Let's Be Frank
You may have caught yesterday’s Associated Press item quoting several congressional Democrats (especially Congressman Barney Frank) as criticizing Barack Obama for not being more actively involved in the various federal bailout activities underway on Capitol Hill. In theory, Obama could use his press briefing outpost at the Chicago Hilton and Towers to more forcefully state his preferences on issues like how and whether to fund the auto industry bailout, as a sort of warm-up for ascending to the presidential bully pulpit. He could also hop on his cell phone to engage in the time-honored practice of jawboning key legislators into reaching some sort of compromise (provided they don’t hang up on him first). But given that he has resigned his U.S. Senate seat and won’t be inaugurated as the 44th president for another 46 days, there are real structural limitations on what he actually can do in the interim.
Obama has already moved his transition along faster and has been more visible than any president-elect in memory. He has also been careful to respect the constitutional reality that George W. Bush is still our sitting president. Even if Obama were to now hop on a plane for Washington, in order to personally interject himself into the negotiations, it is not clear to me that the mess could be cleaned up any more quickly before legislating comes to a screeching halt for the holidays. With a lame duck president and legislature, Obama is better off focusing on having his own stimulus package and any associated bailout measures lined up for passage in January and ready for his signature on the first day in office. It is really up to President Bush and the current Congress to figure out how to keep the various faltering industries and markets afloat until that day.

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