Obama’s First Challenges

When Senator Obama becomes President Obama next January, he will have many challenges before him. And one of them will be his dealings with the flush-with-power Democratic leadership in Congress.

On the surface, it should seem like it’ll be smooth sailing. Obama is a Democrat, and so are the leaders of Congress. Further, both he and Vice-President Elect Biden will be coming from the Senate, so they’re pretty much known entities. Biden, as vice president, will be President of the Senate. And Obama’s first named appointment (it appears) is Representative Rahm Emanuel.

However, there is a downside to the shared affiliation. As noted, Obama is coming from the Senate. And he has absolutely no record of ever standing up against his party’s leadership.

Obama’s legislative record is built on the principle of “go along to get along.” He has always been a reliable Democrat, ever willing to go along with whatever the leadership dictates. And I’d be more than willing to wager that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and other prominent lawmakers are expecting that that will continue now that Obama is in the White House.

My colleague Steve Schippert yesterday discussed what he saw as the major issues that will be addressed in the first 100 days of Obama’s administration, and I’m going to cheerfully steal a few from him to discuss issues that I think have potential to cause conflict between Obama and Congress.

The war in Iraq: Obama built much of his campaign on his early opposition to the war. Well, it seems to be winding down, and in a way that is pretty good for the US and the Iraqi people. Will Obama manage to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? And how will Congress — which is still filled with Democrats who originally voted for the war, no matter how much they try to pretend they didn’t — react to that?

Defense spending. Representative Barney Frank, apparently not content with his role in wreaking havoc on the nation’s financial system, has announced that he will push for a 25% cut in defense spending. This could actually work hand-in-hand with one of Obama’s proposals for a “civilian National Security Force,” which he said would be as well funded as the military. If the defense budget is slashed, then it makes it easier to fund a new organization at the same level.

Retirement funding, Several powerful House Democrats are talking about abolishing the tax breaks for 401K retirement plans, and replacing it with an expanded Social Security tax. This would have a devastating effect on the national economy, as it would take a huge hunk of capital that is currently infused into the financial system and syphon it off into government coffers. Again, this could help Obama, as it would give the government a fresh source of money to cover his planned spending increases.

That’s just three examples. There are plenty more.

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office on January 20, he will be more than just the Chief Executive. He will be the titular head of his party, he will be the “face” of the nation, and his chosen vice president will be the presiding officer of the Upper House of Congress. It will be interesting to see if he uses his newfound clout to assert — for the first time in his career — his own agenda and goals over those of the leadership of Congress.

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