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Questions for Tonight

When President Obama takes his argument for an economic stimulus to prime time tonight in his first White House press conference, I hope he delves beneath even his new-and-improved talking points and answers at least some of the following questions. (Some of which I cribbed from my list on Thursday.)

* When it comes to the overall size of the stimulus package, how did you decide what was the right amount? What was too much and what was too little? Was that science or guesswork?

* How did you determine initially that tax cuts should make up 40 percent of the package? And why do you now think a third is OK?

* How did you determine what the right balance is between short-term job stimulus and long-term investment?

* Why do you trust your economic advisers, particularly as quite a few of them are associated with policies that may have exacerbated the current financial crisis? And what do you do when they disagree?

* What if this doesn't work? How soon will you know -- and what will you do then?

* How do you usher in a post-partisan era if the leadership of one party (and arguably both) seems to have no interest any such thing?

* What do you make of the fact that the Republican leadership is redefining its party as one of opposition to your stimulus?

* Wouldn't it have been easier for you to tell Congress exactly what you wanted and then beaten it into submission if it bucked you -- rather than letting it cobble things together?

* What do you say to Republicans who worry this is the return of big government? And would you believe that if you were them?

* What was so bad about renovating the Mall? Why did you buckle on that one, rather than fight for it?

* New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman thinks the stimulus plan needs to be considerably bigger, and he also suggests that you start aggressively making the point that those who are standing in the way of your plan are putting the nation’s future at risk. Your response?

* Here's columnist Frank Rich in Sunday's New York Times: "There are simply too many major players in the Obama team who are either alumni of the financial bubble’s insiders’ club or of the somnambulant governmental establishment that presided over the catastrophe." What's your response to the charge that despite your vow to change Washington’s culture, you've already been co-opted by it?

* Your bank rescue plan appears to essentially give taxpayer dollars to the very bank executives whose high-risk, high-profit antics precipitated this mess. Why are you bailing out the people who should be punished? And why aren't you open to nationalizing banks that have, essentially, gone bankrupt on account of their greed?

By Dan Froomkin  |  February 9, 2009; 1:48 PM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis  
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Comments

Most of the questions Mr. Froomkin listed are ones for which no one has good answers - and pretending that the President should have good answers to these questions is stupid gotcha-style journalism.

How about asking for a compare/contrast to the 2 proposals on the table - Mr. Obama's versus the all-tax-cuts-all-the-time Republican plan? That can be discussed intelligently at least, and it focuses on the choices that have actually been proposed

Posted by: Mill_in_Mn | February 9, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

@Mill_in_Mn: while stupid gotcha-style journalism is certainly far more common than good investigative reporting, I'm not really seeing that in most of these questions.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | February 9, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

How much do we need for the stimulus???

Why don't we follow the lead of the Bush Administration's Treasury Department -- when asked how they arrived at the $700 BILLION figure for the TARP:

It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."

Posted by: winoohno | February 9, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

If all spending after this bill will be on the "paygo" idea, how will you be able to fund anything whatsoever that you campaigned on (health care reform, green jobs, etc.)? Should there be a suspension of "paygo" until economic times begin to come back to normal?

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | February 9, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Definite answers may not be possible for Dan's queries but that is probably beside the point. The problems and circumstances the US/world economy has been mired in are unique. The way forwards is not clear at all, so anyones plan for going forward will be a lot of expert opinion, personal intuition and a lot of trial and error.
In that light, the topics Dan brings up in his list of questions could contribute quite a bit to people's confidence in President Obama's ability to manage the crisis. All the technical stuff happens out of site but we need a measure of confidence that those issues are being managed with our best interests in mind. Questions that elicit his inner policy wonkishness can fill that gap.

Posted by: PatD1 | February 9, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

While the questions are to the point and tough, remember who we're dealing with in the White House steno pool. The same ones who interview GOPer two to one over Democrats, almost inversely proportional to their numbers.

Posted by: Bushy | February 9, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

One thing Obama should do is explain why larger is better (per Krugman) and why government spending that conserves federal, state and municipal jobs and services are also stimulative. The GOP seems to have defined "stimulative" so narrowly that unless you're talking about building a new bridge across the Mississippi, it's just "pork" and "unnecessary spending." The WORST cuts, though, are the cuts in funds for BUILDING SCHOOLS? School construction is stimulative in both the short and long terms. How does Obama let the GOP get away with defining it as "pork"?

Also, why are we doing a "patch" of the alternative minimum tax, which will reduce taxes for upper-middle class taxpayers earning up to $300k, while eliminating some of the true middle class tax breaks for people earning under $150k? Is it because we expect the upper-middle class folks to go back to buying Gucci and Prada for full-price at Saks if they get a tax cut, while the GOP thinks that the lower income folks will just pay down their credit card debt? What genius thought of that one, and why are the Democrats letting it stand?

Enough. I'm starting to foam at the mouth...

Posted by: litigatormom | February 9, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

We are entering or already in a deflationary spiral. The fix is creating good news in the form of a string of positive economic indicators. These are, hopefully, digested by the public and they take over by returning to historical spending patterns.
Therefore, it is impossible to know ahead of time what the ultimate 'right number' is.
Having said that, aiming as much as possible at the lower income brackets is exactly the right thing to do. This virtually guarantees the money will be 1) spent rather than saved and 2) spent here in the US.
Imagine riding a 10-speed bike up a hill. The gears jam and you start rolling downhill. Do you want to shift to 1st gear(targetted spending and safety net increases) or 10th gear (tax cuts for the wealthy and heavily indebted small businesses) or do nothing and enjoy the backwards ride?

Posted by: trblmkr1 | February 9, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Gotcha questions are questions which you already know the answer to, but you think will be embarrassing to hear coming out of the President's mouth.

The questions posed above would give the President an opportunity to let us know the thinking behind some of the decisions which have been made. Maybe the answer will be "we just picked a really big number". Maybe it will be "those are our best guess now and we'll tweak the numbers later". We don't know. That's why we ask.

BTW, questions like "what newspapers do you read" are not gotcha questions, but puff questions. Really easy questions which allow the respondent to talk a bit about themselves. Puff themselves up a bit before you get to the meat of the interview.

Posted by: fletc3her | February 9, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

If Froomkin asks how the President chose the size of the package, he simply has not been paying attention to any of the substantive discussions.
Over and over there have been projections of a loss of at least $1 trillion of economic activity in the US. This has to be replaced to keep the downturn from spiraling further.
That's why the package must be so large and include a significant amount of spending. That much of that spending is investment things we actually need is even better.

Posted by: bethechangeyouwant | February 10, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

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