The Thanksgiving holiday is over and Congress is back to work this week with a lot to accomplish in a very short amount of time.
This lame duck Congress and the president have until 14 December to reach a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff – unless of course the leadership wants to extend their actual work session and cut into their precious holiday break.
It seems like the election may have had a real affect on the general attitude here in Washington.
Many are hopeful that those who were defeated or are retiring from Congress will find the courage to do what is required.
Republicans know that many of the Tea Party Members who simply refused to legislate and reach any compromise will be gone.
They also know that they were trounced – President Obama and the Democrats won handily so they must compromise.
The Democrats also know that the electorate voted for a divided government – which means they are also expected to compromise and cut a deal as well.
If the Congress cannot reach agreement the sequestration – across the board cuts in all government spending – will automatically occur and the Bush tax cuts will also expire on 1 January 2013.
The combination of these two events could be deadly to the delicate US economic recovery and send the US back into recession.
If the legislators fail to deliver this time it could mean an immediate financial crisis and a further downgrade and erosion of US credibility in the international financial marketplace.
Key players on both sides are making all the right gestures, sending a message that they are willing to compromise and legislate.
Some top Republicans – like Senators Saxby Chambliss and Lindsay Graham – have gone out on a limb to say they are willing to violate their no new taxes pledge.
This is the pledge that has been signed by 250 Republicans in the House and Senate (under the threat of loosing their jobs).
The pledge is the tool the notorious tax hawk Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform has used to keep a stranglehold on Republicans and prevent them from agreeing to raise taxes in any form whatsoever.
On the other side, key Democrats are also entertaining the concept of entitlement reform – Medicare and Social Security.
Some here in DC think the president and the leaders of both parties should sit down together and see the movie Lincoln for a lesson on how to legislate and get difficult things done – which may include some real horse trading, compromise and ego sacrificing!
While the focus on Capitol Hill may be avoiding a US-Global financial catastrophe, taking place simultaneously is president Obama’s challenge to fill his second term senior cabinet posts and get those positions confirmed by the US Senate.
This week president Obama is expected to begin naming his second term cabinet – putting an end to the most popular inside the beltway parlour guessing game for good.
Secretary of State
The most difficult appointment, it seems, is the replacement for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton is clearly a hard act to follow especially with the current problems in the Middle East and elsewhere.
A swift decision and speedy Senate approval is crucial under the latest circumstances.
President Obama has more than floated UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s name as a replacement.
This possible choice has become something of a lightening rod since most Republicans (and even some Democrats) think she was less than forth coming in her statements regarding Benghazi.
It remains to be seen whether Obama wants to waste his just gained political capital on this rather difficult appointment while needing all of his bargaining power to challenge Congress to come up with a compromise to avoid the eminent fiscal cliff.
Other possible names floating around for the nation’s top diplomatic post include Sen. John Kerry – Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who really wants it – White House national security adviser Thomas Donilon and deputy secretary of state William Burns.
Even ‘Explainer-in-Chief’ and Obama’s top campaign surrogate Bill Clinton’s name has been mentioned in some circles.
Other cabinet positions that need to be filled:
Secretary of Treasury
Timothy Geithner has announced he does not plan to stay on.
Possible Replacements – Jack Lew – White House chief of staff and former OMB director, Kent Conrad – chairman of Senate Budget Committee who is retiring from the Senate and Erskine Bowles – former Bill Clinton White House Chief of Staff and the co-chair of the Simpson Bowles Commission.
Secretary of Defense
Leon Panetta has not announced that he is leaving however, there is widespread speculation he plans to step down from his job across the Potomac at the Pentagon.
Possible replacements – Michele Flournoy – former Obama administration undersecretary of defense for policy and Obama 2012 campaign policy advisor; Ashton Carter – deputy defense secretary and senator John Kerry.
Director of CIA
David Petraeus’ untimely resignation has resulted in an unexpected opening here.
Possible replacements include – Michael Morrell – acting CIA director; John Brennan – president Obama’s chief counter terrorism advisor; and an interesting choice, Republican congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Secretary of Commerce
This spot is open and is currently filled by acting secretary Rebecca Blank (who could be a replacement); Fred Hochberg – president of Export-Import Bank; Jeffrey Immell – ceo of General Electric; Ron Kirk – US trade representative; and Penny Pritzker – close Obama friend and major financial supporter and surrogate for Obama Campaigns in 2008 and 2012, Hyatt Family heiress and successful Chicago businesswoman in her own right!
Director of Office of Management and Budget
This spot is open and currently filled by deputy director Jeff Zients.
Possible replacements are Jack Lew, white house chief of staff; Doug Elemendorf, director of Congressional Budget Office; Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and Bill Clinton, senior financial advisor.
Obama’s other cabinet level appointments are expected to stay on at least for a while into the second term including attorney general Eric Holder.
This post also appeared on Sky News.
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