Now president, Obama plans urgent first steps
He plans to shore up America’s stumbling economy and address pressing issues on the international front.
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In moving quickly on his agenda, Obama is taking lessons from past administrations in a bid to prevent early missteps, say presidential scholars. President Bill Clinton, who made reforming the healthcare system the cornerstone of his election campaign, took almost a year to present a plan to Congress.Skip to next paragraph
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During that time, the public lost interest and he lost political capital with his controversial move to allow gays to serve in the military under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Obama is expected to make early use of executive orders to lift the ban on federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research and for family planning agencies abroad. He’s’s also expected to tighten ethics rules for people entering and exiting government.
“All this implies that Obama has been influenced by Clinton’s fate,” says Bruce Buchanan, a presidential scholar at the University of Texas at Austin. “He’s been lining up support as much as possible before the inauguration.... The public’s already well-briefed on the economic package.”
Obama appears to be modeling his first days after those of President Franklin Roosevelt, who also had an economic crisis to focus his agenda. Like Roosevelt, Obama is exuding confidence even as he prepares the public for the likelihood that the economy could get worse before it gets better.
“It’s clear Obama is going to work fast to get credit loosened, some oversight of the banks, and help for people in foreclosure,” says political scientist Bert Rockman at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. “The question is how fast he’ll be able to get a bill through Congress.”
Obama, unlike Roosevelt, has the luxury of a bit more time. FDR was inaugurated March 4, 1933, amid a financial panic. On his first day in office he closed all banks indefinitely, declaring it a “holiday” to give his administration time to quell the panic. With that move, he gained the confidence of Congress, which within 100 days enacted landmark legislation that formed the bedrock of the New Deal.
“The perception now is also that we’re in such crisis that we have to move rapidly,” says Dr. Buchanan. “Obama is similarly pragmatic, but FDR was more of an experimentalist. He didn’t have the kind of overarching theory that Obama does.”
Obama will have a less compliant Congress than Roosevelt did. Democratic leaders in both houses have already signaled disagreement with parts of Obama’s stimulus proposal, the tax cuts in particular. But they and others say they hope to get a bill passed within six weeks.
“The initial program is so potentially wise in that it’s a down payment on all the things we should care about – education, energy, environment, and healthcare – that he’s folded into that stimulus package by broadening the definition of infrastructure,” says Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution. Moving from legislative action to economic recovery is a process he likens to building a house. “The framework is going to go up very quickly, but the plumbing and the heating and everything else that it takes to build a house take forever. People are going to have to be patient.”
The new administration also needs to consider how much of Obama’s larger agenda, like healthcare reform, to include in the new president’s first proposals. Problems can arise from overreaching, says Mr. Hess. “The more things you try to weave into a solution, the more politically complicated it gets and the more issues it raises,” he says.