As the Senate debates an economic stimulus plan whose price tag could come close to $900 billion, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation -- a non-partisan group created to bring awareness to the nation's rising spending and entitlement costs -- is launching an ad campaign to urge the Obama White House and Congress to address long-term fiscal challenges.
That campaign began today with a print advertisement in the Washington Post and Roll Call. "Today's economic crisis is just the tip of the iceberg," the ad says, with the picture of a gigantic iceberg. "We must also focus on a much larger yet less visible threat: the $56 trillion in liabilities and unfunded retirement and health care obligations (that’s $483,000 per U.S. household), and the dangerous reliance on foreign lenders, that threaten our ship of state."
Tomorrow, Peterson Foundation president Dave Walker -- along with Sens. Kent Conrad (D) and George Voinovich (R), and Reps. Frank Wolf (R) and Jim Cooper (D) -- will hold a press conference to announce the group's full plans for a $1 million-plus advertising campaign.
Ah look, and it's bipartisan too! Isn't that great?
Considering how incredibly effective the Democrats have been with this stimulus package, I can't tell you how thrilled I am that they'll be "working with" people who want to destroy whatever tattered safety net we still have. These are the people who really understand the principles of the shock doctrine.
Meanwhile, here's Michael Hirsh from Newsweek assessing the state of politics two weeks in, and I can't say that he's got it wrong, unfortunately:
Barack Obama began making his comeback on Wednesday, apparently aware that he has all but lost control of the agenda in Washington at a time when he simply can't afford to do so. Obama's biggest problem isn't Taxgate—which resulted in the Terrible Tuesday departure of his trusted friend, Tom Daschle, and the defanging of his Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner. Nor is the No. 1 problem that the president can't seem to win a single Republican vote for his stimulus package. That's a symptom, not a cause. The reason Obama is getting so few votes is that he is no longer setting the terms of the debate over how to save the economy. Instead the Republican Party—the one we thought lost the election—is doing that. And the confusion and delay this is causing could realize Obama's worst fears, turning "crisis into a catastrophe," as the president said Wednesday.
Obama's desire to begin a "post-partisan" era may have backfired. In his eagerness to accommodate Republicans and listen to their ideas over the past week, he has allowed the GOP to turn the haggling over the stimulus package into a decidedly stale, Republican-style debate over pork, waste and overspending. This makes very little economic sense when you are in a major recession that only gets worse day by day. Yes, there are still some very legitimate issues with a bill that's supposed to be "temporary" and "targeted"—among them, large increases in permanent entitlement spending, and a paucity of tax cuts requiring immediate spending. Even so, Obama has allowed Congress to grow embroiled in nitpicking over efficiency when the central debate should be about whether the package is big enough. When you are dealing with a stimulus of this size, there are going to be wasteful expenditures and boondoggles. There's no way anyone can spend $800 to $900 billion quickly without waste and boondoggles. It comes with the Keynesian territory. This is an emergency; the normal rules do not apply.
But the public isn't hearing about that all-important distinction right now. And by the time Obama signs a bill—if he can get one approved—many Americans may have concluded that the GOP is right and that the Democrats have embarked on another spending spree, as if this were just another wearying Washington debate. Judging from his flurry of TV appearances Tuesday night and his remarks on Wednesday, Obama himself seems to have realized belatedly that he needs to stop empathizing and take charge. After trying to put the Daschle imbroglio behind him by frankly acknowledging that he, the president, "screwed up," Obama reminded everyone of the urgency of the moment. "A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession, a less robust recovery, and a more uncertain future," he said at the White House. Obama also sought to regain the moral high ground by announcing he would limit senior executive pay at bailed-out Wall Street firms to $500,000. "We're taking the air out of the golden parachute," Obama said, adding that it was only "the beginning of a long term effort to examine the ways in which the means and manner of executive compensation contributed to a reckless culture…" That's a step in the right direction. But now Obama needs to remind the American people that unless the Republicans get on board, they will bear political responsibility for failing to act in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Proof that that Team Obama and his party are losing the debate can be found in a new poll out Wednesday. The Rasmussen Reports survey found that, even though Obama still has a very high approval rating, only 37 percent of Americans now favor the stimulus legislation, compared to 45 percent two weeks ago. The results were similar to a recent Gallup survey that found just 38 percent of voters now support the recovery plan. Mitch McConnell, the GOP Senate minority leader, hinted Wednesday that Obama has lost control of his own Congress. "The president has tried to set some priorities. Unfortunately, Democrats just keep throwing more money on top of an already-bloated bill," McConnell said on the floor.
... An administration that two weeks ago set out to change the world, having claimed the first Democratic majority victory in a presidential race since Jimmy Carter, now looks like it's engaged in a Pickett's Charge—without the benefit of being led by Pickett. Meanwhile the Senate Dems took off part of Wednesday for a "retreat."
This is all too leisurely. Speed is of the essence now. No one understands this better than Geithner, whose formative experience as a young Treasury official in Tokyo came in watching Japanese authorities dither and muddle about for a decade after their own giant bubble of an economy collapsed in 1989. "Monetary policy was very slow to respond," Geithner told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. "Fiscal policy was very tentative and then did a lot of zigzagging." He's right. Like Geithner, I was working in Tokyo at the time (as a journalist) and watched every one of those zigs and zags. The answer then, as now, was bold leadership. The Japanese didn't supply it, and they still haven't fully recovered. What's the point of historical lessons if you don't learn from them?