On Wednesday, President Barack Obama plans to announce his latest package of plans to stimulate the sagging U.S. economy, most of which are already known. It was hardly a surprise to see Republicans quickly positioning themselves to block the plans, but more disappointing to the White House must have been the cautious response even from the president’s fellow Democrats on the Hill, who simply said they were looking at the proposals. Even more damning, perhaps, was the verdict from the financial markets, which greeted the news with a big yawn. Both the Dow and the S&P indices ended the day more than one percent lower, dragged down by fresh growth worries in Europe. Economists on Wall Street said the plans would not do enough for small businesses or to solve the Democrats’ biggest economic and political problem: finding work for the 14.9 million unemployed. There are big questions, too, about how the plans will be paid for. “If he chooses to take away a corporate tax break to pay for this proposal, the net gain is zero,” said Andrew Busch at BMO Capital Markets. “This is likely why U.S. stocks are not seeing much of a bounce on the news.”
Last week White House economic adviser Christina Romer left town with a plea for a new deficit-financed economic stimulus. Today it was the turn of former budget chief Peter Orszag to go public with his prescription for the economy and taxes, views which differ from those of his former boss. Orszag suggested that the Bush-era tax cuts should be extended for all Americans for another two years in an effort to spur the economy, with a promise they will be allowed to expire altogether at the end of 2012. It is a view which makes some economic sense, but is unlikely to get much traction with a president likely to be campaigning for re-election that same year.
Some interesting interviews on the first day of the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit here in Washington. The CEOs of Lockheed Martin and of Boeing’s defense wing said both companies were well aligned for the new reality of huge fiscal deficits and tight defense budgets. Both men expressed strong support for the administration’s recently announced export control reforms, as well as new plans to extend and expand tax credits on research and development. Lockheed Martin’s Robert Stevens said he also saw the global security environment changing significantly in coming decades: withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with threats from the Korean peninsula, Iran and China meant resources were likely to be shifted away from land and towards air and naval defense systems.