WASHINGTON — As chairman of his party's congressional campaign committee, Rahm Emanuel helped scores of current House Democrats win their seats. When Tom Daschle was the Senate Democratic leader, he funneled more than $1-million to a new generation of lawmakers seeking office.
Now, as key members of President-elect Obama's incoming administration, Emanuel and Daschle are using their clout to help build sturdy bridges between the White House and Congress, coordinating plans well before Inauguration Day.
That effort could produce a remarkable result: Democrats may try to pass an economic stimulus bill before Obama takes office Jan. 20 and have it on his desk to sign immediately. Typically, a new Congress spins its wheels for weeks after convening in early January while awaiting the new president.
"We are going to hit the ground running," Obama said this week.
To that end, emissaries of the president-elect are meeting with the heads of every congressional committee. Emanuel, who will be Obama's chief of staff, has been dispatched to the Capitol. Obama, who is running the transition from his home base in Chicago, has been working the phones.
When Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., won a bitter contest last week to become the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Obama called his cell phone to congratulate him. Almost every day, top Obama aides contact House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, where Emanuel and others on Obama's team have long-standing relationships with her chief of staff, John Lawrence.
The incoming administration also has made an effort to reach across the aisle. Emanuel met last week with House and Senate Republican leaders. Obama has consulted with Republicans about his economic plans.
Members of Congress and their staffs say the Obama team has been engaged in fact-gathering on Capitol Hill as much as seeking support for its own agenda. That stands in marked contrast to the approach of Obama's Democratic predecessors.
Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter identified themselves as Washington outsiders, coming to the capital from Southern statehouses and having few connections to the Washington establishment. Their top White House appointees came from their home states of Arkansas and Georgia, respectively.
Early on, Carter drew congressional ire for attacking lawmakers' beloved local projects, which he called wasteful pork-barrel spending. A White House aide at the time warned Carter that lawmakers considered him "naive or selfish or stubborn, or all three," according to a biography of then-Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill written by John A. Farrell.
Even though Democrats dominated both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue under Clinton, relations were so sour that the House did not give so much as a subcommittee vote to his signature health care initiative.
Obama, who served barely four years in the Senate, is bringing substantial Capitol Hill experience to the White House in Emanuel and Pete Rouse, a former aide to Daschle and Obama who will be a senior adviser to the new president.
To serve as his congressional liaison, Obama has appointed Phil Schiliro, a former aide to Waxman and Daschle. Daschle, who is expected to be named Health and Human Services secretary, is likely to play a large role in moving health legislation through Congress.
In addition, Obama last week named Peter Orszag, head of the Congressional Budget Office, to be White House budget director. He tapped Rob Nabors, the top staffer on the House Appropriations Committee, as deputy budget director.