Monday, February 02, 2009

The Gregg Factor

So why would the estimable Sen. Judd Gregg (R., N.H.) quit his job to become commerce secretary in the Obama administration? Over the past year I’ve gotten to know Sen. Gregg through numerous interviews and a dinner with his wife in New York City last fall. He’s a very smart fella. He’s also a strong fiscal conservative — by that, I mean, he is perennially for lower tax rates, lower spending, lower deficits, and less debt. He’s a free trader, too. And he has also become quite knowledgeable about the whole TARP financial mess. I’m always kidding him about being a flinty-eyed Granite State senator, and he has never raised any objections to that moniker. Gregg knows how to count. He even knows balance sheets and income statements.

So let me ask again: If Team Obama is pushing for higher spending, tax rates, deficits, and debt, how will Judd Gregg fit in?

The fact that Pres. Obama put Gregg in his cabinet speaks well of the president. Gregg is first-rate. And he might add some bipartisanship to the story, which is what Obama says he wants. Commerce secretary is generally regarded as a lesser post, but if Gregg is invited to the economic policy meetings, as I suspect he will be, then he will be a strong voice at the table — in part because of his own stature and in part because Obama has put him there.

So if the administration wants to go off on a class-warfare binge — jacking up taxes on successful earners and investors — you can bet Judd Gregg will argue strongly against it. In fact, you can bet Judd Gregg doesn’t like the Pelosi-Reid stimulus package a bit, and that he will argue against it in various administration meetings.

It might be that Obama doesn’t like the Pelosi-Reid bill either, and that the president will be sponsoring major changes in that bill. I have no idea if this is the case, but I am surmising that it could be the case simply because Obama has put Gregg in a visible spot.

And I assume that Sen. McConnell knows something about the politics of this transaction, namely that New Hampshire Democratic Gov. John Lynch will choose a Republican to finish out Sen. Gregg’s term. Perhaps a moderate like Warren Rudman, who will almost surely vote against the stimulus package if he gets a shot on the Senate floor.

Judd Gregg is also someone who wants to reform the big entitlement programs, like Social Security and Medicare, which is something Pres. Obama also wants. Here, too, Gregg could be a go-between for bipartisanship.

Sen. Gregg would be the third Republican in Obama’s cabinet, the others being defense secretary Robert Gates and new transportation secretary Ray LaHood. Fiscally, Gregg is much more conservative than LaHood. Of course, Team Obama knows all this. They know exactly what they would be getting with Judd Gregg as commerce secretary.

So maybe this awful stimulus bill will in fact be completely changed and delayed until we can figure out how much the next TARP bill is gonna cost. Until Team Obama can come up with a TARP plan and a TARP number for borrowing, the stimulus package should be shelved (and completely reworked).

Might Judd Gregg be the catalyst for all this? Let’s wait and see.