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No Slam Dunks For Obama

President Obama and all of Congress made clear their outrage, staying in step with sentiment across America, and quickly went into action last week with House legislation to tax executive bonuses of individuals making more than $250,000 working at companies owing more than $5 billion in bailout money.

It's a band-aid that probably won't stick OR quell the outrage that has AIG bonus recipients fearing for their lives. The bonfire of the vanities is still raging.

As President Obama, his economic advisors, vice president and press secretary keep trying to tell the people (in what has become a constant chorus), the bonuses mask far larger issues. The problem is that his team hasn't been able come up with a remedy for what ails the American and world economies.

While Mr. Obama has a phalanx of experienced advisors, some of whom contributed to the economic Chernobyl we face (see Frank Rich's New York Times commentary), he is new to the Commander-in-Chief job. He wants to change the way Washington works, and move the discourse away from the partisan blame-game and calls for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's head. He wants the American people to know that he is principled and stoic — he can shoulder the blame for not addressing AIG's bonuses earlier.

He derides those who have been saying that he has taken on too much or that he shouldn't spend his precious time talking to Jay Leno or filling out NCAA basketball brackets.

Mr. Obama comes off as smart and confident in his abilities to fix everything that ails America and push through a $3.6 trillion budget that could produce more than $9 trillion in deficits in the next decade, but that hasn't won him points with Old Washington. There are no slam dunks or layups in this game, and the President's team is struggling mightily to score.

But Old Washington is not the biggest obstacle facing the President. The sheer scope and complexity of restarting the economy is a far greater barrier to his success.

It takes more than 60 days of hard labor under extreme conditions to change a culture and fix an economy. Mr. Obama believes he can calm the American people with his continuous campaigning and media blitz, getting his message in front of the people in town halls, speeches, talk shows and press conferences, including one coming up Tuesday night. But patience is wearing thin. The AIG bonuses has put extra pressure on the Obama team to score some points quickly, and the "complexity" defense is wearing thin.

This week Obama's team is expected to announce its plan to rid the banks of the toxic assets that are dragging them down. In addition, the New York Times reports that the Obama administration is planning to roll out a plan for regulating the financial industry, with increased oversight of executive pay at banks and Wall Street firms, including hedge funds.

Increased transparency and government oversight is sure to be unpopular with many on Wall Street, but it will resonate with the vast majority of Americans who feel ripped-off by the current financial system.

It won't be a slam dunk, but hopefully the conversation will shift more toward policy and solutions.

Of course, the AIG bonus issue isn't going away. On Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. ET, Treasury Secretary Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke are scheduled to appear before the House Financial Services Committee, where they will "have the opportunity to explain directly and publicly the actions they have taken to rescue AIG from collapse and monitor the company's performance since then," as stated on the Committee Web site. The AIG hearing will be like "March Madness," with viewers riveted on the action, a flurry of slam dunks and lots of color commentary as Congressional members take their shots at the two economists.

Geithner will make a return appearance to the House Financial Services Committee at 10:00 a.m. ET on Thursday, testifying on comprehensive financial regulation reform. This hearing won't have the "March Madness" circus-like atmosphere, but it will be far more telling about the fate of the U.S. economy.

Tune into the live Webcasts of the House Financial Services Committee hearings on