announcement of two special envoys, Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, both of whom represent a silent reproach to the Bush Administration. Holbrooke will have the near impossible task of untangling the mess in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a problem exacerbated by recent American inattention to detail in the area. (The deterioration toward chaos in Pakistan, especially, surprised some of the President’s closest aides.)

There is much that needs to be done, and fixing these problems will take time. I suspect that the American people will be patient as Obama demonstrates a willingness to attack these problems in a serious, bi-partisan manner.

Obama promises return to “pay-as-you-go” budgeting

When Republicans gained full control of the government during the Bush years, they abandoned the “pay-as-you-go” budget requirement that helped Bill Clinton and the GOP congress to balance the budget and ultimately create surpluses in the 1990s. The results were disastrous, as the national debt nearly doubled during the Bush years.

Many Blue-Dog Democrats have wanted a return to these policies, and Obama has pledged that all spending and tax changes enacted after the stimulus will be held to this standard.

House Democrats won a key procedural vote Tuesday on the stimulus after a last-minute promise from the Obama administration to return to “pay-as-you-go” budget rules after the stimulus is approved.

In a 224-199 vote, the House approved a resolution allowing the stimulus bill to come to the floor for debate. Twenty-seven Democrats – 24 of them members of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition – bucked their leadership and voted against the measure.

But according to Democratic leadership sources, the number was almost much higher – and could have been high enough to hand the Republicans a monumental victory – had it not been for a letter from President Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag.

The letter addressed to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David promised to return to “pay-as-you-go budgeting,” and stressed that the stimulus was an “extraordinary response to an extraordinary process” and thus subject to different rules.

“It should not be seen as an opportunity to abandon the fiscal discipline that we owe each and every taxpayer in spending their money – and that is critical to keeping the United States strong in a global, interdependent economy,” the letter stated.

Orszag also emphasized that Obama’s support for paying for any temporary tax cuts in the stimulus that he would like to make permanent. The budget director said Obama would detail those offsets in his budget.

“Moving forward, we need to return to the fiscal responsibility and pay-as-you-go budgeting that we had in the 1990’s for all non-emergency measures,” Orszag continued. “The President and his economic team look forward to working with the Congress to develop budget enforcement rules that are based on the tools that helped create the surpluses of a decade ago.

“Putting the country back on the path of fiscal responsibility will mean tough choices and difficult trade-offs, but for the long-term health of our economy, the President believes that they must be made.”

Though addressed to Obey, Democratic sources said copies of the letter were distributed in a last minute flurry to Blue Dogs, many of whom were already on the floor and ready to cast their votes. The centrist group already was ruffled by the fact the package included far more spending than Obama had called for, and were prepared to vote as a block against the resolution, Democratic sources said.

The Caroline Kennedy fiasco

What a mess.

It’s painfully apparent that Caroline Kennedy lacks the political skills possessed by her famous father and uncles. Her rollout was terrible, and she’s done nothing to help herself along the way. Now she’s pulling out, and every story suggests a different reason, depending on the source. Can’t she just go on Larry King like everyone else and field some softball questions?

Meanwhile, Governor Patterson looks like a bumbling fool. Why has he stretched this out so long? Why does he keep contradicting himself? In one sense, Kennedy put him in a tough spot, but he also made matters worse.

I initially thought it was a great idea to appoint Caroline Kennedy. Sure, she didn’t have the usual credentials, and it’s probably not fair that she’s benefiting from her famous name, but she’s the sole heir of one of our most influential political figures, and I felt she could be a powerful and unique advocate for Obama’s agenda. She emerged as a real force during the campaign, and this presented an interesting opportunity for her to begin a career in politics.

Unfortunately, she really wasn’t ready. She was too uncomfortable in front of cameras. She never took command of the process. I thought she would seize the moment. I was wrong.

Obama issues tough new lobbying restrictions and opens records

Many of the left and the right have long complained that the game was rigged in Washington. That will probably never end, but President Obama seems determined to change the climate in Washington by lessening the role of lobbyists and making the government more transparent.

New lobbying and records rules issued by President Obama yesterday appear to go beyond changes implemented by previous presidents, and could usher in an era of openness in federal government, according to ethics experts and open-government advocates.

In two executive orders and three presidential directives, Obama laid out stringent lobbying limits that will bar any appointees from seeking lobbying jobs while he is president and will ban gifts from lobbyists to anyone in the administration. He also ordered agencies to presume that records should be publicly released unless there are compelling reasons not to do so, and he loosened restrictions on the release of records related to former presidents and vice presidents.

Open-government advocates described the moves as a sharp departure from the policies of former president George W. Bush and former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who sought to shield details about White House inner workings from public view and imposed public records restrictions.

These changes are very significant. We’ve just endured one of the most secretive administrations in history, rivaling the paranoia of the Nixon years. Obama wants to opposite. Energy policy will not be set in secret meetings with industry executives.

The changes regarding the records of former presidents are most interesting.

In a separate order, Obama mandated more openness for presidential records following a congressionally established five-year waiting period after any president leaves office. The order permits a review by the attorney general and the White House counsel of claims by former presidents that information should be withheld under the doctrine of “executive privilege.” It also leaves the final decision in the hands of the incumbent president — not the former president, as provided in a 2001 order from Bush.

This accelerates how quickly we will learn what really happened during the Bush years.

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