Obama has full plate on day one in the oval office

January 22nd, 2009 - 10:24 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 22 (IANS) On his first day in the oval office, President Barack Obama launched efforts to revive the economy, summoned his war council to chart a new course in Iraq and plunged into Middle East diplomacy.”What an opportunity we have to change this country,” he said Wednesday signing a series of executive orders to promote his vision of “a government that truly is of, and by, the American people.”

Obama who has pledged to take bold steps to revive the economy, presided over the White House meeting on the economy as a House moved toward approval of $358 billion in new spending, part of the economic stimulus package making its way to his desk. Last week, he won approval to use $350 billion in leftover financial industry bailout funds.

The new commander in chief held his first meeting in the Situation Room, where he, Vice President Joe Biden and senior military and foreign policy officials discussed war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama campaigned on a pledge to withdraw US combat forces from Iraq within 16 months, and to beef up the commitment in Afghanistan.

The new White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said Obama’s phone calls to leaders in the Middle East were meant to convey his “commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term.”

Gibbs also that in conversations with Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders, the president emphasised he would work to consolidate the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Acknowledging tough economic times while trying to set a tone for his new administration, Obama froze the salaries of senior White House staff who make more than $100,000 a year and put in place restrictions on former lobbyists who have come to work for him.

The pay freeze affects senior staff, including such high-profile posts as the national security adviser and the chief of staff. Obama, in a statement, said the move reflected the belief that “families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington.”

“As of today, lobbyists will be subject to stricter limits than under any … other administration in history,” Obama told reporters as he signed the new rules.

The ethics rules extend from one year to two years the cooling-off period that ex-lobbyists must observe before they can work on issues they previously lobbied on or communicate with executive branch agencies they contacted.

Officials who leave the administration also will be barred from lobbying for as long as Obama is president. And Obama announced a ban on gifts lobbyists try to give to any members of his administration.

“We are here as public servants, and public service is a privilege,” Obama said. “It’s not about advancing yourself or your corporate clients.”

Obama also instructed federal agencies and departments to be responsive to Freedom of Information requests and to lean toward making more information public instead of coming up with legal justifications for withholding it.

The president is requiring all members of his staff to receive an ethics briefing. He said he had gone through one last week.

As a senator, Obama in 2006 cosponsored a package of lobbying restrictions but wound up voting against a final bill, saying it lacked any enforcement mechanism to truly change the culture in Washington.

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