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Deal-maker Daley: Obama's Emissary to Boehner?

A Commentary by Michael Barone

Monday, January 10, 2011

"He possesses a deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy." That's what Barack Obama said as he announced the appointment of his new chief of staff, William Daley, before a crowd of admiring White House staffers.

It's not hard to understand Obama's reasons for choosing Daley. Businesses are sitting on $1 trillion in cash and refusing to make job-creating investments. They are spooked by the Obama Democrats' vast expansion of the size and scope of government and the prospects of ever more intrusive and expensive regulations being churned out by various federal agencies every day.

Obama hopes that the fact that Daley has held high-level jobs in the private sector will assure them that their fears are unfounded.

But when you take a look at Daley's resume, what you see are positions not in job-creating departments but at the intersection between private firms and governments. He headed a union-owned bank. He was on the board of Fannie Mae. He was a high honcho at the telecom SBC.

Most recently, he has headed Chicago affairs for JPMorgan Chase, whose CEO, Jamie Dimon, is the most politically shrewd of the big finance chief executives. In the financial turmoil of 2008, Dimon obtained Bear Stearns for a song and Washington Mutual at a favorable price. His bank unloaded mortgage-backed securities while Citigroup loaded up on them and, unlike Bank of America, didn't get saddled with the losses of Merrill Lynch.

Daley's public-sector jobs have also been located at the intersection of government and business. In his first term, Bill Clinton hired him to lead the lobbying for the North American Free Trade Agreement, and in his second Clinton appointed him secretary of commerce, where he also pressed for free-trade measures.

You can understand why he has been appointed to the boards of directors of Boeing (heavily dependent on exports and pro-free trade) and Abbott Laboratories (heavily dependent on intellectual property rights and government regulation). And why left-wing bloggers have been denouncing his appointment.

Actually, Daley's views and his background are not so very different from those of the first Obama chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who seems likely to be elected to succeed Richard M. Daley as mayor of Chicago in a few weeks. Emanuel famously recommended an incremental approach on health care; Obama decided to follow Nancy Pelosi's advice, with policy and electoral results that are well known.

The major difference between Emanuel and Daley is one of temperament. Emanuel is fiery, profane, intense; Daley is calm, gruff, matter-of-fact. In this, Daley -- whose appointment was announced Thursday -- resembles the man who was installed on Wednesday as speaker of the House, John Boehner.

There are more than a few similarities between these men who were born a year apart and grew up in the 1950s. They come from large Catholic families and were involved early in their (quite different) family businesses. They both speak in bluff tones in thick Midwestern accents. Neither pretends to be a profound political philosopher.

From my interchanges with them, infrequent but over the span of two decades, I've found that they both have good political judgment on both people and issues, including a keen sense of when their own side is about to get clobbered.

Boehner clearly understood that his party was headed for a thumping in 2006, when other House Republicans were professing optimism. Daley in a Christmas Eve 2009 article in The Washington Post argued that to hold onto their majority Democrats needed "to steer a more moderate course on the issues of the day, from health care to the economy to the environment to Afghanistan."

Daley and Boehner have not dealt much with each other in the past; Boehner was only a junior member when Daley was whipping votes for NAFTA. But it's not hard for me to see these two guys negotiating agreements on major issues.

On the debt ceiling, for example, Boehner has indicated that he knows it must be raised but that he demands spending cuts in return. He's obviously having trouble rallying Republican votes. Daley surely understands this and is capable of putting together a package of concessions on spending.

The question is whether Obama will approve. He clearly wants potential job creators to think he will follow the advice Daley gave 13 months ago. But he didn't follow it then. Will he now?

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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