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The Next 100 Days

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Post asked former officials, strategists and others for their thoughts on the next phase of the Obama administration. Below are contributions from Allan J. Lichtman, Thomas A. Daschle, Alan S. Blinder, Meghan O'Sullivan, Martin Neil Baily, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Wolfowitz, Kathleen Dalton, Elaine L. Chao, Robert Shrum, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Ed Rogers and Paula J. Dobriansky.

ALLAN J. LICHTMAN

Author of "The Keys to the White House" and "White Protestant Nation"; history professor at American University

Forget about the first 100 days of a president's term. Since Franklin Roosevelt established that artificial benchmark in 1933, newly elected presidents have accomplished more in their second 100 days than in their first.

Dwight Eisenhower signed the armistice ending the Korean War on July 27, 1953. Ronald Reagan steered his landmark 25 percent across-the-board tax cuts through Congress on Aug. 4, 1981, and George W. Bush gained passage of his signature $1.35 trillion tax cut on May 26, 2001.

It takes time for a president to put his team in place, formulate policies, steer legislation through Congress and conduct foreign negotiations. Roosevelt, in 1933, was the last president inaugurated on March 4, rather than Jan. 20, which gave him an additional six weeks of preparation time.

President Obama accomplished much in his first 100 days. He won congressional approval of his budget and a $787 billion stimulus bill, and he changed policy on stem cell research, abortion, the environment, labor rights and national security through executive orders.

Obama will be more sternly tested in his second 100 days, when Congress considers proposals for overhauling financial regulations, fixing the health-care system and controlling global warming, arguably humanity's greatest challenge. He will face intense opposition from interest groups and cannot presume unified Democratic support or cooperation from Republicans.

Obama will not enact his full agenda during his second 100 days, but he needs to make significant progress. In foreign policy he needs to show results from controlling nuclear arms, negotiating with Iran and expanding a dubious war in Afghanistan that could become his Vietnam. Check in again on Aug. 6.

THOMAS A. DASCHLE

Former Senate majority leader (D)

The president has assembled a world-class Cabinet and a dynamic White House staff. He has been deft in handling the financial crisis and showed true leadership on the global stage.

The next 100 days may be even more critical and productive as the president's legacy on health-care reform is likely to be written. Unfortunately, working legislative days will be limited, and the list of demands for his attention will continue to grow. But health-care reform will happen only if the president is directly, personally and wholeheartedly active in this effort. It is critical that he bring stakeholders to the table and keep pressure on everyone, including all members of Congress, to work together. He must cajole, educate, persuade and negotiate. Only he can engage the entire country in this fight.

ALAN S. BLINDER

Former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors; member of President Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers; professor of economics at Princeton University

Much of what will occupy President Obama's time during his second 100 days is unpredictable. But the banking crisis will soon grab the headlines again. On May 4, Day 105 of the Obama presidency, America will learn the "stress test" results for 19 top banks. With that announcement, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and, by implication, Obama will start tiptoeing through financial and political mine fields.

Up to now, Treasury has been vague about what happens next, other than saying that public capital will be provided as necessary. As necessary? Hazards abound. If the authorities announce very small capital needs, markets may scream "whitewash," conclude the government has lost touch with reality, and panic. But if regulators announce huge capital needs, markets may conclude the problem is worse than they thought, see the needs as overwhelming the Troubled Assets Relief Program, and panic. Even if the Treasury and the Fed somehow thread the needle, the bank-by-bank specifics are likely to roil markets. And did I mention that getting Congress to vote more money for bank "bailouts" won't be easy?

Which brings me to a tremulous prediction: that sometime within the second 100 days, Geithner will return to Congress asking for precisely that.

MEGHAN O'SULLIVAN

Lecturer in public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government; former deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan

On foreign policy, the big takeaway from the first 100 days is that diplomacy will be the meat and potatoes of the Obama administration. While some are quick to point out the hazards of showing a friendly face to nasty regimes, many Americans, and much of the world, have welcomed President Obama's overtures to the unsavories of the international system.

Now, however, the onus shifts from changing the tone to advancing U.S. interests -- a more difficult goal. As we are already starting to learn, a new desire on our part to engage others does not ensure that others are so keen to engage us. Even tougher will be figuring out just what the United States is willing to put on the table in any negotiation. For example, to what extent is America willing to institutionalize the regional role Iran covets -- and how will Israel and the Arab world view any such concession? And all these engagements are interwoven. It is no coincidence that North Korea has backed away from six-party talks that give it no rights to even civilian nuclear power just as the United States is signaling its willingness to discuss a range of potentially more lenient options with Iran.

Robust diplomacy will be necessary to solving the panoply of problems facing the United States. But we might consider launching such engagements not through handshakes and apologies but by making bold statements that actually strengthen our capacities. For instance, President Obama might declare that America intends to open embassies in every country with which the United States has interests. Such a move would underscore our intention to rely on diplomacy -- but it would also give us the ability to learn more about the countries with which we can expect to be involved in high-stakes negotiations.

MARTIN NEIL BAILY

Senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers from 1999 to 2001

President Obama's confidence and capabilities have brought a new tone to Washington, but over the next 100 days he must bring greater focus to economic policy. The economy will register another sharp fall in the first quarter of this year and is likely to decline further in the second. If the pace of decline eases, then he should resist calls for additional fiscal stimulus because the budget deficit problems are huge. If the economy is still in freefall in the second quarter, then there is no choice -- the president has to get more money into the hands of consumers quickly in the form of tax rebates.

For the economy to make a successful transition from decline to sustainable growth, the financial sector also must be repaired. That will require more money -- at least $200 billion and maybe as much as $500 billion. Going to Congress for additional funds for the banks is political poison, but it is a choice the president has to make. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is twisting into a pretzel finding a way to fix the banks without going back for new money. Maybe it will work; maybe it won't. But the risks are too high. The president should ask the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to give it to him straight: How much will it take to fix this problem? Then he should go to Congress and ask for that amount, plus something extra . . . just in case.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI

National security adviser in the Carter administration

President Obama should soon begin to translate into tactics and strategy his ongoing conceptual revolution of U.S. foreign policy.

That revolution has been ambitious in scope, especially when set against the background of the past eight years. During that time, the quest for peace in the Middle East stagnated (and in recent weeks Gaza experienced the most painful bloodshed), relations with Iran became more poisonous, the war in Afghanistan was ignored, Pakistan's political crisis was intensified by the strangely conceived attempt to promote Benazir Bhutto over Pervez Musharraf, the chill with Moscow became a freeze despite official claims of "the best relations with Russia ever," and the United States' stature in Latin America shrunk. Our European friends watched all this with dismay.

Through his statements Obama has started to redefine the basic concepts that guide U.S. foreign policy. But to change actual policies he will have to make specific decisions, with the assistance of his top foreign policy team, regarding how to proceed, at what pace, how to overcome various obstacles and with what sense of urgency to act. He will also have to deal with maneuvers from the secondary levels of his administration and from Congress to water down his goals and slow his efforts. The usual arguments that "the time is not ripe" for this or that will be raised; efforts will be made to attach conditions and time limits on the negotiations he favors to make certain that the negotiations remain fruitless; congressional resolutions to restrict his freedom of action will burst forth. And so on.

That is when President Obama, still commanding high popular support, will have to demonstrate why he was elected. I think he will.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ

Former president of the World Bank; deputy defense secretary in the George W. Bush administration; visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute

President Obama's election sent a powerful message about the openness of American society, and his eloquence can do a lot to improve the way the world views the United States. His travels in his first 100 days have further enhanced his popularity abroad. Now he should use that popularity and eloquence to address some fundamental foreign policy challenges.

The president should use his popularity to convince our European allies that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and support for terrorism are truly dangerous. He should use his eloquence to explain to the people of Pakistan that our policies there advance common interests, not just our own. He should reassure the people of India that we have not forgotten India's importance as the world's largest democracy. He can speak up forcefully for the rights of women and advance the cause of freedom. And by explaining clearly to the American people the need to sustain the burden of long-term commitments to protect our fundamental interests, he could build the confidence of those whose help we need but who may doubt America's staying power.

The whole world would benefit if President Obama used his remarkable talents not so much to apologize for America's past errors but to rally people of good will to the difficult task of building a prosperous, peaceful and tolerant world.

KATHLEEN DALTON

Author of "Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life"

President Obama enters his second 100 days with an advantage over many previous occupants of the White House. He insists upon keeping his eyes on the prize -- the big issues of governance that helped get him elected.

Many presidents quickly lose their sense of political direction. The distractible Bill Clinton got derailed by the explosive issue of gays in the military, which savvy conservatives threw in his way early on. Likewise, Jimmy Carter lost hold of party unity while micromanaging the White House tennis court schedules.

What are the potential distractions out there now? Although questions about torture prosecutions are in the news, the quagmire of Afghanistan and the dangers in Pakistan are more likely to give Obama what Lyndon Johnson got -- a foreign mess to ruin even the best domestic agenda. Moreover, presidential focus can be especially difficult during hard economic times, which tend to bring out unruly and irrational forces. Think of how Roosevelt had to face down demagogue Huey Long, pitchfork anarchists and would-be anti-government conspirators.

But Obama brings to the job a fierce determination unequaled in recent presidential history. He plans to fight hard to win universal health care, clean energy and education reform. And, so far, he is undaunted by critics and crazies alike.

ELAINE L. CHAO

Labor secretary from 2001 to 2009; distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation

In the next 100 days, President Obama can change the perception that his only approach to governing is strictly more spending, taxes and bureaucracy. He could start by becoming the champion of small enterprises. While media attention is on big corporate bailouts, most Americans work at small companies, many of them "mom and pop" enterprises. Stimulating their growth through targeted tax relief and less punitive bureaucracies would position them to lead America out of this recession. Conversely, higher taxes, enterprise-strangulating bureaucracies and trade protectionism will keep America's historical job-creating engine sputtering.

As the president is making the federal government do more, he should also direct it to do better and with less. At the Labor Department from 2001 to 2008, we cut discretionary spending while achieving record improvements in worker safety and health. Enforcement was coupled with compliance assistance to protect workers and help employers avoid violating federal regulations in the first place. If the president can solve the equation of the government doing more, better and with less, then he will truly be a transformative leader.

To do so, he needs to break out of the liberal box in which trillion-dollar deficits don't matter, taxpayers are a bottomless well and employers are the enemy. The president can't put everyone on the federal payroll. It is the private sector's success or failure -- especially the fate of small enterprises -- that will determine whether the Obama administration is judged a success.

ROBERT SHRUM

Democratic strategist and senior fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service

The next 100 days will be a more critical test for Republicans than for the president. Obama has won the confidence of Americans, with a record rise in the number who believe at this point in a new administration that the country is moving in the right direction. So the second 100 days is the GOP's second chance to be relevant.

The issue will be health care. The president will reach across the aisle again -- because he prefers a bipartisan solution and because it's smart politics. The Republicans will have room to negotiate, but not dictate. They'll have to accept some form of public insurance as one of the options in the final health-care legislation. If they refuse, reform is likely to pass by the "reconciliation" process, which bypasses the need for 60 votes to proceed in the Senate. If that happens, the Republicans, who have often used the process in the past, will cry foul and claim "socialism" -- to no avail. All they will do is position themselves as anti-health-care while cementing their reputation as the party of "no."

DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN

Former director of the Congressional Budget Office; senior economic adviser to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign

New administrations get a few free passes in their first 100 days, and this one has gotten more than the usual -- a "stimulus" behemoth, children's health legislation and others.

Now what? Shepherding appropriations bills through Congress. Tackling the mismatch between spending appetites and gas taxes in a new highway bill. Funding a modernization of the Federal Aviation Administration. Preserving defense spending cuts against powerful parochial interests in Congress. Not very sexy stuff. But the biggest fights in Washington often are over the smallest dollars, so this brings the challenge of keeping the administration agenda -- in this case health, immigration, environment, energy and education -- from foundering as Congress becomes enmeshed in the day-to-day.

Even on the bigger stuff, some repairs are needed. The Obama campaign was distinguished by its ability to quickly clean up any missteps. Will the Obama administration be able to keep President Obama consistent in his view of the economy -- instead of shifting nearly daily from prophet of catastrophe to market-timing investment adviser to sunny optimist? Will it alter course on a budget submission that is dangerous and reckless?

ED ROGERS

White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; chairman of BGR Group

President Obama and his allies have proven that they can spend taxpayer dollars like none before them. The most doe-eyed in the media and in the punditocracy have declared this a meaningful accomplishment. In fact, he hasn't done anything difficult so far.

Over the next 100 days the ownership of our problems will begin to pass to Obama, and the biggest challenge will be reconciling the president's leftist agenda with our economic realities. Obama says he didn't create our problems, but that doesn't mean he can ignore them or that he won't pay a price when things get worse. Cap-and-trade that will increase power bills, taxes that will increase gasoline costs, health-care plans that will produce shortages and increase costs -- in the best of times these plans would depress manufacturing, cost jobs and increase the deficit.

Already, even his most ardent defenders blushed at his demand to cut $100 million from his $3.5 trillion budget. We can really cut the budget by reducing the number of government employees and by limiting entitlements. Does anyone think Obama will do either? We could grow our way out of the deficit if we had a few years of 4 percent GDP growth. Does Obama have a pro-growth plan? Does he even want it to happen?

And by the way, Afghanistan is getting worse, Guantanamo prisoners may be coming to a home near you, Hugo Chávez better return the favor, the administration's leaks to smear Jane Harman will bloom into a real scandal, Iran's centrifuges are spinning faster, Kim Jong Il is emboldened, the Rattner matter will not go away, GM and Chrysler bankruptcies will not be flattering, and blaming Bush will not produce enough of a distraction.

PAULA J. DOBRIANSKY

Undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs in the George W. Bush administration; senior fellow at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

The Obama administration has asserted that strong international partners make for a strong America. However, American leadership on democracy and human rights remains essential. In the next 100 days, the administration must properly balance realism and idealism in its foreign policy. Strength without astute diplomacy is not a viable strategy. This administration, which has placed a premium on multilateral engagement, has an opportunity to clarify its policies on democracy promotion through its own initiatives and by supporting other country's efforts.

President Obama has identified Afghanistan and Pakistan as a top priority and increased U.S. troop levels. To foster stability in the region, our military efforts must be complemented by a robust strategy of economic and civil society development. We should press global partners that are reluctant to shoulder a greater military burden to focus on promoting entrepreneurship, the rule of law and human rights -- and demonstrate our continued commitment to these issues.

In July, Portugal will host the Community of Democracies Ministerial, bringing together a network of democratic countries to assess the state of global freedom. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should attend and embrace the efforts of countries such as Hungary, which created the International Center for Democratic Transitions; India, which has contributed significantly to the U.N. Democracy Fund; Mali, which has spearheaded work on democracy and development; and Chile, which assisted in the launch of the OAS-AU democracy dialogue. Her participation would reaffirm our support for the leadership of our friends.

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