March 16, 2009
Can President Get The Job Done?
The furor over the huge federal spending under President Obama - a $1.75 trillion deficit, 13 percent - obscures an even more basic question: Does he know what he is doing?That is, does he know how to do anything other than spend?His stimulus package, of course, took no special ability: He left the details to Democrats in Congress. But his two other major initiatives - his banking - and mortgage-relief plans - are both flawed and unlikely to solve their respective problems.Indeed, they're so wide of the mark as to prompt questions not of Obama's ideology but of his basic competence.The bank-bailout plan seems to be largely stillborn. Having wished that the private sector would flock to invest in toxic assets if offered the right incentives, the Treasury secretary is still hoping. Crossing his fingers seems to have replaced effective policy in his planning.To date, no massive infusion of private-sector capital seems in view and Washington is doing little more than writing checks to prop up the failing banks. That doesn't take a genius. But the difficult task of relieving the banks of toxic assets so they can rekindle the flow of loans seems to be beyond the ability of the president and his administration.Perhaps Obama privately isn't so concerned about the banks or the businesses that need the credit markets restored. Those are Republican interest groups, right? But he surely must want his mortgage-rescue plan to work - the homeowners facing foreclosure tend to be Democratic constituents.But this plan, too, falls far short of the mark.Incredibly, it excludes anyone who has lost their job and can't afford to make their payments even if they were to spend 31 percent of their income trying to do so. If you can't come close to affording your mortgage, even if only because of a (hopefully temporary) loss of employment, forget about it: Obama is not going to help you.Nor will he help you if your mortgage exceeds your home's value. One out of five mortgages now falls into this category - and the continued fall in property values will put more and more homeowners in it. But they can expect no help from Obama's rescue plan.Why would a liberal be so callous? Why would he leave so many out in the cold? Could it be that the administration simply can't figure out how to help these folks? That the president couldn't devise a counter to his financial advisers, who presumably wanted to exclude these folks?It was Clinton-era Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros who urged Fannie Mae to spend 42 percent of its money buying mortgages for lower-income people and who suggested that they no longer require down payments. And it was his successor, Andrew Cuomo, who upped the ante to 50 percent of the Fannie Mae portfolio.After Democrats inveigled people to buy homes they could not afford, how can they justify passing a plan that excludes them from assistance?It appears that Obama is at sea when it comes to financial policy, economic-recovery planning and credit-rescue efforts. We're stuck not only with a socialist but seemingly an incompetent one.