NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Importance Of The Presidential Transition Period

November 1, 2000

The transition period between the election and inauguration of the new president will be short, but very important for the success of the next administration, says Bruce Bartlett.

For George W. Bush, as leader of the out-party, the transition presents greater challenges than for Al Gore. If Bush wins,

  • In just over 10 weeks, he will need to select his senior White House staff, 14 cabinet secretaries and as many subcabinet and agency appointments as possible.
  • Background checks, both for political and security purposes, must be done quickly and the Senate must get moving on necessary hearings and confirmations.
  • At the same time, Bush will need to prioritize his agenda and prepare his inaugural address.

Given that presidents often achieve much of their substantive legislative program their first year in office, the inaugural address is critical to maximizing that essential "honeymoon" period. Indeed, much of Bill Clinton's failure as president can be traced to squandering the transition and poorly using his first year honeymoon.

He wasted much of the transition on "talk fests" in Arkansas and dawdled on key appointments -- letting his obsession with the race, ethnicity and gender of his cabinet (often to the exclusion of competence) slow the selection process.

Then, Clinton dissipated much of his political capital on an ill-conceived and totally unnecessary economic stimulus plan that ultimately died in the Senate. That made the fight over his deficit reduction plan far tougher than it needed to be. The remainder of Clinton's first year was spent creating a massive health care plan -- never mentioned during the campaign -- that was ultimately killed by congressional Democrats.

Bush should work first on those parts of his program that are ripe for legislative action and have the best chance of political success, such as his tax plan.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, November 1, 2000.


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