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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Obama's Team Winging It

Team Obama demonstrated remarkable discipline during the presidential campaign. From raising an unprecedented amount of money to milking every advantage from the Internet to grabbing lots of delegates from inexpensive caucus states, they left nothing to chance.

And now the administration has scored a major legislative victory in an extraordinarily short period of time. Less than 700 hours after taking the oath of office, President Barack Obama signed the largest spending bill in American history.

Nevertheless, this fast start can't overcome a growing sense the administration is winging it on issues large and small.

Take the vetting of cabinet nominees. Mr. Obama's aides ignored a federal investigation of New Mexico's Gov. Bill Richardson that started last August for a possible pay-for-play scandal. Mr. Richardson had to withdraw after being named to become secretary of commerce.

The administration treated as inconsequential the failure of its choices for Treasury secretary and White House performance officer, as well as its labor secretary-designate's spouse, to pay taxes. It failed to uncover Tom Daschle's problems with more than $102,943 in previously unpaid taxes, penalties and interest -- and once it did, aides assumed Mr. Daschle would be given a pass.

Team Obama promised Gen. Anthony Zinni he'd be ambassador to Iraq, then cut him loose without explanation. After the Bill Richardson fiasco, it romanced Republican Sen. Judd Gregg for commerce secretary -- then ignored his advice on the stimulus and wouldn't trust him with running the department, moving supervision of the Census into the White House. Mr. Gregg withdrew himself from consideration.

Then there is the stimulus itself. Mr. Obama's economic team met with congressional leaders in December to green light a bill costing up to $850 billion. But they described less than $200 billion of what they wanted in the envelope. In return for outsourcing the bill's drafting to Congress, the administration took on two responsibilities: running polls to advise Hill Democrats on how to sharpen their marketing, and putting the president on the road to sell a bill others wrote.

Read all of Karl Rove's commentary here.

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