8 a.m. ET: In his 2000 campaign, Al Gore famously railed against "powerful forces and powerful interests [that] stand in your way." President Obama may not be quite the populist Gore was, but his administration's current frontal assaults on Wall Street and the health-insurance industry make clear that Obama sees similar political value in an "us vs. them" argument.
The Obama administration's "pay czar," Kenneth Feinberg, is earning his own pay, putting out word that he will cut the compensation packages of "25 of the most highly paid executives at each of five major financial companies and two automakers," the Washington Post writes. The broad politics of this issue appear to be in the White House's favor. (On CNN Thursday morning, the story began: "It's payback time for fatcats.") Team Obama believes the new rules will send a message to firms that taking the bailout money means they need to change their culture. Critics argue that the pay cuts will have the perverse effect of making the weakest financial firms even weaker, as the most-qualified Wall Street executives will flee for more successful companies that won't be operating under any salary restrictions.
The Wall Street Journal reports, "An executive at one of the seven companies under Mr. Feinberg's authority said the terms came as a shock, especially because they changed so suddenly. The compensation restrictions 'were clearly much worse than what had been anticipated.'" Politico says the administration "is making a frontal assault on Wall Street’s gold-plated compensation culture at a time of growing public anger over the firms’ massive pay and bonuses," and notes that the decision comes just as the White House is pushing back against industry lobbying on the regulatory reform package currently moving through Congress.
Picking up on the theme of a different Politico story from Wednesday, Lamar Alexander got some play for accusing Obama of compiling an "enemies list." Evidence that the Obama administration is doing anything comparable to what the Nixon administration did seems scant, but Alexander's terminology was enough to draw attention in the right (also, Right) places. The Washington Times headline: "White House makes 'enemies' of Bush allies." And Fox News Channel wonders whether it's on this theoretical list.
On the Hill, Bloomberg writes, "The House prepared to attack health insurers on two fronts, with Democrats seeking to pass the strongest form of a U.S. government-run insurance plan and a panel voting to strip the industry’s antitrust exemption." The odds that the antitrust change would actually become law still appear steep, but Democrats in Congress -- with the Obama administration's tacit approval -- clearly wanted to send the industry a strong message. Is the American Medical Association also getting Democrats' message? Harry Reid's attempt to "fix" Medicare's payment system for doctors for the next 10 years went down to an unexpectedly strong defeat Wednesday. Afterwards, Reid said that he expected the doctors group to deliver more than two-dozen Republican votes for the measure, none of which actually materialized.
Also bubbling in Congress -- the second stimulus that Nancy Pelosi won't call a stimulus. Newsweek writes that Pelosi "proved again today that members of Congress are no strangers to euphemizing," as she "tiptoed around" what the proposed package of additional spending would be called. After the Speaker met with a group of economists, Roll Call writes, "Pelosi said among the items discussed were a host of extensions to expiring provisions in the earlier stimulus bill including a housing tax credit and unemployment insurance, 'an array' of programs offered by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), a push for more infrastructure spending by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.), and new tax breaks for businesses."
In Afghanistan, signs appear to point toward a deal where the top two election finishers govern together. "The United States built pressure on Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday, signaling that a troop increase could hinge on a successful runoff election and that the Obama administration would be receptive to a power-sharing deal between Karzai and his chief rival," the Associated Press writes. The problem with a runoff, the Wall Street Journal points out, is that "U.S. and European officials fear that the massive fraud that marred the election's first round could happen again -- and that the Taliban, who tried to disrupt the Aug. 20 election with a series of deadly attacks, will unleash even greater bloodshed." It remains unclear whether Obama will wait until after the new government is firmly in place before he announces the new U.S. strategy for the conflict. In an interview with NBC News Wednesday, Obama said, "I think it is entirely possibly that we have a strategy formulated before a runoff is determined. We may not announce it." Shockingly, Dick Cheney is not a fan of Obama's approach to Afghanistan, saying Wednesday, "The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger."
From Vienna comes word that "Iranian negotiators have agreed to a draft deal that would delay the country’s ability to build a nuclear weapon for about a year, buying more time for President Obama to search for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear standoff," the New York Times writes. The draft deal is somewhat close to what the Obama administration had been seeking, the Washington Post reports, though "up until Wednesday, the talks teetered between stalemate and collapse."
October 22, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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