The State of the European Economy

Robert Gibbs Should Not Go Off-Message

A spokesman who cannot stay on message is no good at all.

The message wasn't "nobodycoudanoed we needed a bigger stimulus": it was (a) Congress would not go for a bigger stimulus, and (b) the federal government's capacity to ramp up its spending was limited, so (c) fiscal stimulus functioned as an insurance policy, and (d) the Fed and the Treasury could also swing into action to stimulate the economy.

That Gibbs is now saying "nobodycoudanoed" is off message, and profoundly unhelpful.

BooMan sends us to:

Booman Tribune ~ A Progressive Community: Asked if the stimulus bill was too small, [White House press secretary Robert] Gibbs says: "I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. ... Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of ... what we were facing." He adds that any stimulus was "unlikely to fill" the hole the financial meltdown created. "What the Recovery Act did was prevent us from sliding even into a deeper recession with greater economic contraction, with greater job loss than we have experienced because of it," he says.

Booman says:

Wrong Answer. This is not good enough:

This answer has the dubious distinction of being erroneous and stupid. Plenty of people had a sufficient grasp of the situation to recommend a much bigger stimulus bill. The no one could have predicted line of argument is not a political winner under any circumstances but it really stinks when it isn't true.

Now, the best answer here may not have been the most truthful one, which is that Congress wasn't offering a significantly bigger stimulus, but it is now clear that it is not going to be enough to significantly bring down high unemployment. Rather than looking helpless, the administration should just start making the argument that we have a choice between prolonged high unemployment or another big stimulus package. Make the election a referendum on that choice.

Setting aside that his delivery was uncharacteristically terrible, the president's statement on the economy today was pretty pathetic.

This ain't getting it done on any level.

And we all remember Ryan Lizza:

Ryan Lizza: Perhaps nobody’s task was more important than Romer’s. She had drafted a crucial section of the memo which included an economic forecast and projections about the impact of a fiscal stimulus.... At the December meeting, it was Romer’s job to explain just how bad the economy was likely to get. “David Axelrod said we have to have a ‘holy-shit moment,’” she began. “Well, Mr. President, this is your ‘holy-shit moment.’ It’s worse than we thought.”... Axelrod told me, “The basic message was that, if we didn’t act quickly to replace the output we were losing, unemployment could skyrocket.” Romer mentioned that employers had dropped more than half a million workers from the payrolls in November, the biggest cut in more than three decades. “The conditions are grim, and deteriorating rapidly,” she told the President.

The most important question facing Obama that day was how large the stimulus should be.... Congress now appeared receptive to something on the order of five hundred billion. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate, was calling for a trillion. Romer had run simulations of the effects of stimulus packages of varying sizes: six hundred billion dollars, eight hundred billion dollars, and $1.2 trillion. The best estimate for the output gap was some two trillion dollars over 2009 and 2010.... Romer’s analysis, deeply informed by her work on the Depression, suggested that the package should probably be more than $1.2 trillion. The memo to Obama, however, detailed only two packages: a five-hundred-and-fifty-billion-dollar stimulus and an eight-hundred-and-ninety-billion-dollar stimulus....

There were sound arguments why the $1.2-trillion figure was too high. First, Emanuel and the legislative-affairs team thought that it would be impossible to move legislation of that size, and dismissed the idea out of hand. Congress was “a big constraint,” Axelrod said. “If we asked for $1.2 trillion, it probably would have created such a case of sticker shock that the system would have locked up there.” He pointed east, toward Capitol Hill. “And the world was watching us, the market was watching us. If we failed to produce a stimulus bill, that in and of itself could have had deleterious effects.”

There was also a mechanical argument against a stimulus of that size. Peter Orszag, who was celebrating his fortieth birthday that day, said that, while the argument for a bigger stimulus was sound theoretically, there were limits to how much money the government could practically spend in the near future...