Obama: More School, Less Power

The president rolls out an education-reform proposal and forswears signing statements—mostly.

Obama scores points for a bold proposal for education reform and a promise of a little self-restraint when it comes to executive power. In the Senate, unruly Democrats stall a $410 billion homework assignment that was due last October. Meanwhile, the Chinese are taunting America in their underwear in the middle of the ocean. (Seriously.) Coming down from yesterday’s all-time high, Obama scores a 37 on the Change-o-Meter.

Obama rolled out his plans for education reform Tuesday, which include longer school days and merit-based pay for teachers. The proposals will doubtless draw ire from teacher unions, a group that traditionally has had a hand on the steering wheel of the Democratic agenda. For continuing to challenge this powerful interest group for the sake of an effective education system, the ‘Meter gives Obama 30 points.

What’s more, in a memo released by the White House Monday, Obama pinky-swears that he will limit his use of signing statements, a favorite trick George W. Bush used to negate or weaken sections of legislation. While Obama said that he plans to use the statements the way the Constitution prescribes, the ACLU et al. are calling foul and insisting he end the practice altogether. As for the ‘Meter, it is awarding 15 cautious points but reserves the right to yank them back the moment Obama slaps a politically charged Post-it on a bill.

On Capitol Hill, senators on both sides of the aisle are squabbling over the details of the $410 billion spending bill that combines last year’s leftover spending bills. Majority Leader Harry Reid had egg on his face after failing by one vote to end debate on the bill—a vote that belonged to New Jersey Democrat Robert Menéndez, who takes issue with the bill’s softened stance on Cuba. Senate bickering is old hat, but in-party fighting isn’t something Obama factored into his change equation. The Change-o-Meter deducts five points.

And on the high seas, a Chinese provocation of a U.S. surveillance ship ended with Chinese crewmembers stripping down to their skivvies as they were hosed down by their American counterparts. Maybe this sounds like fun to you, but the Pentagon is pissed—the Americans were spraying the Chinese ship because it was cruising too close—and it has filed a formal complaint to China’s military attaché. The bizarre incident reeks of déjà vu, suggesting that China has adopted a permanent policy of testing the mettle of new U.S. presidents using weird military maneuvers. Unlike some other countries, China doesn’t seem sold on the change Obama brings, so the ‘Meter docks another three points.

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.