Obama's First Victory on Capitol Hill

By Peter Roff Commentator/Former Senior Political Writer for United Press International

Barack Obama won his first victory on Capitol Hill Thursday by threatening his first presidential veto, even before being sworn in.

As FOX News reported, during congressional deliberations over the distribution of the remaining $350 billion in TARP bail out funds George W. Bush asked for, Obama indicated he too wanted the money. But as the law that created the bail out fund in the first place said, Congress had to first approve it.

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If Congress refused, Obama said it would provoke his first veto as president. Congress gave up the money.

As a matter of politics, this was strategically brilliant move on Team Obama's part, in line with the thinking that made him president-elect in the first place. If Congress had refused to release the TARP funds, one of Obama's first acts as president would have been a veto setting him apart from the Democrats in Congress. It would have told the public that things would, in fact, be different with him in charge, just like he promised during the campaign.

A presidential veto would have put Congress' lead Democrats -- Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, on notice that Obama plans was going to lead, not just sign the legislative compromises that Reid and Pelosi would work out between them, as some have suggested.

A veto right out of the box --we should still expect one -- might be shocking but would establish Obama's independence, something neither George W. Bush nor the Republicans in Congress managed to do until after it was too late. Rather than exercise strong leadership in public with his own party leaders, Bush adopted what some called the "big box approach." He would announce the broad parameters of what would be acceptable and then let Congress work out the details out of the public eye. As long as the final result was inside the box Bush drew, everything would be fine. They were all joined at the hip and, when they all fell, they couldn't get up.

Peter Roff, a former senior writer at United Press International, is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, an organization that advocates for educational freedom and reform.