- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Obama White House has deliberately placed favored Washington institutions of the Bush years in its crosshairs, a sign of an escalating battle between the Democratic administration and some of the city’s pre-eminent power players.

In recent days, the administration has attacked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the insurance industry for opposing key administration objectives, has criticized the nation’s largest banks and financial firms for outsized executive pay, and has tried to delegitimize the Fox News Channel by mocking its objectivity.

“When you’re on their side, it’s all OK, but if you’re not, they rain hell down on you,” said R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, bemoaning the administration’s bellicose response to differing opinions on health care and financial regulatory reform proposals.

But Dan Pfeiffer, President Obama’s deputy communications director, said the Democratic White House is not abiding by the rules that defined the nation’s capital when a Republican president was in office.

“The insurers, the chamber and other special interests had the run of this town for the last eight years. That’s not true anymore,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “And they are reacting to the new reality.”

Yet the administration’s targets are offended by what they consider misleading vitriol. They also say the tactics are dated and dangerous to serious discourse.

A senior Republican lawmaker on Wednesday raised concern that the White House was creating an “enemies list” in much the same way that the Nixon White House did.

“If the president and his top aides treat people with different views as enemies instead of listening to what they have to say, they’re likely to end up with a narrow view and a feeling that the whole world is out to get them,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican.

In comments on the Senate Floor, Mr. Alexander said he has “an uneasy feeling, only 10 months into this new administration, that we’re beginning to see symptoms of this same kind of animus developing in the Obama administration” as those that animated the Nixon White House - where Mr. Alexander himself served as a young aide.

The Obama White House used Mr. Alexander’s words to portray Republicans as obstructionist, a charge they have aimed at the GOP repeatedly.

“While some Republicans on Capitol Hill seem to be formulating lists of people and policies to oppose, this president is focused on tackling the list of critical priorities that Washington has ignored for too long,” said White House spokesman Reid Cherlin.

The reaction from the White House’s adversaries - some of whom began the year attempting to forge a working relationship with the administration - has varied.

While Fox News has viewed the attacks on it as a ratings bonanza, many financial-sector officials are reluctant to openly criticize the administration’s handling of their industry, preferring to do their heavy lobbying outside the purview of the media.

“The administration is playing hardball,” a former Wall Street lobbyist said. “No one wants to be the one that puts their head up to get it knocked off by the White House. Just ask the Chamber of Commerce or the health insurance industry how well that strategy worked for them.”

But privately, banks, credit card companies and other financial-sector entities have expressed mounting frustration at what they say are unfair shots by the White House - accusing the president of exaggerating Wall Street’s failings for political gain.

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