President Obama is scheduled to hold a press conference tomorrow (Wednesday) evening at 8 PM EDT.
I hope the questions are better than the one asked by Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times at the President’s 100-day press conference on April 30th:
During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office, enchanted you the most about serving in this office, humbled you the most and troubled you the most?
In case any members of the White House press corps are looking for more rigorous questions focused on economic policy, I offer the following for your consideration.
- The U.S. economy has lost 2.64 million jobs since you took office. The unemployment rate is 9.5% and rising. The good scenario is one in which the unemployment rate begins to decline early next year. The Vice President said your Administration misread the economy. You said you had incomplete information when proposing the stimulus. Yet you have said you would not change anything about the stimulus if you could. If the facts have changed, why doesn’t it make sense to change your policy?
- Last month’s jobs report was the first since you took office that was worse than the prior month. Do you think the economy is getting stronger or weaker right now? If the next jobs report gets still worse, will you re-evaluate the need for a change in fiscal policy?
- Do you maintain your promise not to allow taxes to be raised on people earning less than $250,000 per year? Will you insist that health care legislation conform with this commitment?
- Chrysler and GM have exited bankruptcy. Are U.S. taxpayers done subsidizing these firms? What is your exit strategy from taxpayers owning much of GM and Chrysler?
- You proposed spending money from the TARP to prevent foreclosures, help small businesses, and to buy toxic assets from banks. In June CBO said they had found no evidence that any money has been spent for any of these programs. How many foreclosures have been prevented, how many small businesses have received loans from, and how many toxic assets have been purchased?
- You have insisted that health care reform “bend the cost curve down.” CBO Director Elmendorf says the bills being debated would instead raise the health care cost curve and would increase long-term budget deficits. Will you continue to insist that health care reform not increase the deficit?
- Your Administration has said that health care reform is the key to addressing our long-term budget problem. Yet you have adopted a lower standard, that health care reform legislation simply does not make our deficit problems worse. If health care reform leaves the unsustainable budget situation unchanged, and since CBO says your budget would result in nine trillion dollars of new debt over the next decade, then how else do you propose to deal with the projected explosion of government debt over the long run?
- You have said transparency is a top priority. Yet you are calling on Congress to pass a trillion-plus dollar spending bill before CBO has had time to estimate its full effects. In addition, your Administration is delaying release of the new economic projections and deficit estimates until after Congress votes on this massive new spending bill. Will you commit now that you will not ask Members of Congress to vote on this massive new spending commitment until your Administration has met its legal obligation to provide an updated economic forecast and deficit projection, and until CBO has provided Congress with transparent and complete analysis of the bill?
- On June 15th you said, “If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.” Yet CBO says these bills would cause a few million Americans who now have employer-provided health insurance to lose it, as their employers would try to push costs and people onto taxpayer-subsidized programs. Last Thursday in New Jersey you seemed to redefine your promise when you said, “When I say, ‘If you have your plan and you like it,’ what I’m saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform.” And at your televised forum, you said, “If you are happy with your plan, and if you are happy with your doctor, we don’t want you to have to change.” Do you believe your first promise was too strong?
- In a February 2008 debate with then-Senator Clinton you opposed an individual mandate to buy health insurance. In that debate you said, “In some cases, there are people who are paying fines and still can’t afford it, so now they’re worse off than they were. They don’t have health insurance and they’re paying a fine. In order for you to force people to get health insurance, you’ve got to have a very harsh penalty.” Now you are supporting a bill that would force people to buy health insurance, and that CBO says would still result in eight million people not having health insurance and paying higher taxes. How do you explain to those eight million uninsured people why you now support the mandate and “very harsh penalty” they would have to face, and which you opposed during the campaign?
- Experts across the policy and political spectrum say that repealing or limiting the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance is a good way to bend the health cost curve down. Some powerful unions oppose this change. Your position has so far been ambiguous. Do you think this change would be good policy? Are you willing to support it if it attracts Republican votes?
- Your party controls the White House, has a 38+ seat margin in the House, and has the 60 Senate seats needed to overcome any filibuster. How can Republicans be holding up health care reform?
- Most members of Congress who oppose these health care bills argue they have a better way of reforming health care, such as the Ryan-Coburn bill. Why is it fair to accuse them of defending the status quo? Can you name a Member of Congress who has explicitly argued for the status quo, rather than just arguing against your preferred alternative?
- You campaigned against Washington special interests and have accused them of attempting to block health care reform. Yet your Administration has negotiated and supported deals made behind closed doors with some of these same interests, and you have announced those deals here at the White House flanked by Washington lobbyists representing HMOs, drug companies, hospitals, doctors, unions, and nurses. How is this consistent?
Energy & Climate change
- The Indian government told Secretary Clinton that India will not agree to limit its carbon emissions. The Chinese have sent the same signal. Are you willing to sign a new climate agreement that does not contain binding commitments by China or India to reduce or slow the growth of their emissions?
- Does it make sense for the U.S. to impose higher energy costs on American workers and manufacturers if the two largest developing economies are unwilling to slow their emissions growth? Won’t that just disadvantage American workers with little reduction in future global temperatures?
- If the Senate cannot pass a cap-and-trade bill this fall, will you ask Congress to send you a smaller clean energy technology bill before you go to the global climate change discussions in Copenhagen this December?
- Do you support the expansion of nuclear power in the U.S.? If so, what are you doing to encourage it? And where are you going to store the nuclear waste, given the strong opposition of Senate Majority Leader Reid to storing it in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain?
- The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Finance Committee have called for you to submit to Congress for their approval the signed Free Trade Agreements with U.S. allies Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Why have you not submitted them to Congress? When will you do so?
- At the G20 and G8 Summits you joined other leaders in renouncing protectionism and committed to concluding the Doha Round of global trade talks. What steps are you taking to roll back protectionist measures the U.S. has taken, such as Buy America, and what concrete steps are you taking to advance the Doha Round?
The President and Congress are considering changes in economic policy that would have massive effects if adopted. I hope the White House press corps asks rigorous questions that can better inform the economic policy debate.
(photo credit: whitehouse.gov)