Cautiously Antagonistic

Obama wags the presidential finger and throws a bone to labor.

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A presidential scolding may pack even less legal authority than a signing statement. But President Obama’s characterization of $18.4 billion in Wall Street bonuses as “shameful” has snagged a lot of headlines today, including the lead story in the New York Times. This note of cautious antagonism, coupled with a new task force on the middle class, places the White House square in the populist corner as a new bailout season begins. It’s a strikingly different note for the president, so the week closes out with a 25 on the Change-o-Meter.

Overshadowing the confrontation today are more gloomy figures from the Commerce Department that show the economy shrank by almost 4 percent in the last three months of 2008. Obama referred directly to this news in remarks introducing a new Middle Class Task Force, to be chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, which will meet for the first time in a month. Until then, the meter is unmoved by the symbolism of the high-level task force. But it inches ahead 10 points for the three executive orders Obama signed today overturning Bush policies that were distasteful to labor unions.

Speaking of overturning Bush decisions and fighting for the people, the Senate passed its version of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which President Bush vetoed twice. The House has already passed a bill, so the final legislation is likely to arrive at Obama’s desk in the near future, good for another 10.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire is reportedly up for consideration for commerce secretary, the Cabinet post originally pegged for Bill Richardson. The prospect of his nomination is not very significant for its bipartisan-ness, since Obama already has Robert Gates and Ray LaHood in the defense and transportation posts, respectively. But if the Democratic governor of New Hampshire appoints a fellow Democrat to replace Gregg and Al Franken wins the dispute over the Minnesota seat, the Democrats would have 58 seats in the Senate. Add independents Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, and the president has a filibuster-proof majority. How’s that for irony: An act of bipartisanship in the Cabinet renders that virtue unnecessary in the Senate. For that speculative act of strategy, the Change-o-Meter, in its infinite wisdom, grants 5 points.

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