Now… Eleven Executive Priorities for Obama

Before the election I wrote ten reasons why I would vote for Obama. I can think of at least eleven high priority, executive actions he should take now that he’s been elected.

The job before Obama is as complex and daunting as any President has faced since FDR. A global economy in crisis, two wars, a resilient radical Islamist threat… throughout the world America’s hard power is stretched too thin, and our soft power is deeply eroded.

Here at home, he faces a workforce still not ready for a flat world, an abysmal secondary education system, millions of American’s without health care, a looming energy crisis and a country conditioned to distrust each other over “wedge issues”.

Many of the things on this list may be naive and wishful thinking… and ideologically drawn from the left and the right. But these are my “armchair quarterback” executive actions the new chief executive for America should take:

Immediately convene an economic council with people like Buffet, Bloomberg and Volkner… even Paulson. Critically review the recent bailout… it’s only been a few weeks, but it’s not too soon (or too late) to correct course. Fix the unintended consequences of the bailout (i.e. lenders that didn’t get low cost cash have slowed their lending because they can’t compete at the cost of money).If the government is going to inject more capital into the credit markets, it should spur entrepreneurship and small business and jobs (i.e. loans for equipment and short-term capital needs of companies, and pump up the SBA lending programs).

Close Gitmo and stop extraordinary rendition. America’s actions will speak much louder than words. Make a clear and undeniable statement on torture. Align the State Department to rebuild America’s soft power. Challenge the world and rebuild the coalition against terrorism, and reach out with real diplomacy.The world was united after 9/11 to neutralize this threat… the Madrid train bombings, July 7 London attack, Russian school massacre… terrorism was not just America’s problem. But we squandered the coalition by focusing on Iraq, and a new call to arms is needed.

Critically review the overhaul Bush did on our intelligence agencies, and what’s left undone. We created a Director of National Intelligence in 2004 to serve as the head of sixteen different intelligence agencies within the US government… did it work? Is there better information, cooperation and effectiveness in this community?

As Commander in Chief, tell the American people what clear strategic objectives you’ve given your generals. Retain Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense… he’s a good man, and an effective manager. He’s also probably closer to your point of view than his current boss. Colin Powell is a suitable alternative. Accelerate the reorganization of the military to be leaner and more agile. Decapitate (again) a resurgent Al Qaeda, make a priority of capturing Bin Laden in Afghanistan or Pakistan or wherever these leaders are hiding. Draw down forces in Iraq. Use the same scheme of bribes to local warlords to surgically fight in Afghanistan (and acknowledge the best we can probably achieve is a friendly dictator and beholden local tribe leaders).

Challenge the country to energy independence within 10 years, and fund a Manhattan Project-style initiative for science and technology research that tackles the energy and climate change issues that are too costly for private enterprise. Private sector investment into these areas is much different than we saw with information technology… it costs more and takes longer for real results.

Embrace federalism through your policies and positions, but not through unfunded mandates. Open and maintain a regular, direct, executive-to-executive dialogue with the governors’ offices. Bring the National Guard home and reaffirm the role of governors in deploying this force, especially for the emergencies that may happen in the homeland. Restructure the education department to fund block grants to the states and spur higher standards, more creative education methods, more free market influence in secondary education, and better pay and more accountability with teachers.

Health care should be a right in this country, and every American should have access to quality care. You said during the campaign that single payer was probably not practical, so let’s not waste time on a grandiose, big government solution. There’s a raging crisis in Medicaid, where the federal government requires states to provide health care insurance to the poor, but only picks up 60% or the cost. 53 million Americans receive Medicaid at a cost of $300 billion a year. Costs are spiraling and states are cutting their budgets, and Medicaid is untenable. Reform it, and expand its availability. Let the states administer universal health insurance for the poor, but give them the resources to do it. Provide tax credits to businesses that pay health care costs for low wage earners.

Use the overwhelming influence you’ve cultivated with young people in this country for a renewed call to service… expand on Jim Webb’s Veteran’s Education Assistance Act, making military service a good deal beyond a patriotic duty. Radically grow Americorp and renew the partnering commitment to non-profit organizations, public agencies and faith-based groups. Today 70,000 people join AmeriCorp each year; you should make it a goal of your Presidency to dramatically increase the opportunities for service to our country.

As Vice President Al Gore tried a National Performance Review of the government, and an effort to reduce bureaucracy, inefficiency and waste. That was a job left undone, and the size of government has ballooned again. Waste is rampant, especially after a Bush administration dominated by lobbyist and populated through cronyism. Appoint a new czar, state a goal to cut 15% or 20% of waste from the bureaucracy and hold your Cabinet responsible for cleaning house. You can do this… no one will ever see it coming from a Democrat.

One man’s pork is another man’s road, bridge or school. An omnibus appropriations bill from Congress needs the President’s executive leadership, and an administrative focus on the real infrastructure needs of America, another good chance to work with governors. The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act you sponsored in the Senate is a start, but the country needs even more visibility into spending priorities and projects.

Put forth a conservative balanced budget; temper Congress, especially from liberal excesses. Set the tone with Congress that America will not tolerate a far left agenda, and that the party in power today must be more responsible, more sane and ultimately more conservative than the administration that is exiting. This Congress could waste a lot of time settling scores, prosecuting an administration that broke the law (war crimes and other), and bickering. Or it can chart a sane course, and manage the government in a more responsible way. The latter is what will keep them in power, and move the country forward.

Get started with these executive initiatives, and maybe in his second term we can tackle tax reform. 🙂

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