Obama team forges alliances in Congress

  • Article by: JANET HOOK and CHRISTI PARSONS , Los Angeles Times
  • Updated: November 27, 2008 - 7:54 PM

Rahm Emanuel and Tom Daschle are using their strong connections to grease the skids for an aggressive agenda.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, center, stood with former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, left, and Richard Parsons, both chosen to serve on the president-elect’s Transition Economic Advisory Board.

Photo: Doug Mills, New York Times

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WASHINGTON - As chairman of his party's congressional campaign committee, Rahm Emanuel helped scores of current House Democrats win their seats. When Tom Daschle was the Senate Democratic leader, he funneled more than $1 million to a new generation of lawmakers seeking office.

Now, as key members of President-elect Barack Obama's incoming administration, Emanuel and Daschle are using their clout to help build sturdy bridges between the White House and Congress, coordinating their plans well before Inauguration Day.

That effort could produce a remarkable result: Democrats may try to pass an economic stimulus bill before Obama takes office Jan. 20 and have it on his desk to sign immediately. Typically, a new Congress spins its wheels for weeks after convening in early January while awaiting the arrival of a new president.

"We don't intend to stumble into the next administration," Obama said this week. "We are going to hit the ground running. We're going to have clear plans of action."

To that end, emissaries of the president-elect are meeting with the heads of every congressional committee. Emanuel, who will be Obama's chief of staff, has been dispatched to the Capitol. Obama, who is running the transition from his home base in Chicago, has been working the phones.

When Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., won a bitter contest last week to become the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Obama called his cell phone to congratulate him. Almost every day, top Obama aides contact House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, where Emanuel and others on Obama's team have long-standing relationships with her chief of staff, John Lawrence.

"We can speak in political shorthand," Lawrence said. "Conversations can be short and direct. We have a no [deception] zone in the relationship."

The incoming administration also has made an effort to reach across the aisle. Emanuel met with House and Senate Republican leaders last week. Obama has consulted with Republican lawmakers about his economic plans.

Members of Congress and their staffs say the Obama team has been engaged in fact-gathering on the Hill as much as seeking support for its own agenda. That stands in marked contrast to the approach of Obama's Democratic predecessors.

Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter identified themselves as Washington outsiders, coming to the capital from Southern statehouses and having few connections to the Washington establishment. Their top White House appointees came from their home states of Arkansas and Georgia, respectively.

Even though Democrats dominated both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue under Clinton, relations were so sour that the House did not give so much as a subcommittee vote to his signature health care initiative. And his 1993 budget passed by the narrowest of margins. Two years into the Clinton administration, his party lost control of Congress.

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