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John Podesta

A senior progressive strategist and former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton who specializes in the use of executive authority to bypass Congress is reportedly joining the White House.

The New York Times is reporting John Podesta, founder of the Center for American Progress, has agreed to serve as counselor to President Obama for a year.

Podesta last month announced the establishment of a new group, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, that will work within his Center for American Progress. The new center bills itself as a research and grant-making organization founded to accelerate the closing of what it calls the income gap in the U.S. by fighting so-called income inequality.

The Times reported Podesta will help the White House on “matters related to the health care law, administration organization and executive actions,” with particular focus on so-called climate change issues, according to a person familiar with the plans.

Podesta is a long-time champion of the use of executive powers, including bypassing the legislative branch to enact progressive change.

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In November 2010, he co-authored a 48-page Center for American Progress paper titled “The Power of the President: Recommendations to Advance Progressive Change.”

“The U.S. Constitution and the laws of our nation grant the president significant authority to make and implement policy,” wrote Podesta in the paper’s introduction.

“These authorities can be used to ensure positive progress on many of the key issues facing the country through executive orders, rulemaking, agency management, convening and creating public-private partnerships, commanding the armed forces … diplomacy.”

Podesta stressed: “The ability of President Obama to accomplish important change through these powers should not be underestimated.”

In a conference call to reporters after the release of the paper on executive authority, Podesta recalled that after Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, President Clinton utilized his executive privileges to enact progressive change without the help of Congress.

Podesta’s paper details how Obama can push executive change on a host of issues.

The paper states that on energy and environmental arena, the president can:

  • Reduce oil imports and make progress toward energy independence.
  • Progress toward reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 17 percent by 2020.
  • Conserve federal lands for future generations.
  • Manage public lands to support a balanced energy strategy.
  • Convene and engage hunters and anglers in the development of a fish and wildlife climate adaptation plan.
  • Generate solar energy on U.S. Air Force hangar roofs.On the domestic economic policy front, Podesta usges Obama to:
  • Direct an assessment, strategy, and new policy development to promote U.S. competitiveness.
  • Launch the new consumer financial protection bureau with an aggressive agenda to protect and empower consumers.
  • Increase the capacity of small businesses to expand hiring and purchases by accelerating the implementation of the Small Business Jobs Act.
  • Promote automatic mediation to avoid foreclosure where possible and speed resolution.
  • Create a Web portal to empower housing counselors, reduce burdens on lenders and speed up home mortgage modifications.
  • Help stabilize home values and communities by turning “shadow REO” housing inventory into “scattered site” rental housing.
  • Promote practices that support working families.

On the domestic policy front, Podesta’s paper recommends that Obama:

  • Partner with the private sector in health care payment reform.
  • Focus on health care prevention in implementing the Affordable Care Act.
  • Streamline and simplify access to federal antipoverty programs.
  • Replace costly, inhumane immigration detention policies with equally effective measures.

Regarding education policy, the paper states the president can:

  • Launch an “educational productivity” initiative to help school districts spend every dollar wisely to best prepare our children for the 21st century.
  • Ensure students can compare financial aid offers from different postsecondary institutions.
  • Improve the quality, standards and productivity of postsecondary education.

With regard to “improving the performance of the federal government,” the president can:

  • Scrutinize federal spending programs and tax expenditures to achieve greater returns on public investment.
  • Build the next-generation Recovery.gov website to track all public expenditures and performance in real time.
  • Use new information technology for faster, more transparent freedom of information.
  • Create a virtual U.S. statistical agency.
  • Collect data on lesbian ,gay, bisexual and transgender Americans in federal data surveys.

And in the foreign policy and national security arena, the president and his administration can:

  • Rebalance Afghanistan strategy with greater emphasis on political and diplomatic progress.
  • Promote domestic revenue generation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • Appoint a special envoy for the Horn of Africa and the southwest Arabian Peninsula region.
  • Appoint a special commission to assess contracting practices in national security and foreign affairs.
  • Redouble support for Palestinian state- and institution-building efforts.
  • Pursue dual-track policy on Iran while sharpening focus on Iranian human rights issues.
  • Reinvigorate the U.S.-Turkey strategic alliance. Develop a comprehensive policy on the Russia-Georgia conflict.

In 2008, Podesta served as co-director of Obama’s transition into the White House.

A Time magazine article profiled the influence of Podesta’s Center for American Progress in the formation of the Obama administration, stating that “not since the Heritage Foundation helped guide Ronald Reagan’s transition in 1981 has a single outside group held so much sway.”

The center is funded by billionaire George Soros. Its board includes Van Jones, Obama’s former “green jobs” czar, who resigned in September 2009 after it was exposed he founded a communist revolutionary organization.

With additional research by Brenda J. Elliott.

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