Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Richardson out--Who should be the new Commerce Secretary?

I didn’t see this one coming. Bill Richardson has withdrawn from consideration for the Commerce Department job in Barack Obama’s cabinet because of a pending FBI investigation. He denies any wrongdoing and will continue to serve as governor of New Mexico. (It’s bad luck for Diane Denish, who was set to become that state’s first woman governor in a few weeks.)

The Commerce Department is big and oversees a lot of important agencies, like the Census Bureau and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Whom will Obama pick for the Commerce job, and whom should he pick?

UPDATE: Jake Tapper says people on the Obama transition team feel Richardson “was not forthcoming with them about the federal investigation that is looking into whether the governor steered a state contract towards a major financial contributor.”

A CNN report suggests Richardson was forced to withdraw his name from consideration.

Reuters speculates about who might replace Richardson.

Iowa caucus memories open thread

A year ago tonight, nearly 240,000 Iowans spent a couple of hours in overcrowded rooms during the Democratic precinct caucuses.

Thousands of others came to freezing cold Iowa to knock on doors or make phone calls for their presidential candidate in late December and early January.

Share any memories you have about caucusing or volunteering in this thread.

After the jump I re-posted my account of what happened at my own caucus. I was a precinct captain for Edwards.

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New thread on Obama cabinet appointments and speculation

Barack Obama named Bill Richardson to head the Commerce Department today. Click the link to read Obama’s prepared remarks. It’s not a top-tier cabinet appointment, but Commerce still oversees a lot of significant government activities, including the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. Click here to view all the bureaus within the Commerce Department.

The Hispanic Caucus in Congress has sent Obama a letter asking him to appoint more Latinos to the cabinet.

Obama has asked Congressman Xavier Becerra of California to accept the position of U.S. trade representative, but Becerra has yet not made a decision. He is the fifth highest ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, and some believe he could become the first Latino Speaker of the House someday if he stays in Congress.

Obama’s short list for secretary of labor apparently includes Mary Beth Maxwell, “the founding executive director of American Rights at Work.” According to the Wall Street Journal,

Maxwell already had the strong backing of former Rep. David Bonior, who despite repeated attempts to get his name removed from consideration continues to be on the short list of potential labor secretaries. Bonior, 63 years old, says it is time for his generation to turn over power to a new generation, and Maxwell, whose labor-backed organization pushes for expanded collective bargaining rights, is his pick.

Some labor leaders from both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, a splinter union group led by the Service Employees International Union, back her as a consensus choice, citing her efforts on behalf of legislation to allow unionization at workplaces with the signing of cards, not secret balloting.

The Wall Street Journal says Obama is also vetting Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius for secretary of labor.

I haven’t heard much lately about a possible secretary of education or transportation.

Who would you like to see in the cabinet?

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that if nominated and confirmed, Maxwell would become the first openly gay cabinet secretary in this country.

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Open thread on Obama's economic team

Apologies for not getting this thread posted yesterday, when President-elect Barack Obama unveiled his economic team.

On the plus side, there are no incompetent hacks in this group. I’ve heard particularly good things about Peter Orszag’s work at the Congressional Budget Office, and he will produce reliable numbers at the Office of Management and Budget.

People I respect speak quite highly of Melody Barnes, who will run Obama’s Domestic Policy Council.

Also, it’s encouraging that Obama is committed to a major stimulus bill that will focus on infrastructure investments. I’ll reserve further judgment until we see more specifics about Obama’s plans, because spending $350 billion on stuff worth doing is a lot better than spending $350 billion on boondoggles.

I also agree with Matthew Yglesias that if you’re going to throw tens of billions of dollars at the economy, high-speed rail in the Midwest would be an excellent place to start. (UPDATE: Senator John Kerry has introduced a major bill that would promote high-speed rail development across the country.)

On the down side, since I opposed the series of Wall Street bailouts we’ve been seeing this fall, I’m not thrilled to see Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary and Larry Summers as chief of the National Economic Council. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, I wanted economic policy to be more in the direction that Labor Secretary Robert Reich was proposing, but Clinton and now Obama are clearly favoring the approach of Clinton’s Treasury Secreatry, Robert Rubin. Almost everyone on Obama economic team has close ties to Rubin.

I think Bill Richardson will do fine at the Commerce Department, but I would have preferred to see him in a different cabinet position.

If you were one of those Obama supporters who claimed during the primaries that he would govern in a much more progressive way than Hillary Clinton, now would be a good time to rethink your views.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush’s team is taking care of one troubled financial firm after another. The latest bailout plan, for Citigroup, is a particularly bad deal for taxpayers, according to Paul Krugman (who reluctantly supported the $700 billion bailout package approved before the election).

What do you think about the team Obama is assembling to handle the economy?

UPDATE: The members of the New York Times editorial board are not wild about putting Geithner and Summers in charge:

As treasury secretary in 2000, Mr. Summers championed the law that deregulated derivatives, the financial instruments – a k a toxic assets – that have spread the financial losses from reckless lending around the globe. He refused to heed the critics who warned of dangers to come.

That law, still on the books, reinforced the false belief that markets would self-regulate. And it gave the Bush administration cover to ignore the ever-spiraling risks posed by derivatives and inadequate supervision.

Mr. Summers now will advise a president who has promised to impose rational and essential regulations on chaotic financial markets. What has he learned?

At the New York Fed, Mr. Geithner has been one of the ringmasters of this year’s serial bailouts. His involvement includes the as-yet-unexplained flip-flop in September when a read-my-lips, no-new-bailouts policy allowed Lehman Brothers to go under – only to be followed less than two days later by the even costlier bailout of the American International Group and last weekend by the bailout of Citigroup.

It is still unclear what Mr. Geithner and other policy makers knew or did not know – or what they thought they knew but didn’t – in arriving at those decisions, including who exactly is on the receiving end of the billions of dollars of taxpayer money now flooding the system.

Confidence in the system will not be restored as long as top officials fail or refuse to fully explain their actions.

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Yet another thread on Obama cabinet appointments (updated)

The more I think about it, the more I think Hillary Clinton should stay in the Senate. However, most analysts are speculating she will accept Barack Obama’s offer to become Secretary of State. Here’s a roundup of recent coverage on the appointment.

Tom Harkin thinks Hillary will be secretary of state, and he likes the idea:

Harkin said he was confident that former President Bill Clinton would not pose conflicts, as he’s agreed to make public the donors to his foundation and clear his travel schedule and speeches with the Obama administration, should his wife become secretary of state.

“If he’s willing to do whatever the Obama team and the president wants – and he should understand it, he’s a former president – that would be fine,” Harkin said.

He also said Obama naming her would be a demonstration of unity to the world. Sen. Clinton and Obama waged an intense, six-month campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination this year.

“I think it would send a good signal to the world if Hillary Clinton were secretary of state,” Harkin said. “The signal it sends to the world is we can have big fights politically here in the United States and yet after the election’s over, we pull together.”

Where does that leave Bill Richardson? I hope he ends up in the cabinet. UPDATE: ragbrai08 has heard rumblings Richardson might become Secretary of the Interior, which would be a decent fit for him.

Kia Franklin of the Drum Major Institute wrote an interesting piece on Eric Holder, the likely attorney general, and where he stands on civil justice issues.

John Crabtree of the Center for Rural Affairs blog offers “A Different View of [Tom] Vilsack,” the front-runner to run the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict when, where and from whom leadership will emerge. The book on Tom Vilsack is not complete, and perhaps that is a good thing. He does not get a perfect score on my litmus tests. But, when I disagree with him in the future I will continue to engage him, just as I always have, whether he is a private citizen or the Secretary of Agriculture. And he will engage me, just as he always has.

I hope that, at the end of the day, our next Secretary of Agriculture is the kind of leader that can help create a future for rural America with thriving family farms and ranches and vibrant rural communities. I believe Governor Vilsack can provide that leadership. Perhaps he just might get the chance.

James L. of Swing State Project is concerned that Obama might choose either Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin or Representative Collin Peterson for the USDA job. Both are from Republican-leaning districts that would be hard for a different Democrat to hold.

Obama supposedly was leaning toward offering the Commerce Department position to uber-fundraiser Penny Pritzker, but she withdrew her name from consideration.

Haven’t heard much about a possible secretary of transportation. Obama supports greater investment in core infrastructure as well as high-speed rail and public mass transit, so I am hopeful he will put someone with vision in charge of this department. The highway bill comes up for reauthorization in 2009 and is sure to be one of the major battlegrounds in Congress.

Still no word on a Treasury Secretary. Matt Stoller remembered another reason why Larry Summers is wrong for the job.

Most people seem to think Robert Gates will stay on as Defense Secretary. I don’t see why Obama can’t appoint a Democrat for that position. We have plenty of qualified people in our party. Keeping the Republicans in charge of defense supports their propaganda that the GOP is best for defending the country.

The Mayor of Miami, Manny Diaz, is being considered either for Transportation or for Housing and Urban Development. Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina is not interested in the HUD appointment.

Share your opinions or predictions in the comments.

UPDATE: Why does Obama want to reinforce Republican stereotypes about how they’re the only ones who can handle national security? Now General Jim Jones, a supporter of the Iraq War and John McCain, is tipped to run the National Security Agency. That is just crazy. Put some Democrats in charge, please. It’s not as if we don’t have people who could do this job well. I would not be surprised if Jones undermines Obama in this position.

UPDATE 2: The New York Times says Hillary Clinton will take the Secretary of State job.

Several news outlets are saying Timothy Geithner, about whom I know nothing, will be Obama’s Treasury Secretary nominee. Geithner is president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

NBC News says Bill Richardson will be Commerce Secretary. I don’t like him nearly so much for that job as I would like him for Secretary of State, Transportation, or Interior. Richardson’s a corporate Democrat, judging from his record in the 1990s. He ran the whip to get NAFTA through the House during Bill Clinton’s first term.

Still no progressives in Obama’s cabinet.

UPDATE 3: My brother, who works in the investment field and is much more of a moderate Democrat than I am, is “sick” about the prospect of Geithner running Treasury. His other comment about Geithner is not printable at this blog.

UPDATE 4: This is from a speech Geithner gave in May 2006:

Credit derivatives have contributed to dramatic changes in the process of credit intermediation, and the benefits of these changes seem compelling. They have made possible substantial improvements in the way credit risk is managed and facilitated a broad distribution of risk outside the banking system. By spreading risk more widely, by making it easier to purchase and sell protection against credit risk and to actively trade credit risk, and by facilitating the participation of a large and very diverse pool of non-bank financial institutions in the business of credit, these changes probably improve the overall efficiency and resiliency of financial markets.

With the advent of credit derivatives, concentrations of credit risk are made easier to mitigate, and diversification made easier to achieve. Credit losses, whether from specific, individual defaults or the more widespread distress that accompanies economic recessions, will be diffused more broadly across institutions with different risk appetite and tolerance, and across geographic borders. Our experience since the introduction of these new instruments-a period that includes a major asset price shock and a global recession-seems to justify the essentially positive judgment we have about the likely benefits of ongoing growth in these markets.

Despite the benefits to financial resilience, the changes in the credit markets that are the subject of your conference have also provoked some concerns and unease, even among those on the frontier of innovation and the most active participants in these markets.

These concerns are based in part on uncertainty-a candid acknowledgment that there is a lot we do not yet know about how these instruments and the increased role of nonbank institutions in these markets will affect how the financial markets are likely to function in conditions of stress.  […]

Let me conclude by reiterating the fundamental view that the wave of innovation underway in credit derivatives offers substantial benefits to both the efficiency and stability of our financial system.

Hmmm, he didn’t seem to have seen any of the current problems coming. Also, he apparently was involved in the bailout negotiations. So it seems like this is a very status quo pick for Obama.

On an even less encouraging note, Obama’s leading candidate to run the CIA is a “Bush-Cheney apologist.”

That’s not exactly “change we can believe in.”

UPDATE 5: Two people on Obama’s short list would both be highly competent and celebrated by progressives: Representative Raul Grijalva for Interior (he heads the House Progressive Caucus) and former Representative David Bonior for Labor (he has close ties to organized labor).

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