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Not A Complete Departure From Obamaism

Yesterday I riffed on why the Obama administration decided to develop its financial market reform package internally rather than let Congress take the lead and weigh in later in the process, something they've done in other contexts. But if the financial reform package represented a break with Obama's style in one respect, it seems to have epitomized it in another.

Remember how, during the campaign, Obama said he'd invite just about everyone with an opinion on health care to hash out the details? 

“I’m going to have all the negotiations around a big table,” Obama said in Virginia in August. “We’ll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrator. Insurance companies, drug companies — they’ll get a seat at the table, they just won’t be able to buy every chair. But what we’ll do is we’ll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN...”

Well, minus the C-SPAN, that seems to be about what happened here. According to the Times' Stephen Labaton:

But executives from an array of industries caught up in the financial crisis came to Washington over the last several weeks to make their case for how the new regulatory landscape should look. They came from big banks and small ones, insurance companies and stock exchanges, hedge funds and mutual funds, and were joined by officials from consumer groups and big labor — often with conflicting views. ...

The administration, which has sought to reduce the corrosive influence of lobbying on policy making, actually encouraged the tussle by inviting executives, academics, former officials and others to the series of meetings overseen by the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, and Lawrence H. Summers, the president’s top economic adviser. The meetings were often attended by their top aides: the deputy Treasury secretary, Neal S. Wolin, and Diana Farrell, a deputy director of the National Economic Council at the White House.

As I said yesterday, the difference with something like health care is that financial market reform is largely an inside game--the public doesn't particularly care about the details (one reason it wouldn't have made for an especially compelling C-SPAN broadcast). So it'll be interesting to see if making all these insiders feel like they've been heard helps grease the process along as it moves to Congress. I suspect it will, since many of them are now at least partly invested in the product of these discussions, even if, as Labaton writes, many didn't get most of what they wanted.

P.S. I don't want to make it sound like this kind of consultation is unprecedented. All administrations meet with interest groups affected by proposed initiatives, and with people who have relevant expertise. But the White House does appear to have been pretty self-conscious about marching a variety of people in front of its economic team and encouraging them to disagree with one another, which can't be a bad thing.

--Noam Scheiber