Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shocking Revelations From Within The White House (With Cats and animated gifs!)

The debate over the size of the stimulus has always been one that captivated progressives, and this will probably not end any time soon. People like myself have looked at all kinds of reporting on the subject for clues as to who chose the size, why it was chosen, and why there was such an emphasis on tax cuts.

Apparently a new book will be giving us a more complete picture of that process, and a whole lot more:
There has been no shortage of literature to dissect how President Obama handled the stimulus debate. But a new book by Noam Scheiber of The New Republic, "The Escape Artists," sheds new light on the matter.
As Scheiber writes, members of the president's economic team felt that if they were to properly fill the hole caused by the recession, they would need a bill that priced at $1.8 trillion -- $600 billion more than was previously believed to be the high-water mark for the White House.

The $1.8 trillion figure was included in a December 2008 memo authored by Christina Romer (the incoming head of the Council of Economic Advisers) and obtained by Scheiber in the course of researching his book.
"When Romer showed [Larry] Summers her $1.8 trillion figure late in the week before the memo was due, he dismissed it as impractical. So Romer spent the next few days coming up with a reasonable compromise: roughly $1.2 trillion," Scheiber writes. 

As has now become the stuff of Obama administration lore, when the final document was ultimately laid out for the president, even the $1.2 trillion figure wasn't included. Summers thought it was still politically impractical. Moreover, if Obama had proposed $1.2 trillion but only obtained $800 billion, it would have been categorized as a failure. 

"He had a view that you don't ever want to be seen as losing," a Summers colleague told Scheiber. 
So that's news. Before now, no one had previously mentioned a 1.8 trillion dollar stimulus under any context. But wait there's more:
When Summers made the final presentation to the president's then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Scheiber writes, "It reflected what he deemed the best course that was politically feasible ... Yet because Emanuel and the president assumed Summers was largely giving them [economic advice], they believed they were closer to the ideal than they actually were." 

Well that's not good. Summers thought his job was to give the president a proposal that he thought was politically feasible, while Obama and Emanuel believed they were getting a strictly economic overview of what needed to be done. That may salvage some of Summers' rep as an economist (He still thought the stimulus only needed to be a "insurance plan", so not really), but it is fairly damning on the whole administration that this fuck up occurred on the most important decision of Obama's presidency.

But at least no one in the room was peddling completely discredited arguments against a larger stimulus, right?
The split was noticeable as early as the crafting of the Recovery Act, often with Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag playing the role of Keynsian antagonist. Orszag, writes Scheiber, "worried that the sheer size of the stimulus could undermine the confidence of businessmen and money managers." In the subsequent year, when other advisers argued that an additional dose of stimulus would prop up a staggering economy, he downplayed the potential impact. 

Sweet Jesus. Having someone making such a bullshit argument against stimulus is the equivalent to having to having a climate denier in the room when talking about global warming. It's not true and stupid, and why the fuck was someone who believes crazy things like that advising the president. Moving on:
At various intervals, Orszag clashed with different members of the president's economic and political team. David Axelrod, the president's chief communications hand, became convinced that Orszag was leaking material to The New York Times. Orszag, in turn, refused to incorporate any of Axelrod's talking points that he didn't personally find credible. Summers fought Orszag's pursuit of a deficit reduction commission, arguing that it would lock the president into uncomfortable reforms. He also pushed back on Orszag's idea of a domestic spending freeze, insisting the cuts would be too close to the bone.
"We're Democrats," Summers harrumphed. "We believe in these things." Besides, both ideas struck him as gimmicks unworthy of a president. To colleagues he complained that "what's really important in life is not to believe your own bullshit."
Orszag, in turn, so distrusted Summers' influence that, as Scheiber writes, he "enacted a special rule for Summers's deputy, Jason Furman: anyone receiving an unsolicited inquiry from Furman was to alert Orszag's chief of staff, Jill Blickstein."

In the end, however, only one economic adviser truly argued that deficit reduction should be put off for another day. And by the time the 2010 elections were over, even Obama's top political advisers were arguing that Christina Romer's position was utterly untenable.
It's nice to have Larry Summers being a dick for our cause every now and then! The "believing your own bullshit" line is key. I remember after Obama gave his main 'Austerity Now' speech, my first thought was, holy crap, I think they might actually believe this stuff. Not everyone believes it, but it's scary to know that some of them do.

Even with all the stuff listed above, we haven't gotten to the most stunning revelation in this article:
[Top Adviser David] Plouffe urged the president to give [entitlement reform] a shot. "I said he [Obama] should be big on entitlements," Plouffe told one former administration official, by which he meant reining in these budgetary elephants. Sure, this would enrage the party's base. But the political upside with the rest of the country would more than make up for it ... "Plouffe is pretty big on accomplishments trump normal politics," said one White House colleague. "Plouffe's view is that big trumps the little."

This is quite possibly the dumbest thing I have ever fucking heard. Putting aside the merits of cutting social security and medicare (none)... HE THINKS THAT CUTTING THE TWO MOST POPULAR GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS WOULD BE A POLITICAL WINNER. The guru brought back into the administration to put his reelection back on track THINKS CUTTING SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE IS A POLITICAL WINNER.

There are seriously no words for that level of stupidity. With advisers like that, what could possibly go wrong?

No comments:

Post a Comment