Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bay Area congressional Democrats eagerly await Obama's arrival in the White House

A Barack Obama presidency holds great promise for California's Democratic congressional delegation.

It virtually guarantees greater access to the White House for high-profile Californians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and veteran Rep. George Miller of Martinez, the powerful chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor and one the speaker's top advisers.

"California will absolutely have a greater voice in the Obama White House through its congressional delegation," said Bruce Cain, director of the UC Berkeley Washington Center. "Having a Speaker from California who relies very heavily on her caucus and people like Miller, who hold very important committee chairmanships, will increase the state's influence."

In contrast, Miller describes his eight-year relationship with Republican President George W. Bush's administration as one of closed doors, unanswered calls and veto threats.

"We will be partners with the Obama administration," Miller said. "I've already spent a long time talking to his campaign advisers and, now, that will all accelerate. ... This is a great opportunity."

Miller's agenda includes reforms to his original education legislation, No Child Left Behind.

He also wants to do more to make college affordable, pass middle-class tax cuts, guarantee equal pay for women and invest federal dollars in transportation and infrastructure projects that will create jobs and stimulate the Advertisementeconomy.

Unemployment continues to rise and more people lack not only jobs but health insurance, he said.

"When you talk to a cross section of economists, they tell us that we have no choice but to deal with these issues because everything will get worse for families if we don't," Miller said.

Not everyone views the Democrats' power trifecta — control of the presidency, House of Representatives and the Senate — with as much enthusiasm.

Eager Democrats could overwhelm Obama's presidency, warned California Republican Party Vice Chairman Tom Del Beccaro of Lafayette.

While Obama is unpacking his socks and figuring out how to run the White House, Democratic leaders "already know what they want and they are ready to go," Del Beccaro said.

"I think Obama will have a hard time constraining the agendas of the Nancy Pelosis and the George Millers, who will overreach into areas well beyond what the American public believed they would get when they voted for Obama," he added.

On the other hand, a dramatic leftward shift could help Republicans regain lost ground in the next congressional election, in 2010, when "the Democrats won't be able to blame the Republicans for the country's problems," Del Beccaro said.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, who's likely to be the next leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, said it's "a whole new ballgame" due not only to Obama's victory but also to nine new progressives elected to the House.

"Of course, one of the first priorities is an economic stimulus initiative," she said. "We've got to create jobs through infrastructure "... the green industry, the biotech industry."

She also noted Obama's support for a mortgage foreclosure moratorium, as proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus — which she and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Santa Rosa, have led for the past two years.

And beyond the economic issues, it's time to tackle energy independence, ending the occupation of Iraq and achieving affordable, accessible health care for all, Lee said.

"It's going to be hard; it's going to be a challenge — the last eight years under this administration have been pretty rough," Lee said. "But at least we have the political will in the White House now to get the job done."

House Strategics Forces Subcommittee Chairwoman and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, believes an Obama administration will make better use of the federal highway trust fund when Congress reauthorizes the national transportation spending plan next year.

"When we reauthorized the bill under Bush, we wanted to spend more out of the trust fund but his administration was using it to mask the size of the deficit to fund his tax cuts," Tauscher said. "Every $1 billion spent out of the trust fund creates 18,000 jobs in California."

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, said the economy will be "front and center," and everyone in the Bay Area delegation wants "to get us out of Iraq as soon as we can and cut down what we spend on those military adventures."

But as chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, Stark's personal priority will be "to shore up Medicare," he said. "We have to deal with paying the physicians more fairly and fixing the prescription-drug benefit."

He hopes this will help lay the groundwork for a universal health care plan that Congress can build according to guidelines set out by the Obama administration.

"I don't think it'll come rapidly, but I think we can spend the next two years trying to build a program we can afford and that will provide universal care."

In doing so, Stark said, it'll be nice to be working with "people who believe we should support this government program instead of trying to privatize it."

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