Barack Obama may have tough sledding ahead legislatively, as one-half of Congress slides over to GOP control. But Obama is no longer a senator from Illinois. He is president of the United States, a position with a vast authority all its own — if only he chooses to use it.
That’s according to one former top aide to the last Democrat to sit in the Oval Office.
“In the aftermath of this month’s midterm congressional elections, pundits and politicians across the ideological spectrum are focusing on how difficult it will be for President Barack Obama to advance his policy priorities through Congress. Predictions of stalemate abound. And some debate whether the administration should tack to the left or to the center and compromise with or confront the new House leadership,” says John Podesta, who served in the White House during Bill Clinton’s second term.
“As a former White House chief of staff, I believe those to be the wrong preoccupations. President Obama’s ability to govern the country as chief executive presents an opportunity to demonstrate strength, resolve, and a capacity to get things done on a host of pressing challenges of importance to the public and our economy. Progress, not positioning, is what the public wants and deserves,” adds Podesta, who was Clinton’s last White House chief of staff and today heads the left-leaning think tank, Center for American Progress.
Officials in the White House, from Obama on down, are looking at how to deal with newly-ascendant Republicans in the wake of the 2010 midterms. This will be particularly true once Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) takes over as speaker in January, as expected.
But whatever progress he can muster through the new divided Congress, the Constitution and the laws of the nation grant the president significant authority to make and implement policy on his own, Podesta argues. He made his case relative to a new, well-reported-on document released by his center titled, “The Power of The President.”
Obama’s authority can be used to ensure positive progress on many of the key issues facing the country through executive orders, rulemaking, agency management, convening and creating public-private partnerships, commanding the armed forces, and diplomacy, Podesta says.
“The ability of President Obama to accomplish important change through these powers should not be underestimated,” he says. “President Bush, for example, faced a divided Congress throughout most of his term in office, yet few can doubt his ability to craft a unique and deeply conservative agenda using every aspect of the policymaking apparatus at his disposal. And, after his party lost control of Congress in 1994, President Clinton used executive authority and convening power to make significant progressive change. For instance, he protected more great spaces in the lower 48 states than any president since Theodore Roosevelt, established for the first time significant protections for Americans’ medical privacy, and urged the creation of the Welfare-to-Work Partnership that enlisted the help of 20,000 businesses in moving more than 1 million welfare recipients into the workforce.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.