Congress should follow Obama's lead

Published: 11/26/2008 12:09 AM | Updated: 11/26/2008 12:10 AM

It is far too early to tell whether the moves Barack Obama is announcing to deal with the nation's economic crisis will work. In all likelihood, some will turn out to be brilliant, some will succeed moderately well and some will not live up to their promise. But that he is making them so swiftly and decisively is both an encouraging sign of things to come and an example of the behavior Congress should demonstrate in the waning days of this disastrous year.

Of course, a major concern in all this lies in the question of whether Obama means what he says - or whether he can achieve what he says.

Who, for example, would argue when the president-elect says, as he did Tuesday, "We cannot sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness or exist solely because of the power of a politician, lobbyist or interest group."

But as Obama must surely have seen even in just four years in the Senate, the power of certain politicians, lobbyists and interest groups can be daunting. The test of his leadership abilities may indeed take place even before he is ever sworn in - as Congress begins contemplating the practical meaning of the new president's words.

Yes, he has hedged his bets by acknowledging that budget cutting will have to come after the economy is buttressed with bailouts and economic stimuli. But come it must, and whenever Congress reaches its limit for doling out hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars, it also will face bills in the form of federal budget cutting that will demonstrate both the legislative and executive branches' commitment to changing the way Washington works.

Ironically, Obama needn't look far to see the potential political ramifications of the stand he is taking. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich - like Obama a Chicago Democrat - has railed through a term and a half against "business as usual" in Springfield government, and the effect of his rhetoric has been some of the most intransigent political gridlock the state has seen.

Illinois government is an excellent object lesson for the new president in how not to inspire change. But President-elect Obama is correct in observing that people are tired of political games and yearn for real, courageous leadership.

Many of his appointments so far in the battle for the economy have been greeted with praise and admiration from both parties. That's a good early sign. His eagerness to make them and get the machinery of economic change in place is encouraging as well. He has observed that the nation can have only one president at a time. But he is wisely using George Bush's lame-duck period to show Congress how he thinks government must act if it is to fix the economic mess.

"The old ways of Washington simply can't meet the challenges of today and tomorrow," he said Wednesday while introducing Peter R. Orszag as budget director and charging him with poring over spending to eliminate unnecessary programs.

Those are welcome words. Let's see how ready Obama's Congress is to put them into practice.