The Next Appointments: Economic Harmony or Dissonance?

President-elect Obama has emphasized moderation, ability, pragmatism, experience, smarts and other good attributes in naming his economic team, much to the relief of the business community. Tim Gaethner, Larry Summers, Christina Romer — no radicals or cryptosocialists there.

Yet for all the agenda setting the economic team will carry out in the interest of growth, jobs and long-term economic stability, others in the Administration will determine if policies and day-to-day agency operations match those goals. If you want to discourage investment and jobs creation, just name a Labor Secretary and OSHA administration who want to stick it to business at every turn. “OSHA issues record fines” may be a welcome headline for the activist crowd, but enough of those and you could well persuade other businesses to keep their heads low and their dollars unspent — or invested overseas. For example.

The Wall Street Journal makes a similar point in its very good Saturday editorial Potomac Watch column by Kimberly Strassel, “Obama’s Environmental Test — The president-elect’s picks for his energy and environment team could undo any smart moves so far.”

Having enraged the left wing of his party with several initial high-profile appointments, Mr. Obama is now under pressure to placate this mob. One obvious, if frightening, choice would be to reward them with the energy-and-environment portfolio, turning it over to a team that shares the grass-roots’ green agenda.

The appointments at stake here are big, with the potential for even greater influence. There’s chief of the EPA, the prominence of which is growing in the climate debate. Another is secretary of the Energy Department, a body that traditionally serves as a cheerleader for the entire mix of domestic energy sources (including nuclear, oil and coal), but which, with a weak or turncoat head, could easily fail in that duty.

Save the Detroit automakers? Not if you turn over management of carbon dioxide levels and vehicle fuel-efficiency standards to a dictatorial EPA. “Better to have a team that is aware of the political and practical implications of an EPA power grab,” the Journal observes.

President-elect Obama sounded an aggressively pro-environmental-regulation tone in a video he sent last month to a conference on global warming in California, vowing to cut CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and invest $150 billion in new energy-saving technologies. As the New York Times reported:

“Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all,” Mr. Obama said. “Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

Denial is not acceptable? How about disagreement?

As a matter of democratic principle, we think presidents should be able to appoint the people they want to office, naming the personnel to carry out policies they were elected to effect. And so far so good. In naming the members of his economic team, President-elect Obama has made it clear his priority is restoring the economy and relieving unemployment. The next round of appointments will determine whether that clarity is maintained or muddied.

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