President Obama’s top economist, in her final speech before stepping down Friday, urged Congress to “find the will and wisdom” to spend more money to create jobs — even though lawmakers’ appetite for new government spending has waned ahead of November’s elections.
Describing the current recession as “terrifying and so difficult to cure,” Christina Romer, head of the Council of Economic Advisers, used a Wednesday address at the National Press Club to call for continued stimulus dollars to help tackle stubbornly high national unemployment. While she acknowledged concerns about the nation’s long-term debt, which has passed the $13 trillion mark under Mr. Obama’s watch, she said those worries shouldn’t preclude additional spending.
“Concern about the deficit cannot be an excuse for leaving unemployed workers to suffer,” she said. “We have tools that would bring unemployment down without worsening our long-run fiscal outlook, if we can only find the will and the wisdom to use them.”
Echoing other White House officials, Ms. Romer said the administration knew the economy was bad when Mr. Obama came to office last year, but argued it was impossible to know just how deep the recession truly was.
Indeed, the $814 billion stimulus package pushed through Congress early last year has been the subject of a torrent of criticism from both sides, with liberals decrying it as too small and conservatives pointing out that it failed to keep unemployment below 8 percent as the White House had promised. But Ms. Romer defended the bill as “unprecedented and pragmatic,” saying it is on track to accomplish what it was intended to do.
At the same time, like Mr. Obama, she said current unemployment, at 9.5 percent, is not acceptable and illustrates the need for more spending to create jobs.
Mr. Obama has maintained a drumbeat of steady criticism of Senate Republicans, who have consistently tried to block further stimulus measures. Most recently, he called on the GOP to lift its “blockade” of a $30 billion proposal aimed at helping credit-strapped small businesses secure credit. Republicans counter that the government’s huge red ink levels are holding back the economy and have demanded new spending be paid for with cuts in other areas.
Before lawmakers left Washington for summer recess, they approved a $26 billion package of aid to states to keep teachers and firefighters on the job. That bill was the subject of a fierce fight, however, as Senate Democrats had to beat back a Republican filibuster.
But even some Democrats are showing increasing resistance to government spending, particularly “Blue Dog” conservatives. The $26 billion proposal had to be scaled back in light of their concerns and was only about half of what the administration initially requested.
Although Ms. Romer said she would like to see the government “spend more and tax less,” she said tax cuts for high-income earners do not have as much of a stimulative effect on the economy as those for middle-class workers. Tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush expire at the end of this year; Democrats have so far supported extending those for the middle-class while balking at those for the highest income brackets.
The White House has yet to name a successor to Ms. Romer, who is returning to academia.