Lawrence Summers, Christina Roemer, Pete Orszag, Austin Goolsbee, and – coming soon – Timothy Geithner. All are former (in the case of Geithner, shortly to be former) members of the original Obama economic team. And all have left the fold for greener pastures.
Another common trait is that all (again except Geithner) have been critical of Obama’s policies to a greater or lesser degree. Summers, onetime head of the National Economic Council and a treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, was the first to go. And although he has been largely loyal to his former boss, running interference for him the day before the election last November with a column at Reuters that criticized the attack on Obamanomics by his friend and fellow economist Michael Boskin, Summers nevertheless conceded:
Boskin is correct in noting that current budget deficits and rates of debt accumulation cannot be maintained indefinitely, and that stabilizing and ultimately reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio is important if all sorts of economic horrors are to be avoided.
Summer concluded the paragraph with the observation that “this is a point of agreement between the two candidates – not a basis for choosing between them.” But that has turned out to be false. Obama talked a good game during the campaign. His true feelings about “stabilizing and ultimately reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio,” however, have surfaced in his words and actions since. Especially telling are comments he made to John Boehner during the fiscal cliff negotiations, telling the Speaker, “We don’t have a spending problem.”
Roemer, who struck out on her own shortly after Summers, criticized Obama’s failure to take more aggressive action to curb unemployment. In March 2011, she called the 8.9% unemployment rate “an absolute crisis.” Of course, what she meant – as an Obama appointee culled like so many others from his political left – is that he hadn’t taken her advice and cobbled together an even larger economic stimulus.
Orszag, Obama’s former budget director, iterated this past September the view widely held by Republicans and disparaged by Democrats that the Bush-era tax cuts should be extended across the board. “In the face of the dueling deficits,” Orszag wrote in The New York Times, “the best approach is a compromise: extend the tax cuts for two years and then end them altogether,” including for the middle class.
Goolsbee’s critique of his former boss in June was not over the economy but Obama’s divisive class warfare. He reminded viewers of ABC’s “This Week” of Obama’s 2004 declaration that there is no “red America” or “blue America” and said the president should issue a “mea culpa.”
The mass departure speaks poorly of Obama’s hiring skills, but Americans should not expect he has learned from his past mistakes. His soon-to-be-announced replacement for Geithner is Jack Lew, current White House Chief of Staff. While Lew brings experience to the post, having served as director of the Office of Management and Budget, he is also the Obama disciple that cleverly added sequestration as a bargaining chip to the fiscal cliff fight. According to Bob Woodward’s”The Price of Politics,” Lew presented the idea at a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who scoffed at it, calling it “ridiculous.” Lew is reported as having replied:
That’s the beauty of a sequester. It’s so ridiculous that no one ever wants it to happen. It is the bomb that no one wants to drop. It actually would be an action-forcing event.
Lew is also described as arrogant and hard to get along with. But considering that sequestration is still very much on the table, those character flaws pale by comparison.
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