Going to California

Obama takes his message to the West Coast while the administration ponders a controversial parliamentary move.

The ‘Meter hopes you were paying close attention in U.S. History 101, because what the Obama administration may attempt in order to get its 2010 budget through Congress was covered in “I’m Just a Bill.” President Obama receives a 10 on the Change-o-Meter.

The administration is reportedly considering a Senate measure known as “reconciliation” to slim down the margin of votes required for passage and cap the allowable debate from the normal eternity to 20 hours. Any mention of reconciliation is guaranteed to provoke outrage from the opposition party (and quite possibly the parliamentary fetishists in one’s own party). For a cautionary tale, see Joshua Green’s November 2006 profile of Hillary Clinton in the Atlantic, which includes (on Page 3 of 11) an account of how an attempt to pass the Clinton administration’s health care legislation via reconciliation, in early 1993, was killed by Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd. Senate Republicans are making the expected noises, as are a handful of Democrats.

The ‘Meter isn’t quite ready to join that chorus, however. Given that Congress passed last year’s budget only a few weeks ago—the deadline was October 2008—those senators who decry the attempt are not in the strongest position. The ‘Meter subtracts 10 points for the somewhat authoritarian and decidedly nonbipartisan strategy (which is still sketchy at this point), but that’s the extent to which it is prepared to side with the Senate on much of anything that involves the velocity of legislation.

Obama is going to California for a few town hall meetings, a visit to a factory, and a stop at The Tonight Show, the first sitting president to do so since John F. Kennedy. It may seem trivial, but the ‘Meter awards 10 points for this public strategy—unquestionably a change from the previous administration, which by the end was pretty much restricting its members’ appearances to American Legion and VFW halls. Obama clearly intends to use his popularity as a political tool for as long as possible. He gets another five points for landing California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as his warm-up act at one of the town halls.

Before he left for California, Obama told reporters that he wanted the American public to channel its seething anger over AIG bonuses toward constructive outlets. AIG CEO Edward Liddy wasn’t wanting of abuse after appearing at a Housing hearing. The president used the occasion to prop up his bruised treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, and say the right things about regulating the AIGs of the future. Five points for staying on a good message.There’s a lot to cover, so we want to hear your thoughts on what the Change-o-Meter should be taking into account. No detail is too small or wonky. E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.