Imagine having the Treasury Secretary's job right now.
Your job, basically, is to tell Americans that hundreds of billions of more taxpayer dollars have to go to Wall Street after hundreds of billions of dollars have already gone to Wall Street which has had the observable effect of the economy continuing to swirl around the toilet bowl making a horrible gurgling noise.
There are two huge things the government is doing so far to try to fix the economy -- the bailout and the stimulus.
If you're a Democratic politician the stimulus is way more fun. It is a happy accident of Keynesian economics that the most technically-economically-effective things to spend money on as stimulus happen to be things that people like -- building schools, fixing broken stuff, funding teachers and cops etc. Which might explain why the White House has taken big overt steps to get the American people to associate the stimulus plan with the president himself. President Obama received a huge reception today at his stimulus-plan-town-hall in Fort Meyers, Florida... in a county he lost by eleven points.
When the president announced he only had time for one more question the event turned into a scene from The Price is Right with everyone on the room pleading to be chosen.
For all of the Republicans' efforts to make it seem like a bad thing, President Obama has taken ownership of the stimulus. He wants you to associate it with him.
TARP on the other hand? The Wall Street bailout? Uh... Tim, you can take that, right? Last night at his press conference, the president was asked to address the bailout. He sort of said, "Thanks, but no thanks."
OBAMA: My immediate task is making sure that the second half of that money, $350 billion, is spent properly. // I don't want to preempt my Secretary of the Treasury; he's going to be laying out these principles in great detail tomorrow.
"I don't want to preempt my Secretary of the Treasury." Yeah, I wouldn't either.
Today, Secretary Geithner dutifully unveiled the new plan to overhaul the bailout. And, honestly, the announcement was pretty disastrously received. When he began speaking at about 11 o'clock this morning the market was feeling sort of optimistic. By day's end the market plunged 382 points.
The L.A. Times ran with this headline: "Wall Street to Geithner: Where are the details, man?"
The IMF's former Chief Economist told Talking Points Memo, "This is not a plan."
The headline on Bloomberg? "Skepticism over bank rescue"
If the question is whether the rest of the bailout under Obama will be more effective and less offensive than the bailout that took place under Bush... well... hmmm. From the New York Times today:
"Mr. Geithner ... successfully fought against more severe limits on executive pay for companies receiving government aid ... [the administration] will not dictate to the banks how they should spend the billions of dollars in new government money."
"The plan largely repeats the Bush Administration's approach of deferring to many of the same companies and executives who had peddled risky loans and investments at the heart of the crisis."
Yeah, my stock market's down on this news too. To be fair, there are some things that are different from the Bush administration's approach. For instance, new transparency measures. Neat.
He even announced a new government website where we the people can track our "investments." Double neat.
But overall, today's announcement was pretty disastrously received. The question is, was that inevitable? Is this a policy that's so politically toxic that this plan is the best we could have expected? Or, should we not reflexively hate it-- is the policy getting better?
Time for a talking down.