5 Hard Questions for Obama’s Economic Team

by Jeff Reeves | June 5, 2011 4:16 pm

If you could ask one question to the top economic officials of the Obama administration – about personal finance, the economy or the stock market – what would it be?

I’ve been given the privilege of an invitation to participate in the White House’s first Personal Finance Online Summit next week on Wednesday, June 8. And while the schedule isn’t set yet, I’ve been told that some top Obama administration officials will be on hand to explain policies targeting deficit reduction, the debt ceiling, gas prices and other key economic issues.

And while I don’t pretend to believe it will be a round table discussion, I am hopeful that there will be an opportunity to raise my hand and offer up a question or two.

This opportunity is very humbling, and I’m honored that the White House looked me up. But I want to make sure I share this opportunity with you – the investors who rely on InvestorPlace.com every day to protect your finances and work towards your retirement goals.

So if you could ask one question of the Obama administration, what would it be? Please post it in the comment section below or send me an e-mail at editor@investorplace.com[1].

Here are a few hard questions of my own I’ve thought of for the Obama Administration’s economic team, if I get a chance to ask them:

To Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, on the debt ceiling:

Some point out that because you, as Treasury Secretary, are authorized to decide which bills to pay first that the only person who can truly trigger a default on U.S. debt is yourself. Is this true?

And if so, wouldn’t the severe damage to American credibility and credit ratings do more harm to the U.S. economy than other options – such as laying off federal employees or shutting down some government offices temporarily?

To Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration:

The Treasury recently tapped into government employee pension funds to free up cash and bridge short-term spending obligations. Many Americans are concerned that the Social Security Trust has been depleted by similar tactics over the years – and that when 30-somethings like me will need the Trust’s surplus to cover our SSA checks, all that will be in the piggy bank is a stack of IOUs too big for the Treasury to cover.

To resurrect an Al Gore-ism, is there any chance of a “lock box” where the surplus in the Social Security Trust cannot be raided and will be protected for Americans who will need it when they retire?

To anyone who will listen, about the crushing weight of federal spending:

Last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met with GOP freshman from the Tea Party to talk about the debt ceiling and federal spending issues. I assume it went like this: Geithner explained that after a decade of free-spending excess, some necessary in the wake of the financial crisis and some left over from past administrations, it’s impossible to just snap your fingers and demand a balanced budget. Then the Tea Partiers countered by warning that the current level of federal spending will bankrupt our children and needs to be addressed immediately, before it’s too late.

Nobody pretends these problems are easy to fix, but I sometimes get the impression that folks on both sides are less concerned with the real issues and more concerned with “winning.” Whatever side of the issue you’re on, can you admit that the other side has at least a few good ideas – and most importantly, has the best interests of the nation at heart?

And if you can admit that a few of your opponent’s ideas have merit and that your opponent is coming from place of noble intentions, then what in tarnation is taking so long to reach a compromise and begin rebuilding this nation’s economy?

To Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, on the auto industry bailout:

You wrote a column in The Washington Post[2] last week about why the auto industry bailout was a success, with GM returning to profitability and thousands of jobs saved. But you also admit in the column that “years of bad decisions had caused them to progressively lose market share to foreign competitors” and that “we will not get back all of our investments in the industry.”

Few folks wish ill on auto workers or have such enmity towards the Chevy brand that they want it to disappear forever. But many Americas disagree fundamentally with the principle of giving a government-backed “loan” to companies that made bad business decisions – and they disagree even more with a loan like that which will never be repaid.

Haven’t we set a dangerous precedent with these bailouts, whatever the turnaround for GM and Chrysler? Isn’t any positive spin on the auto bailout by the Obama Administration – or George Bush’s team that originally extended $17.4 billion to Detroit, for that matter – an acknowledgement that some favored companies will always be “too big to fail?”

To Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, on homeownership

I recently read that the nationwide homeownership rate is back to levels seen in the mid-1990s — about 65% or so — after topping out at 70% during the easy money days before the sub-prime crisis. Some folks are worried about this rate’s decline, but I was wondering whether you think 70% is a realistic number.

Frankly if Fannie and Freddie cranked out trillions of dollars in risky loans only to move the needle 5 percentage points and shoulder us with the biggest financial crisis since the 1920s, isn’t a lower ownership rate for the best even if it is equilibrium at a lower headline number?

Is it time to finally admit some people just aren’t cut out to own a home?

Jeff Reeves is editor of InvestorPlace.com. Follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP and become a fan of InvestorPlace on Facebook.

What Questions Would You Ask?

InvestorPlace.com editor Jeff Reeves will be attending the White House’s first Personal Finance Online Summit next week on Wednesday, June 8. If you could ask one question of the Obama administration, what would it be? Please post it in the comment section below, tweet it to Jeff’s @JeffReevesIP Twitter account, or send Jeff an e-mail at editor@investorplace.com[1].

  1. editor@investorplace.com: mailto:editor@investorplace.com
  2. The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-rescue-worth-fueling/2011/05/31/AGypMlFH_story.html

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