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September 24, 2017

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President Obama versus the Naysayers

There are so many disparate views about how to get the United States out of recession that no recovery formula can claim consensus support. Although President Obama has submitted a focused and transparent budget to the Congress, it will take extraordinary political leadership to get it through the partisan battles to come in anything resembling its present form.

Success will become increasingly difficult with each new revelation of outrageous behavior by those giants of finance who brought the world economy to its knees. The latest perfidy is AIG doling out US$165 million in bonuses to executives after taking US$170 billion in government bailout funds. President Obama must bring a halt to this kind of looting, even if that requires exercising the government's power as majority shareholder to take over management of the company. Without such bold action, public outrage will make it politically impossible to rescue the banking system with more infusions of taxpayer money.

In the great debate over government spending, Republicans almost unanimously opposed the President's US$787 billion stimulus package. That "just say no" stance was calculated to be their best formula for election gains in 2010; but offering no coherent alternative is about as effective in reviving the economy as former first lady Nancy Reagan's "just say no" was in curbing the narcotics trade.

Adding to the negative impression was radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh's bombast that President Obama should fail. The Republican National Committee Chairman criticized Limbaugh for this, but then felt the need to offer an apology to placate the Party's right wing base. Even conservative Republican columnists have accused the Republican leadership of obstructionism based on rant rather than reason.

The next item on the Congress' fiscal agenda was a US$410 billion appropriations bill for the fiscal year beginning last October, which had been in legislative limbo for months. Republicans came up with the idea of a spending freeze until the end of this fiscal year. This was rejected in the Senate as not so laughable politicking. One thing economists do generally agree on is that freezing spending during a recession just exacerbates the downward economic spiral. The bill finally passed, and the President signed it to avoid a battle with Congress, despite his opposition to earmarks.

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