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Domestic Adviser May Play Greater Role Under Obama

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By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

During her tenure as executive vice president of the Center for American Progress, Melody C. Barnes once described her work this way:

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"It's all about changing the world, changing the country," she told C-SPAN's Brian Lamb last year, "helping the American public realize what it means to have a progressive America, to hear the other side of the debate that we think that they've been missing for a long time."

Barnes is now taking that passion to a new stage. President-elect Barack Obama named her yesterday to head the White House Domestic Policy Council, a job that makes her the president's top adviser on a wide range of issues.

"We know that rebuilding our economy will require action on a wide array of policy matters -- from education and health care to energy and Social Security," Obama said, announcing Barnes's appointment in Chicago yesterday. "Without sound policies in these areas, we can neither enjoy sustained economic growth nor realize our full potential as a people."

The domestic policy adviser is a role that had relatively little influence in the Bush administration. But with the nation's economy foundering, Obama has outlined an economic stimulus plan that he said will feed into his larger goals of expanding health-care coverage, increasing education opportunities and laying the foundation for a "green" economy. Much of that work will fall into Barnes's White House portfolio.

For the Richmond native and University of Michigan Law School graduate, the appointment to the White House post is the latest step in a career amid politics that started when she was an 8-year-old selling cupcakes to raise money for Sen. George McGovern's ill-fated presidential campaign.

Barnes is co-director of the Agency Review Working Group for the Obama transition team. She served as a senior policy adviser during Obama's campaign. Before that, she was at the Center for American Progress, the research group founded by John D. Podesta, the former Clinton administration official who is heading Obama's transition efforts. She also spent eight years as chief counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Barnes has a reputation as a pleasant but firm presence who is well versed on policy issues. "The integrity quotient goes up any time she walks into a room," said Jennifer Palmieri, a senior vice president at the Center for American Progress. "She is a terrific person to lead a policy process because she is grounded in policy and understands how to manage a group of people and keep them on track toward a goal."

While at the center, she helped launch its Initiative on Faith and Public Policy. Friends call Barnes's Christianity an animating force in her life.


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