Power Play

Chicago Style White House; Budget Hawks Fly High; Steele a Softy

Daley Pick Would Close Chicago Loop in White House

"I'm not going to comment on personnel speculation.”

-- White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to FOX News on reports that President Obama is in discussions with William Daley to join his administration.

One Daley brother helped give rise to the political career of Barack Obama, and now another could have the chance to sustain it in troubled times.

The Obama administration has sent up a flurry of trial balloons on the possible selection of William Daley to replace Rahm Emanuel as permanent chief of staff. The move would replace the guy running to be the mayor of Chicago with the brother of the current mayor of Chicago. How’s that for diversity?

The highest floating trial balloon was launched in this morning’s New York Times, which reports that Obama discussed the chief of staff job with William Daley, former commerce secretary under Bill Clinton and younger brother of six-term Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, “around the holidays.”

It’s still kind of around the holidays, so, presumably, these are fresh negotiations.
The reaction to the Daley leaks has been interesting to watch.

William Daley is a pro-business Democrat who has been critical of his party’s efforts on health care and other issues. He has been a fixture on corporate boards since leaving government in 2000 and currently holds the title of “Midwest chairman” for megabank J.P. Morgan Chase.

Labor unions and liberals who fear Clintonian triangulation are not happy to hear that the replacement for Emanuel, the left’s prime target inside the first iteration of the Obama White House, would be replaced with another Chicago politician of the corporatist variety.

Neither does it help the president with his base that Clinton veteran Gene Sperling seems to have the inside track as Larry Summers’ replacement as head of the National Economic Council, or that Clinton era deficit foe Jacob Lew has returned as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Moderates are taking heart from the news, since the Daleys represent the fullest flowering of the idea that government and business can be partners, not adversaries. Liberals and conservatives agree that the public and private sectors are in competition. The Chicago ways suggests that the two spheres can help each other.

That certainly seems to be in line with the president’s approach so far of singling out companies that he thinks are desirable partners, like Google or General Electric, for praise while simultaneously scolding industry at large for being greedy or irresponsible.

But what is remarkable here is how closed off this suggests the Obama administration is. Chiefs of staff are, by the nature of the job, the ultimate presidential insiders. But to draw two top administrators from the same small pool of Chicago politicos is remarkable.

Obama has spent little time in Chicago as president, perhaps wanting to steer clear of a city and state where Democratic politics imploded in scandal shortly after his departure. But the selection of the youngest son of the city’s most powerful political machine as his right hand man would certainly be a strong reminder of the political world from which Obama arose as a state senator.


GOP Gains Leverage in Budget Battle

“That would require very large layoffs or furloughs of federal employees, as well as big reductions in grants to state and local governments and government purchases of goods and services — all of which would offset a good portion of the stimulus achieved in the tax compromise and threaten the recovery.”

-- James Horney of the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities to the New York Times denouncing the Republican plan to cut domestic spending by $100 billion this fiscal year.

It’s not for nothing that Republicans are making one of their first orders of business in the House to slash their own legislative budgets to the bone, cutting their own costs by more than $35 million a year.

Austerity is all the rage in a House Republican caucus. With lots of worry in GOP circles about the mistakes of the Gingrich/DeLay-era House, excess and lavish living are about as common in the new Republican caucus as at a gathering of Presbyterian preachers.

The one freshman member, Rep.-Elect Jeff Denham (R-CA), to hold a swell fundraiser at the W Hotel just across from the White House is getting the cold shoulder for his glamour affair, starring county music sex symbol LeAnn Rimes.

An aide to one freshmen member told Power Play that the Wednesday night party was “the last place” his boss would be seen.

Speaker-to-be John Boehner has railed against the big spending, secretive practices of previous congresses, Democrat and Republican, that folks are starting to actually believe that he may actually make appropriations tougher and public scrutiny of Congress easier.

This is all part of the run up to the big fight of the next six weeks – a House Republican proposal to cut government spending to 2008 levels. It would amount to a 20 percent budget cut from the current continuing resolution funding the government.

Republicans are looking to quickly establish their own credibility for cutting before they start getting accused of heartlessness for trying to cut government spending for widows, orphans, the halt and the lame.

Looming ahead in about May is a vote on whether to increase the federal debt ceiling beyond the current $14.2 trillion limit. While Republicans are hoping to save the fight on that one, the debt ceiling vote may be the biggest piece of leverage Republicans have in exacting spending cuts from the Senate and getting President Obama to sign off.

While Obama’s team is trying to say that the debt ceiling is a non-negotiable issue, we know from the lame duck that the president does do deals with hostage takers.

The argument from Republican leaders is that if they can get some meaningful spending cuts now, it will greatly enhance the chances for a broadly supported debt-ceiling vote. 

Remember, Democrats will not be happy about a debt vote in which they are most of the majority in favor of upping the limit. They want broad bipartisan support in order to take the issue away as campaign commercial fodder next year.


Steele Pulls Punches in RNC Debate

"My record stands for itself. We won."

-- Republican Nation Committee Chairman Michael Steele defending his reelection bid at a debate hosted by the Daily Caller and Americans for Tax Reform.

The Michael Steele who showed up at the debate with the four challengers looking to knock him off was kind and conciliatory, not the Hotspur who landed himself so many times in rhetorical trouble during his tenure. A Steele insider had even promised Power Play that there would be blood.

What gives?

The same insider said that Steele was ready to unload on his challengers but that since none of them went on the attack, the embattled chairman held his fire. “He wasn’t provoked,” said the Steele booster, who warned that the chairman would save his choice words for a later date.

The net effect was a 90-minute gabfest that seemed unlikely to change the outcome of next Thursdays’ election among the committee’s 168 members.


Dems Toy With Filibuster Changes

“I don’t think any of us think that it’s beyond the possible that the Democrats can be in the minority in a couple of years. That’s why this effort is a pretty modest one.”

-- Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) to Politico discussing proposed changes to the rules governing filibusters.

In answer to liberal demands that the 60-vote threshold for controversial legislation in the Senate be reduced to a simple majority, a gaggle of Democratic senators have proposed a rules overhaul.

The proposal is that Democrats should use the so-called “nuclear option” and employ a procedural tactic to end the 60-vote requirement with a 51-vote majority.

Democrats employed a similar end around in order to enact President Obama’s national health-care law, the now famous “budget reconciliation” process.

That was a one off affair that Democrats said was no different than the GOPs use of the practice to enact the Bush tax cuts. 

What’s being talked about here would shatter what little collegiality remains in the Senate.

It would be total war.

With 23 seats up in 2012 and the prospects for a Republican majority growing, moderate Democrats are unlikely to go along with such a drastic option. Some effort to change filibuster rules, perhaps, but not a reversal of nearly 40 years of established practice.

Current rules say that a filibuster is maintained when any member threatens one and at least 40 of his colleagues support his effort. A new rule might require members to be present for the duration or some other impediment to the no-pain filibuster measure.

But the idea of giving Senate majorities the same kind of absolute power enjoyed by those in the House seems unlikely to advance. After all, moderate Senators like how hard it is to bring legislation up for votes as it protects them from making difficult votes.


Drilling Permit Fight Part of Larger Battle

"For those companies that were in the midst of operations at the time of the deep-water suspensions, today's notification is a significant step toward resuming their permitted activity."

-- Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, in a statement.

The Obama administration has cleared the way for work to resume on 16 petroleum wells in the Gulf of Mexico that was already underway when the President imposed a strict ban on deepwater exploration.

The move is in answer to a chorus of complaints from the Gulf coast about the economic effects of the ban on the already hard-hit region. 

The move to free the handful of projects underway was met with grudging gratitude from the region and the oil industry, which are still clamoring for the permit process to begin anew.

And its not just in oil. The process for coal mining permits has all but stopped under the Obama EPA and natural gas drillers say they are being held back too.

The administration’s effort to hold back energy permits will prove more politically palatable when gas is $3 a gallon than if it is $5.


And Now, A Word From Charles

“The Republican have to be careful here. In the end, the debt limit will be raised. You can't not pass it. It is catastrophic. It means American debt is in question. It can't happen.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.