West Wing Briefing

Gulf oil test, bill passage give Obama a day to savor

President Barack Obama says BP's successful capping of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is "good news." But he cautions that testing continues to determine whether the temporary cap can stay in place and be used to permanently stop the flow of oil.
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2010; 1:33 PM

Thursday was, arguably, the best day of Barack Obama's presidency in many, many months.

For the first time in more than 12 weeks, oil stopped gushing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. And in a less-than-dramatic ending, the U.S. Senate gave final passage to Wall Street reform that had been proclaimed dead more times than health-care legislation.

Taken together, the twin victories provide a much-needed boost to a president who is increasingly viewed with skepticism by a public that once thought he could do no wrong.

But is the feeling fleeting?

It remained unclear Friday morning whether the jury-rigged cap at the bottom of the sea would hold long enough to allow the well to be permanently plugged. And testing had yet to conclusively determine whether pressure within the well would cause other leaks to spring.

"This isn't over," the president's man in the gulf, National Incident Commander Thad Allen, declared Thursday night.

If the effort fails, and oil begins flowing again, so will the gusher of political criticism aimed at the administration. And even with the oil stopped temporarily, the long-term cleanup and economic devastation threaten to dog the president's agenda for years to come.

And as for the sweeping overhaul of Wall Street regulations, it remains unclear whether his administration will have more luck selling its virtues than it has had with the massive health-care legislation it passed earlier in the year.

As with that overhaul, the new Wall Street regulations are a hugely complicated set of laws and rules that confound ordinary people. That leaves voters vulnerable to the political spin machines on both sides, which kicked into gear even before the final votes were cast.

Republicans sought to define the president's legislation as ineffective and a threat to lending and entrepreneurship. Moments after the bill's passage Thursday, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) called for its repeal.

"I think the financial reform bill is ill-conceived. I think it's going to make credit harder for the American people to get -- clearly harder for businesses to get," Boehner told reporters. "And the fact that it's going to punish every banker in America for the sins of a few on Wall Street, I think is unwise."

Democrats, by contrast, began the sales pitch they intend to make this fall to voters: The legislation proves that they stand with Main Street against the greed of Wall Street -- and that the GOP is on the other side of that line.

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