Obama to lobbyists: Bring it on

OBAMA TO LOBBYISTS: BRING IT ON…. President Obama made a pitch for his budget proposal in his weekly address, and positioned himself nicely as “a threat to the status quo in Washington.” The NYT described the president as casting himself as “a populist crusader willing to do battle with special interests to expand health care, curb pollution and improve education,” and that sounds about right.

After touting the virtues of his plan — on taxes, energy, healthcare, and education — Obama acknowledged all of the many interests that aren’t going to be pleased: “I know that the insurance industry won’t like the idea that they’ll have to bid competitively to continue offering Medicare coverage, but that’s how we’ll help preserve and protect Medicare and lower health care costs for American families. I know that banks and big student lenders won’t like the idea that we’re ending their huge taxpayer subsidies, but that’s how we’ll save taxpayers nearly $50 billion and make college more affordable. I know that oil and gas companies won’t like us ending nearly $30 billion in tax breaks, but that’s how we’ll help fund a renewable energy economy that will create new jobs and new industries.”

And then the president’s rhetoric took on a more confrontational tone: “…I know these steps won’t sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they’re gearing up for a fight as we speak. My message to them is this: So am I. The system we have now might work for the powerful and well-connected interests that have run Washington for far too long, but I don’t. I work for the American people. I didn’t come here to do the same thing we’ve been doing or to take small steps forward, I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November.”

Works for me.

The “so am I” rhetoric is less than subtle. There’s going to be a fight over the direction of the country, and the president is signaling his intention to mix it up a bit. This is a different message than the one preceding the debate over the economic stimulus, and may reflect the White House’s judgment that the administration was not as aggressive as it could (should?) have been in mounting a defense.

It also reinforces a subtle point from Obama’s address to Congress this week, pre-emptively tackling the arguments likely to come from detractors. By characterizing his opponents — not Republicans, but special interests — as agents of the status quo, the president is laying the groundwork for the rest of the debate. When we hear conservative talking heads on the cable channels, we’re supposed to see them as “the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business,” while Obama and his allies are delivering on much-needed change.

The president seems to like his chances. Stay tuned.