By Susan Page
Why exactly would anybody want this job? The candidate who wins the White House on Nov. 4 will face the most calamitous economy for any new president since Franklin Roosevelt took over amid the Depression in 1933. He’ll assume command of the biggest wartime deployment of U.S. troops since Richard Nixon was sworn in during the Vietnam War in 1969.
Their campaign promises – Republican John McCain’s crusade against budget earmarks, for instance, and Democrat Barack Obama’s commitment to expand health care coverage – almost certainly will take a back seat at the start. They’ll be forced to turn to negotiating a new regulatory structure for financial institutions, rebuilding stock and housing markets, dealing with the partial nationalization of banks unveiled Tuesday and preventing an economic downturn from sliding into something worse.
Also on the immediate agenda: managing the reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq without sacrificing hard-won security gains, and stemming a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
“Walking into the Oval Office is tough enough when you’re facing kind of the ordinary challenges that face any president,” says Leon Panetta, a former California congressman and White House chief of staff for President Clinton. “But whoever is elected president this time is going to face a set of crises that no president has had to face in modern times.”
The public agrees: 44 percent in a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday say the new president will face the most serious challenges of anyone in his position over the last 50 years. Just 14 percent call the problems no worse than usual.
Representatives of both candidates are scheduled to sit down today for the first time with the Bush administration’s “transition council” to begin planning the takeover of the government by one or the other. The FBI already has launched background investigations of dozens of aides to McCain and Obama so that some members of the president-elect’s team will have security clearances in place the morning after the Nov. 4 election.
Whatever work is being done behind the scenes, though, neither candidate has done much to prepare the public for the tough choices and long haul ahead.
Most of those surveyed predict that the candidate they support would be able to make the economy grow within two years of taking office.
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Next President’s Infrastructure Challenge
By David Goldstein, McClatcht Newspapers
WASHINGTON — As if the next president won’t have enough on his plate – with the implosion of the financial markets, two foreign wars, persistent security threats and a host of other concerns – America’s infrastructure is collapsing.
Whether major highways or inland waterways or the electrical grid or a quarter of all bridges, the nation’s physical plant needs billions of dollars in repairs.
“We’ve been relying on a patch-and-pray approach, not a strategic, more thoughtful approach,” said Casey Dinges, senior managing director of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
John McCain and Barack Obama occasionally talk about infrastructure. But whatever the next president does on a range of issues, such as the economy, the environment or homeland security, he’ll have to take it into account.
“There are new realities,” said Robert Puentes, a fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan research group in Washington. “Energy realities. Climate realities. We need an updated infrastructure plan for this nation that meets the realities of today. We simply don’t have one.”
Other nations, meanwhile, are aggressively pushing new projects, mindful of the economic benefits of improved transit and green energy.
“They target their investments to meet those goals,” said Polly Trottenberg, the executive director of Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials concerned about infrastructure. “We don’t. We divvy up the pot.”
Public officials, engineers and policy experts have been warning for years that crumbling infrastructure is a ticking time bomb.
Their fears came true when New Orleans’ levees failed in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,000, and again last year when the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour, killing 13.
The neglect, usually because of deferred maintenance, has been widespread.
A third of the nation’s major highways are in poor shape, according to the Department of Transportation. The list of unsafe dams is growing. Mass-transit systems, water treatment plants, hazardous-waste sites and more are falling apart.
The civil engineers association….