Obama Thinking Big, Despite Crisis

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Agence France Presse

Obama Thinking Big, Despite Crisis

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U.S. President-elect Barack Obama (L) and Republican Sen John McCain meet onstage between back to back Republican and Democratic debates at St Anselems College in Manchester, New Hampshire in this January 5, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Files

WASHINGTON - Signs coming out of Barack
Obama's transition conclave in Chicago suggest he has no intention of
lowering his sights for an activist, big ideas, presidency despite the
deep economic crisis.

Since
Obama's historic election nearly two weeks ago, some analysts have
suggested that the financial crunch, huge budget deficits and two
draining wars abroad will curtail Obama's ambitious sweeping reform
agenda.

But Obama's approach to framing his administration ,
frequent campaign trail allusions to activist presidents of the past
and possible cabinet picks may signal he views the crisis not as a
constraint, but an opportunity.

In an overt sign of bipartisanship, the president-elect is set to meet former Republican foe John McCain on Monday.

He is mulling whether to name big beasts of the political jungle like Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson as secretary of state.

And
his pick for chief of staff, sharp-elbowed Rahm Emanuel has a
reputation as a man of action, who can get things done in Washington.

"Even
as we dig ourselves out of this recession, we must also recognize that
out of this economic crisis comes an opportunity to create new jobs,
strengthen our middle class, and keep our economy competitive in the
21st century," Obama said in his weekly radio address on Saturday.

He
then reeled off a plan to put two million Americans to work rebuilding
crumbling roads, bridges, and schools and an initiative to invest 150
billion dollars in a green energy economy to create another five
million jobs.

"It means making health care affordable for anyone
who has it, accessible for anyone who wants it, and reducing costs for
small businesses.

"And it also means giving every child the world-class education they need to compete with any worker, anywhere in the world."

Obama's
ambitious plans have drawn comparison to the massive New Deal public
works programs pioneered by Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt
who took office in the eye of an economic storm in 1933.

The president-elect has also signalled support for a new economic stimulus package and aid for ailing US automakers.

Leon
Panetta, former chief of staff for president Bill Clinton, said Obama's
first task -- stabilizing the economy could win him political capital
to enact his wider agenda.

"This president has to put his stamp
on the economy. That's first and foremost," he said at a post-election
forum at the Brookings Institution.

"He's got to be successful at
that. If he's successful at that, at getting something done with regard
to the economy, then he gains the credibility to be able to then work
on other issues."

Obama is plotting a fast start after his inauguration on January 20.

Aides
said last week they were studying a sheaf of possible executive orders
-- effectively decrees by a president to change the law.

The new
president could quickly overhaul climate change policy for instance,
and even close the controversial 'war on terror' camp at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba.

Obama's meeting with Clinton in Chicago on Thursday night ignited a flurry of speculation and jawing among the pundit classes.

The
fact that the president-elect is even considering political figures
like Clinton, in a possible "team of rivals" cabinet like that of his
political hero Abraham Lincoln hardly suggests a presidency of minimal
ambition.

Democratic gains have also positioned Obama to push a
wide agenda through Congress -- his party will control the White House
and Capitol Hill for the first time in 14 years.

With three seats
still undecided in the Senate, the Democrats look set to fall short of
the 60-seat supermajority needed to overcome Republican obstruction
tactics.

But some Republican senators face tough reelection
battles in normally conservative states that Obama won in the November
4 election and may not be keen to be seen as thwarting the new
president's agenda.

Senator Judd Gregg in New Hampshire for instance has just seen his Senate colleague John Sununu tumble to a Democrat.

On one of the most vexing issues healthcare reform, there is already a sign of movement in Congress.

Democratic
Senator Max Baucus from Montana has already revealed his reform plan,
reportedly after consulting Obama aide and former Senate majority
leader Tom Daschle.

Another key Obama supporters, ailing
Democratic lion Senator Edward Kennedy has also sent signals that he is
ready to unveil his own plan, in what may be valedictory legislation of
a storied political career.

 

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