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The Clinton Crew Takes Over

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WASHINGTON -- The tax-bill fight is revealing a crucial fact about President Obama's new, post-"shellacking" White House: it is increasingly being run by veterans of the Clinton era.

House Democrats, who voted in caucus today to oppose the tax deal, are in essence at war with the Clinton years -- with Obama in the middle.

Barack Obama swept to power promising a new day and a new way, and he brought with him a cadre of top aides forged in the fire of the presidential campaign and the politics of Chicago.

The most visible Clinton alum, Rahm Emanuel, returned to Chicago to run for mayor.

But an array of other Clinton vets has stepped up to handle the sales job on taxes on the Hill and in town. Key names include: Lawrence Summers, Gene Sperling, Ron Klain, Jack Lew and John Podesta. Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, is an early Obama advisor, but he's philosophically in tune with the economic views of the Clinton types.

Meanwhile, campaign honchos David Axelrod and Jim Messina -- two Obama Originals -- will soon be headed back to Chicago to lay the groundwork for the president's 2012 campaign.

The significance of this staff shift is beyond the operational. The Clinton-era alums, by outlook and experience, represent a centrist, pragmatic, pro-business "wealth-creation" wing of the Democratic Party that flourished during the Clinton presidency in the 1990s.

For tactical and substantive reasons, Barack Obama ran for president largely ignoring the economic record of Clinton's time. Obama, after all, was running against Sen. Hillary Clinton, and he also admired the game-changing sweep of the Reagan presidency.

But now the president finds himself in the same kind of environment that Clinton -- as governor -- encountered (and learned to thrive in) during his rise in the 1980s. It is one in which conservative Republicans control the terms of debate, if not all the levers of power.

It is therefore not surprising that Obama would turn to the Clintonites to sell some $800 billion worth of tax cuts to his fellow Democrats.

The Clinton people share certain traits: they are brilliant, like a lot of the Obama folks, but they also are cold-blooded and now have many years' experience at the intersection of money and power.

Attention has focused on Vice President Joe Biden's role as the new "enforcer," but the key to that operation is his chief of staff, Ron Klain, who once ran the Senate Judiciary Committee staff and who then served as chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore.

(Klain could become Obama's chief of staff if interim chief Pete Rouse doesn't want the job.)

Much of the substantive sales spin has been handled by Gene Sperling -- who began his career in the Clinton campaign war room and who essentially did the same job in the Clinton White House -- and Jack Lew, who was working for Hillary at the State Department before coming back to the White House to head the Office of Management and Budget, an upgraded version of the budget work what he did in the Clinton adminstration.

Of course there is also Obama's chief economic adviser, Dr. Larry Summers -- who is essentially playing the Dick Cheney role of scaring the bejeezus out of anyone who dares oppose the president.

Summers was a Clinton Treasury Secretary.

Outside the White House per se, the president is getting key support from John Podesta, whose Center for American Progress has placed dozens of staffers in key positions inside the administration.

CAP supports the tax-cut deal, perhaps not surprising given that Podesta was once Bill Clinton's highly regarded chief of staff.

And what about Obama Interim Chief of Staff Rouse? He's an Obama guy. Before becoming Obama's top Senate aide in 2005, he'd spent much of his career with then-Sen. Tom Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat who was the party's skilled leader in the Senate.

Rouse is a popular consensus builder, and several cabinet members have told the president that they want Rouse to get the job permanently. They include, according to a cabinet member who declined to be named, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. "Pete has made a big effort to involve the cabinet and many of us want him to agree to stay on."

No one has worked for Obama longer in an official governmental capacity, and he is well liked -- even adored -- by the Obama originals.

But it is not clear that Rouse, 64, wants the job on a permanent basis.

If he doesn't, it's not clear which Obama original could or would step in.

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