Monday, March 9, 2009

Obama's Stimulus Plan Won't Be Enough, And Could Even Ruin Him

Politics is a tricky game, and President Obama could be setting himself up for a tremendous fall. Right now his approval rating is sky high, but so too are his expectations. As famed economist Paul Krugman points out in his article, Obama's recent economic stimulus plan is much too small, and in all likelihood he is going to be forced to ask for more money. When that time comes people are going to assume the last stimulus package was a failure, and naturally Obama will take the brunt of the blame for it. He had a hard enough time garnering the necessary Republican support (3 votes) to get the first bill passed, and you can bet the next time around will be 100 times harder. For more on this, read Mark Thoma's blog post below:

I've heard people say the debate over the size of the stimulus package was misrepresented in the media, that the media rarely presented the view that the plan was too small.

President Obama’s plan to stimulate the economy was “massive,” “giant,” “enormous.” So the American people were told... Watching the news, you might have thought that the only question was whether the plan was too big, too ambitious.

Yet many economists, myself included, actually argued that the plan was too small and too cautious. The latest data confirm those worries — and suggest that the Obama administration’s economic policies are already falling behind the curve.

Why do you say that? Won't his plan create millions of jobs?

Mr. Obama’s promise that his plan will create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010 looks underwhelming, to say the least. It’s a credible promise... But 3.5 million jobs almost two years from now isn’t enough in the face of an economy that has already lost 4.4 million jobs, and is losing 600,000 more each month.

Ah, I see. Even though it's likely to create 3.5 million jobs as promised, it's still millions short of what is needed. So how do we improve the plan?

There are now three big questions about economic policy. First, does the administration realize that it isn’t doing enough? Second, is it prepared to do more? Third, will Congress go along with stronger policies?

What are the answers?

On the first two questions, I found Mr. Obama’s latest interview with The Times anything but reassuring.

“Our belief and expectation is that we will get all the pillars in place for recovery this year,” the president declared — a belief and expectation that isn’t backed by any data or model I’m aware of. ... And there was no hint in the interview of readiness to do more.

Do you mean he doesn't seem ready to do more in terms of fiscal policy, or that he's not ready to do more of anything, in particular, more to help the banking system recover?

A real fix for the troubles of the banking system might help make up for the inadequate size of the stimulus plan... But he went on to dismiss calls for decisive action... As I read it, this dismissal — together with the continuing failure to announce any broad plans for bank restructuring — means that the White House has decided to muddle through on the financial front, relying on economic recovery to rescue the banks rather than the other way around. And with the stimulus plan too small to deliver an economic recovery ... well, you get the picture.

Yep. It's like one of those bad dreams where your feet won't move fast enough to get away from the impending doom closing in on you. Will the administration wake up and get moving?

Sooner or later the administration will realize that more must be done. But when it comes back for more money, will Congress go along?

One side won't, that's pretty clear, and I'm not so sure about the Democratic side of the aisle either.

Republicans are now firmly committed to the view that we should do nothing to respond to the economic crisis, except cut taxes — which they always want to do... If Mr. Obama comes back for a second round of stimulus, they’ll respond not by being helpful, but by claiming that his policies have failed.

And if there are any small successes to point to Republicans will, of course, insist it was because of the tax cuts in the first round of stimulus. Where does the public stand at this point?

The broader public ... favors strong action. ... But will that support still be there, say, six months from now?

I wouldn't count on it.

Also, an overwhelming majority believes that the government is spending too much to help large financial institutions. This suggests that the administration’s money-for-nothing financial policy will eventually deplete its political capital.

I don't suppose we can borrow political capital from China?

So here’s the picture that scares me: It’s September 2009, the unemployment rate has passed 9 percent, and despite the early round of stimulus spending it’s still headed up. Mr. Obama finally concedes that a bigger stimulus is needed.

And at that point, he begins pushing a new plan?

But he can’t get his new plan through Congress because approval for his economic policies has plummeted, partly because his policies are seen to have failed, partly because job-creation policies are conflated in the public mind with deeply unpopular bank bailouts. And as a result, the recession rages on, unchecked.

Would you bet some of your Nobel money on that prediction?

O.K., that’s a warning, not a prediction. But economic policy is falling behind the curve, and there’s a real, growing danger that it will never catch up.

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