obama administration

Jack Reed’s thoughts on Panetta, Petreaus and the wars

April 28th, 2011 at 2:46 pm by under Nesi's Notes

As I mentioned yesterday, Jack Reed won’t be President Obama’s next secretary of defense – the job is going to CIA Director Leon Panetta. Over at the CIA, Panetta will be replaced by General David Petraeus, who carried out President Bush’s surge in Iraq and is currently in charge of the military campaign in Afghanistan.

Thanks to his defense-policy cred, though, Reed has popped up a few times today in stories out of Washington reporting on the changes inside Obama’s national security team (which also includes Rhode Island native Tom Donilon).

The most interesting quote is probably the one Reed gave to The New York Times for its story describing the choices of Panetta and Petreaus as another sign of how the roles of soldiers and spies have become blurred over the past decade:

A succession of wars has strained the ranks of both the Pentagon and the C.I.A., and the United States has come to believe that many of its current enemies are best fought with timely intelligence rather than overwhelming military firepower.

These factors have pushed military and intelligence operatives more closely together in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“In the field, there is a blurring of the mission,” said Senator Jack Reed, a senior Rhode Island Democrat on the Armed Services Committee who served as an officer in the 82nd Airborne Division. “Military operations can buy time to build up local security forces, but intelligence is the key to operations and for anticipating your adversary.”

(The Times’ Caucus blog ran an old picture of Reed with Petreaus, too.)

Then in The Washington Post, Reed offered a favorable comparison between Panetta and outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates – who stayed on when Obama succeeded Bush due in no small part to Reed’s efforts:

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also likened Panetta to Gates. “They’re both thoughtful, serious individuals who are committed to public service and who ask the right questions,” Reed said in a telephone interview.

Reed said the Senate would confirm Panetta quickly, despite his limited familiarity with military programs. “The one thing that he has, based on his experience and history, is good judgment,” the senator said. “He doesn’t have to be a master military technologist.”

Reed told The Providence Journal’s reporter in Washington, John Mulligan, that both personnel picks were good ones, because of Panetta’s expertise on intelligence and budgets and Petreaus’ knowledge of the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan:

As CIA chief, “Leon has operational knowledge of intelligence worldwide that is very critical at this juncture,” Reed said, referring to such military commitments as the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the completion of operations in Iraq and the U.S.-European involvement in the Libyan conflict.

Rhode Island Democrat Reed added that Panetta’s experience as former President Bill Clinton’s budget chief will be valuable “at a time when one of his main challenges as secretary of defense” will be to curb military spending. …

Reed, a former Army officer who is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Petraeus “a superb professional with a great intellect and great character” who already has a deep understanding of intelligence issues from his experience as U.S. commander in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reed also pointed out to Mulligan that he was “always accurate” when he said he had no personal interest in taking the helm at the Pentagon.

The last quote isn’t from Reed but rather about him, and it ran in Politico:

Members of Congress, even prominent Republicans, hailed Panetta’s nomination, but some defense experts think his ability to persuade GOP lawmakers to accept painful cuts could be exaggerated. “If you want to cut the defense budget, the technical accounting side is in some ways simpler than the political side,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t think Panetta buys you that much by way of the politics of cutting the defense budget. … There are a lot of people I can think of — Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman … Jack Reed — who would have more credibility on assuring hawks that cuts are being done carefully.”

RI’s Donilon one of two ‘most influential’ with Obama

April 27th, 2011 at 7:00 am by under Nesi's Notes

Rhode Island native and La Salle Academy grad Tom Donilon became President Obama’s national security adviser last December – just in time to play a key role in formulating the administration’s response to the crises in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Arab world.

But even before he was elevated to Condi Rice’s old job, Donilon had already emerged as one of the president’s most trusted advisers on foreign affairs, The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza reports:

After the Inauguration, the realists began to win that debate [between them and the idealists] within the Administration. The two most influential foreign-policy advisers in the White House are Thomas Donilon, the national-security adviser, and Denis McDonough, a deputy national-security adviser. Donilon, who is 55, is a longtime Washington lawyer, lobbyist, and Democratic Party strategist. …

The National Security Council is a bureaucracy that helps the President streamline decision-making, and Donilon seems to have thought extensively about how that system works. Like the President, he values staff discretion. His rule for hiring at the N.S.C. is to find people who are, in his words, “high value, low maintenance.” Obama’s N.S.C. adopted the model of the first Bush Administration. …

One of Donilon’s overriding beliefs, which Obama adopted as his own, was that America needed to rebuild its reputation, extricate itself from the Middle East and Afghanistan, and turn its attention toward Asia and China’s unchecked influence in the region. America was “overweighted” in the former and “underweighted” in the latter, Donilon told me.

Lizza’s lengthy piece is well worth a read for its up-close view of the sometimes chaotic way Obama’s foreign policy has evolved, particularly for its insights into the role Hillary Clinton played, the process that led to Mubarak’s ouster, and the way we backed into military action in Libya.

(photo: Pete Souza/The White House)

US Supreme Court takes up Obama vs. RI case today

April 19th, 2011 at 9:54 am by under Nesi's Notes

Will the Supreme Court side with Barack Obama or Rhode Island? That’s the question before the court today, as the justices hear oral arguments in American Electric Power v. Connecticut.

Rhode Island is one of the states that joined Connecticut in accusing the EPA of failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and suing to force five major power companies to cut emissions. Republican governors in New Jersey and Wisconsin pulled their states out of the suit after they took office.

The Obama administration has sided with EPA and the power plants, not the states, and the seven-year-old dispute will go before the high court today, The Associated Press reports:

The [Obama] administration is siding with American Electric Power Co. and three other companies in urging the high court to throw out the lawsuit on grounds the Environmental Protection Agency, not a federal court, is the proper authority to make rules about climate change. The justices will hear arguments in the case Tuesday.

The court is taking up a climate change case for the second time in four years. In 2007, the court declared that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. By a 5-4 vote, the justices said the EPA has the authority to regulate those emissions from new cars and trucks under that landmark law. The same reasoning applies to power plants.

The administration says one reason to end the current suit is that the EPA is considering rules that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. But the administration also acknowledges that it is not certain that limits will be imposed. …

When the suit was filed in 2004, it looked like the only way to force action on global warming. The Bush administration and the Republicans in charge of Congress doubted the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. …

Federal courts long have been active in disputes over pollution. But those cases typically have involved a power plant or sewage treatment plant that was causing some identifiable harm to people, and property downwind or downstream of the polluting plant.

Global warming, by its very name, suggests a more complex problem. The power companies argue that any solution must be comprehensive. No court-ordered change alone would have any effect on climate change, the companies say.

(photo: Steve Petteway/Supreme Court, via Wikipedia)

Today marks the first anniversary of – ‘Chafeecare’

March 23rd, 2011 at 12:54 pm by under General Talk

A year ago today, President Obama signed the late U.S. Sen. John Chafee’s health care reform plan into law.

Sure, most people know the legislation as the Affordable Care Act – or, in less supportive circles, “Obamacare.” But when you get away from all the partisan bickering over the law, its actual nuts and bolts bare a striking similarity to the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993, which the Rhode Island Republican proposed during the heat of President Clinton’s fight over health policy.

Don’t believe me? Check out this Kaiser Health News chart comparing John Chafee bill’s with competing Republican and Democratic proposals from 2009. As Kaiser’s Maggie Mertens pointed out in a February 2010 interview with one of Chafee’s co-sponsors, former Sen. Dave Durenberger of Minnesota:

In fact, the key provisions in the Chafee bill may seem familiar, as they bear a strong resemblance to those in the current Democratic Senate bill, and now in President Barack Obama’s proposal. A mandate that individuals buy insurance, subsidies for the poor to buy insurance and the requirement that insurers offer a standard benefits package and refrain from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions were all in the 1993 GOP bill.

Durenberger says the reason many of these ideas have been shunned by today’s Republicans, even called unconstitutional by some, is that political times have changed. “The main thing that’s changed is the definition of a Republican,” he said.

The bill Chafee crafted wound up being Democrats’ last, best hope for passing something comprehensive by the summer of 1994. “I trust John Chafee,” Sen. Ted Kennedy told fellow Democrats even as the legislation’s prospects dimmed. In the end, though, his bill died along with every other effort to pass major health legislation during that Congress.

Chafee’s ideas didn’t die, though – his top health policy aide, Laurie Rubiner, went on to work for Hillary Clinton, helping shape the health plan that Clinton unveiled during her presidential campaign – which also influenced Obama’s.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, an authority on all things congressional, emphasized the link between Chafee’s proposal and Obama’s amid the long legislative battle of 2009-10. “It is basically a marriage between Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts-care, and even more the John Chafee-David Durenberger-Chuck Grassley-Bob Dole alternative of 1993-’94 built around managed competition,” he told PBS’s Charlie Rose. (Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar were also Chafee co-sponsors, at least initially.)


Rumor mill keeps Reed in defense secretary mix

February 28th, 2011 at 9:41 am by under General Talk

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he will step down at some point before the end of this year – and no matter what he says publicly, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed apparently hasn’t convinced insiders to stop suggesting he could be Gates’ successor.

The latest example comes from Politico, which throws Reed into the mix today:

The information vacuum has created a standing game of defense secretary roulette in Washington’s national security circles, where almost any potential name can seem like a sure thing or a long shot, depending on the day and the person offering it. One roster of potential candidates includes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said she is not interested; Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent; Sen. Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat; Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy; Navy Secretary Ray Mabus; and John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former deputy secretary of defense in the Clinton administration.

But just because some people are floating Reed’s name doesn’t mean he’s looking to take the job. The senator, who usually brushes aside these reports, said as much in September, the last time I asked him about SecDef rumors:

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed has ruled out becoming President Barack Obama’s defense secretary once and for all – not that he ever said anything otherwise.

“I am committed to serving the people of Rhode Island as their senator, and, as such, I am not interested in being Secretary of Defense,” Reed said in a statement sent to Eyewitness News a short time ago.

(A Beltway-based Nesi’s Notes reader pointed out to me that if Reed became defense secretary and Tom Donilon continued as national security adviser, La Salle Academy would be more or less singularly responsible for America’s national defense.)

RI may get many more Race to the Top chances

February 16th, 2011 at 11:00 am by under General Talk

Lots of people in Rhode Island rejoiced last August when the state won $75 million in extra federal education money through the Obama administration’s high-profile Race to the Top competition, which awards funding based on whether state-level school policies are brought in line with federal priorities.

Race to the Top’s success in getting state and local governments to quickly enact new policies encouraged by the federal government has led others to suggest expanding the program to other areas.

For example, a New York Times op-ed last fall suggested a Race to the Top for state pension systems that would “strike a grand bargain with city and state pension funds: in exchange for capping their liabilities and adopting better management practices, they could cover their costs through tax-free, federally guaranteed securities.”

I’ve always thought that was an interesting idea – money talks in politics, so tying policy changes to funding would seem to have potential, particularly in these straitened fiscal times. I’d imagine a potential windfall of $4.4 billion (or $4.7 billion, or $6.6 billion) to close the state pension fund’s shortfall would get the General Assembly’s attention pretty fast.

And apparently I’m not the only one thinking that way. The Washington Post’s liberal policy blogger Ezra Klein reports that President Obama’s proposed budget for 2011-12 includes a whole bunch of additional competitive programs along the same lines:

There’s a $200 million Race to the Top program “for communities to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure and remove regulatory barriers.” There’s a $32 billion Race to the Top program in the transportation space to “create incentives for States and localities to adopt critical reforms in a variety of areas, including safety, livability, and demand management.” There a $120 million Race to the Top grant “that rewards States for tangible improvements in juvenile justice systems.” There are new Race to the Tops for early-learning, higher education and job training. There are Race to the Tops everywhere.

Congress would need to sign off on any of those new Race to the Tops (as well as continuing the original one). But it’s something to keep an eye on.

Betaspring gets some love from Obama administration

February 1st, 2011 at 2:53 pm by under General Talk

You’ve come a long way, Betaspring.

The Providence-based startup accelerator was founded just two years ago by local tech all-stars Owen Johnson, Allan Tear and Jack Templin. (Templin was just nominated to the EDC board by Governor Chafee.) Now it’s one of the organizations included in the new TechStars Network launched this week as part of the White House’s Startup America initiative.

Here’s some of what I wrote about Betaspring for PBN back when it was getting off the ground:

Betaspring is, formally, a micro-seed venture capital fund – meaning the firm will provide small loans, averaging $20,000, to early-stage startup companies. But its organizers say what is equally if not more important about Betaspring is its plan to offer young entrepreneurs an intensive, 12-week mentoring program to help them get their new business off the ground.

“Our goal is to start a lot of companies, and start a lot of companies fast,” said Allan Tear, Betaspring’s managing partner and a prominent Providence-based technology consultant. “We have to have a critical mass of startups here in Providence.”

To create that critical mass, Betaspring is following an approach pioneered by similar firms like Y Combinator, in California’s Silicon Valley, and TechStars, which Tear credited with turning Boulder, Colo., into a startup haven, and which recently expanded to Boston. Although the founders hope to attract participants from the tens thousands of students here, the program will be open to entrepreneurs from all over the country.

Update: Jack Reed is excited about Betaspring’s high profile, too.

The senator issued a statement this afternoon praising the White House for including Betaspring in the Startup America initiative. Reed’s office also offered some details on what exactly Startup America is going to do:

“It’s good news for our state that Betaspring was chosen to be a part of this new national network of start-up accelerators. This is a great way to translate big ideas into action and a smart investment in encouraging the private-sector to spur job growth here in Rhode Island and across the country,” said Reed. “Bringing together this innovative network of private companies, universities, and investors will help foster collaboration and share best practices.”

The Startup America Partnership will commit $2 billion in matching grants from the Small Business Administration (SBA), along with matching funds from private foundations and big technology companies such as IBM and Intel, to provide early stage investments in companies with high growth potential.

It actually sounds sort of like what Rhode Island’s own Slater Technology Fund does.

Report: Obama eyed RI’s Tom Donilon for CoS

January 27th, 2011 at 10:48 am by under General Talk

Donilon in the Oval Office last year

Last fall, President Obama tapped Rhode Island native and La Salle grad Tom Donilon as his new national security adviser.

But according to New York magazine, administration officials considered giving Donilon an even more powerful gig – White House chief of staff – during the search for Rahm Emanuel’s replacement. Here’s the relevant excerpt (emphasis mine):

Yet for all this, [Bill] Daley was not the first person considered to replace Emanuel. The outgoing chief of staff himself initially pushed hard for Ron Klain, Joe Biden’s chief, to succeed him, but the idea faced internal opposition. Tom Donilon, then deputy national-security adviser, was in the mix, until Obama decided to name him Jim Jones’s heir. Daschle, Panetta, and Podesta were all floated, but Obama preferred to confer the interim title on Rouse—telling him that, in the end, he might ask Rouse to accept an upgrade.

As the story notes, the job eventually went to Bill Daley, a J.P. Morgan executive and longtime Democratic Party powerbroker.

(photo: Pete Souza/The White House, via Wikipedia)

RI on track to regain lost jobs by October … of 2045

January 27th, 2011 at 10:00 am by under General Talk

If there was one thing that surprised me about President Obama’s State of the Union speech, it was how little he talked about unemployment.

While he did acknowledge the existence of the problem, Obama didn’t lay out any specific plan or strategy for creating more jobs in the short term; the speech was about “winning the future,” and it focused on long-term priorities like boosting K-12 education and R&D investment.

That sounds good, no doubt about it. But the need to prepare for the future doesn’t obviate the need to deal with the present – and the present is an incredibly weak labor market, especially in Rhode Island. Here’s a chart I had in mind as I read the speech while waiting for Obama’s arrival in the House chamber:

The number of jobs on Rhode Island payrolls bottomed out during the floods last April. But at the rate we’ve been going since then – an average of 112.5 jobs added a month – the state will not regain its previous employment peak until October 2045. That’s not a typo.

Now, I don’t think it’s actually going to take 34 years for the state to make up for all the jobs swept away by the Great Recession. But I do think it’s easy for those of us who are gainfully employed – a group which includes policymakers – to lose sight of the sheer scale of job destruction that took place over the last four years. It’s just astonishing.

Obama’s critics may say there’s little the federal government can do to boost employment, but that’s not really my point; Obama does believe the federal government can help, yet his speech offered no concrete proposals to assist states like Rhode Island, Nevada and California dig out of the hole they find themselves in.

Administration officials are depending on an uptick in the pace of economic growth to help bring down unemployment all across the country. Let’s hope their optimism is warranted this time around, because judging by Obama’s speech they don’t have a “Plan B” – and Japan-style stagnation would be even worse for Rhode Island than most other states.

State of the Union will showcase ‘Obama 2.0′

January 24th, 2011 at 11:15 pm by under General Talk

44 gets advice from 42, Dec. 10

WASHINGTON — From the sounds of it, tomorrow’s State of the Union will mark the launch of “Obama 2.0.”

With Republicans in control of the House and job growth still anemic, administration officials have been telling reporters the president will use the big speech to set the tone for the second half of his first term – and his 2012 reelection campaign. “The United States is going to have to ‘out-innovate,’ ‘out-compete’ and ‘out-educate’ other nations,” the president declared last weekend, and he will lay out his strategy for doing that in tomorrow’s address.

On the flight down here, I read two long articles that together do a good job putting the past, present and future of the Obama administration in perspective.

The first is “The White House Looks for Work,” a New York Times Magazine article by Peter Baker that takes a close look at how infighting and forecasting misfires hampered the administration’s economic strategy over the past two years. The second is “The West Wing, Season II,” a New York magazine article by John Heilemann that examines the pluses and minuses of Obama’s leadership style and previews the next phase of his presidency.

Obama’s success or failure politically – like Chafee’s – is inextricably linked to the fate of the economy, which is why I think you need to read both articles, one emphasizing economics and one emphasizing politics, to really get the full picture of where things stand for the Obama presidency.

So there’s your homework. See you in the morning on Capitol Hill.

(photo: Pete Souza/The White House)