OUR OPINION: Avoiding a 'Gingrich revolution' in reverse
If Barack Obama is elected president, Kent Conrad -- an early and important supporter -- likely will be one of his key advisers on economic issues. So, what advice would Conrad give the new president? On Tuesday, Sen. Conrad, D-N.D., answered tha...
If Barack Obama is elected president, Kent Conrad -- an early and important supporter -- likely will be one of his key advisers on economic issues.
So, what advice would Conrad give the new president?
On Tuesday, Sen. Conrad, D-N.D., answered that question when he spoke at a roundtable of business leaders in Grand Forks. In his column on this page, New York Times columnist David Brooks paints a bleak portrait of a free-spending federal government under President Obama. "The Ginrich revolution in reverse and on steroids," Brooks calls it.
If Obama wants to avoid that outcome, he should listen to fiscal moderates such as Conrad, who have nothing against "big government" but do insist that the government function in a prudent and sustainable way.
Conrad said he'd tell the next president three things. The first concerned the credit markets, which have seized up in recent weeks like the engine of a car with too little oil and brought the economy to a screeching halt. Freeing up those markets' movement is critically important today and it'll still be important in January, when the next president takes office, Conrad said.
The second tip has to do with the economic stimulus package the next Congress likely will debate. In the first such stimulus earlier this year, the federal government sent checks to taxpayers. That also could happen next year. But checks are an inefficient way of stimulating the economy, Conrad said.
For one thing, a good share of the money gets saved rather than spent. More important, of those dollars that do get spent, a good portion wind up overseas in the pockets of the owners of multinational firms that do business in the U.S.
Instead, the next stimulus package should try a different tactic -- namely, infrastructure improvements, Conrad said.
That would quickly get the entire package of dollars into circulation. It would keep more of the dollars in the U.S.
And, it would answer a crushing need in the country, which is to rebuild and/or improve America's crumbling roads, bridges and schools, he noted.
Conrad's third tip is the most important for America's long-term financial health. It is for the next president to face up to and solve our entitlement dilemma.
Basically, the U.S. has promised more in the way of Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements than it can deliver. The unfunded liability runs into not just the billions and not just the trillions, but the tens of trillions of dollars.
In the past, Conrad has called attention to this issue repeatedly and proposed such measures as a bipartisan committee to aggressively hunt for solutions. Washington needs that advocacy, and American voters as well as congressmen must deliver it.
If Obama is elected, following that key piece of advice is the surest way for him to avoid the future of "overreach and backlash" that Brooks lays out.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald