Obama economic team goes on offense

By Michael Hirsh

April 16, 2012

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Gene Sperling, the Obama administration’s two top economic officials, went on the offensive against Mitt Romney and the Republicans on Sunday, ridiculing the presumptive GOP nominee’s statements and defending the president’s record on jobs, growth and tax reform. But the two took different approaches on just how detailed Obama’s tax and fiscal proposals actually were.

Challenged on whether the so-called “Buffett Rule” that would raise tax rates on millionaires -- a major topic of Obama’s speeches last week -- was a mere gimmick that would add just $5 billion a year, Geithner told ABC’s This Week that the rule was “part of a very comprehensive, detailed, long-term fiscal program that would bring our deficits down to a sustainable level.”

He emphasized further, in a separate appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, that the Buffett Rule was part of an “incredibly detailed set” of tax and spending proposals.

Sperling, by contrast, acknowledged that Obama has only “put out the principles” of a tax-reform plan along the lines of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction proposal, which the president did not entirely endorse. And he indicated that a detailed proposal would come only as the result of negotiations with Republicans.

“I think, you know, to be honest, you haven’t seen any of the major parties go overly detailed on tax reform,” the director of the National Economic Council said on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS show, according to a transcript released by CNN. “I think, as we saw in 1986, at the end of the day when this happens, it usually happens because there’s a bipartisan negotiation where everybody works hard, you know, holds hands and jumps together with it.”

Geithner called Romney’s charge that the administration was warring on women because “92.3 percent” of job losses in the Great Recession were female “a ridiculous way to look at the problem.” (The number, often cited by Romney, has been categorized as “mostly false” by PolitiFact.)

Said Geithner:  “You're going to see a lot of politicians choose to campaign in fiction. But we have to govern in fact.”

Despite a spate of good economic news touted by the administration, Geithner declined to assert that the unemployment rate, currently at 8.2 percent, would decline any further by Election Day. “If the economy keeps growing at a moderate pace, then, yes, the economy -- more people will be back to work and you should see a gradual reduction in the unemployment rate,” he said.

He also said he didn't know whether the gradual decline in oil prices could continue. The latter issue depended on “how strong growth is around the world,” he said, “and it depends on how events develop in the Gulf and with respect to Iran.” The main reason for price stabilization right now, he said, is “because we've seen the supply of oil, because of actions that the Saudis have taken, and others, increase quite significantly. And that's helped calm prices in the oil markets. And that's pretty encouraging.”

In the NBC interview, Geithner added: “We're in a much better position to deal with those pressures than we've been” before.

By Michael Hirsh

April 16, 2012