by Jeff Reeves | June 13, 2011 4:59 am
Last Wednesday, I was part of a group of 25 financial journalists that took part in the White House’s first-ever Personal Finance Online summit. We asked dozens of questions to top ranking economic officials – and had the privilege of a brief Q&A with President Barack Obama himself.
There are many reasons to be skeptical of the Obama Administration. I’ve pieced together the most compelling reasons to worry our leaders aren’t doing enough in my recent article about ways Obama is inspiring panic, not confidence. But in the effort of balance, I have to share some of the biggest reasons for optimism that I found over the course of last week’s White House summit.
So, here is the other side of the story based on my notes from interviews with some of the Obama administration’s top economic officials:
Austan Goolsbee, the outgoing chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, opened last week’s summit by urging some perspective on the recently-released May job numbers. The unemployment rate ticked back up to 9.1% last month as employers hired only 54,000 new workers, the fewest in eight months.
That had some folks awfully worried, but Goolsbee stressed the addition of one million jobs in six months was a much more important trend to watch – and furthermore, the quality of those jobs is high.
“Some say if we can’t repeat the growth of the 2000s we can’t recover,” Goolsbee said last week. But he disagreed with that notion, stressing that new jobs have to come from high-tech manufacturers, technology start-ups and businesses big in exports.
Growth across the last several months would be reason enough for optimism, but the shift away “from unsustainable boom and bust cycle type of expansions to something more broad based” is the top focus of the White House right now.
That shows Obama and his team aren’t just juicing the stats with jobs that will fade away, but building a lasting recovery. That kind of approach is sorely needed in Washington.
Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council and counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, was one of the more interesting personalities we had access to at the summit. An intelligent, soft-spoken man who prefers to make his points with statistics than flashy rhetoric, Sperling shared his perspective on the recent back-and-forth over the debt ceiling and federal spending woes.
His overarching theme: “When you have to lighten the load of a plane, you don’t kick out the engine.”
Sperling was practical with his suggestions and respectful of Republican points of view on debt reduction. The top advisor’s rational approach was a breath of fresh air compared to most of the partisan bickering regarding the deficit, with Sperling acknowledging how complicated the current budget mess is and stressing that the only solution is “shared sacrifice” where legislators “go along with things they would not agree with in an ideal world because the benefit of compromise is better for the country.”
If you read my article running Uncle Sam’s $2.2 trillion budget like a normal American family, or if you’ve looked into the numbers yourself, you understand that it is simply impossible to fix the current deficit without deep and damaging cuts to the military, Medicare, Social Security and other key programs. The administration’s cool head and pragmatism is comforting, since a level-headed approach that affects all parties equally is the only way to make progress on this incredibly challenging issue.
Balancing the budget with zero sacrifice is impossible. Balancing the budget by pushing one’s own political agenda is dangerous. My honest assessment is that the Obama administration is truly trying to do the right thing by cutting where they can, when they can.
Though skeptics would argue that I am simply drinking the political Kool-Aid that was poured for me at this White House-sponsored summit, I must admit that I was impressed with the way the Obama administration is reaching out to all corners of the economy.
Yes, the old straw men popped up — green energy, union jobs and the like. But some sectors backed by the White House may surprise you.
I personally asked whether alternative energy plans would still include nuclear energy despite the trouble in Japan. I was assured it would with Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, stressing that the Obama administration offered $8 billion in loan guarantees in February to build the first new plant on U.S. soil in nearly 30 years. A bit unexpected.
I also personally asked Elizabeth Warren whether she believed big growth in the financial industry and extensive protections of consumers were mutually exclusive. The leader of the newly formed Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection scoffed at the notion, and went on to say she would never advocate blanket elimination of even the riskiest financial tools – but simply push for better disclosure so consumers would understand what they were getting into. That’s not a push for regulation, but for personal responsibility. This is one of the big reasons I am so convinced Warren may actually be good for banks, and it really impressed me.
Other industries that you think would be typical targets of the left were not – the coal sector as lauded for its big export potential, defense and cyber security were called out as big growth areas spurred by other high-tech developments in education and healthcare. The list goes on.
Say what you want about many Obama administration policies, but one thing is clear: The White House is not picking and choosing the businesses it wants to succeed and the ones it wants to fail.
Over the last few days, I’ve shared the fruits of many of my White House summit interviews, including:
As you can see, I like lists …
And if you haven’t yet read my companion piece to this article, “3 Reasons to Panic Over Obama’s Economic Plan,” follow this link and check it out.
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