“Hope and Change” are finally coming to Washington, two years after President Obama promised them. The tone in our fair city changed this week, not just at the White House or in the Congress, but seemingly everywhere. Here's why:
- The departure of press secretary Robert Gibbs. The White House's “attack dog” announced his resignation this week in order to go on the speaker's circuit and become an outside adviser to the administration. While his replacement hasn't been announced yet, it's a good bet it will be someone more conciliatory to both the liberal base and the Republican opposition. Even though he's still behind the podium, it already seems as if the political back-and-forth is changing for the better. [Are you on the list? Explore the White House visitor log.]
- The appointment of Bill Daley as White House chief of staff. Republicans are saying even nicer things about him than Democrats are because he brings a business and political savvy to Washington that's been sorely missing. Predictions are that, as a former cabinet secretary himself, he'll include the cabinet in more decision-making—widening the circle around a very insulated and at times out-of-touch president. As former Chief of Staff Andy Card put it, Daley has “peripheral vision” in an administration known for tunnel vision.
- Defense spending cuts announced by Secretary Gates. His surprise announcement this week of a proposed $78 billion in cuts over the next five years shows that everything is on the table when it comes to reducing spending. While Gates is only slowing down the growth of the military budget rather than actually reducing it, it's a move in the right direction and a show of teamwork when it comes to reducing the debt. Who knows? Maybe the heads of Medicare and Social Security will follow suit next week.
- The reading of the Constitution on the House floor. Although Republicans thought of the idea, Congressmen and women from both sides of the aisle participated in the reading of our founding document from the well of the House. Even though some on the left dismissed it, I thought it was a great way of sending a unifying message about what's really important in the long run: adherence to our founding principles. [Read why learning the Constitution is essential for Americans.]
- Nancy Pelosi's final speech and John Boehner's first. Hers was long, self-serving, and not particularly gracious. His was short and humble. Best part of a great speech by the new speaker: "In the Catholic faith, we enter into a season of service by having ashes marked on our foreheads. The ashes remind us that life in all its forms is fragile— our time on this Earth, fleeting. As the ashes are delivered, we hear those humbling words: 'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.' The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people's House. This is their Congress. It's about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves."
- Good economic news. The week ended with an initial vote on healthcare repeal in the House, in which some Democrats joined the Republican majority in voting for the measure to move toward a final vote next week. A good bipartisan start, and perhaps repealing and replacing the bill will give some certainty to business this year. Add to that better-than-expected unemployment numbers for last month, and it's no wonder that President Obama told business owners that now is the time to invest. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the economy.]
If this first week of the year was any sign of things to come, maybe 2011 will bring better economic times and a lessening of the incivility and bitterness of the last two years. That's the kind of change everyone in Washington is looking for, and if we're lucky, we'll get it for the remaining 51 weeks of the year.
- Follow the money in Congress.
- Read why learning the Constitution is essential for Americans.
- Are you on the list? Explore the White House visitor log.