Roundtable on Obama's Economic Speech

Roundtable on Obama's Economic Speech

Special Report With Bret Baier - April 14, 2009


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: 2009 will continue to be a difficult year for America's economy, and, obviously, most difficult for those who have lost their jobs.

The severity of this recession will cause more job loss, more foreclosures, and more pain before it ends. By no means are we out of the woods just yet.

But from where we stand, for the very first time we're beginning to see glimmers of hope.


BAIER: It was a lengthy speech at Georgetown University here in Washington, about 45 minutes for President Obama laying out his economic agenda and where we are now with the economy.

Let's bring in our panel about this — Fred Barnes, Executive Editor of "The Weekly Standard," Juan Williams, Senior Correspondent of National Public Radio, and Byron York, chief political correspondent of "The Washington Examiner."

Byron, let's start with you.Your thoughts on the speech and the message?

BYRON YORK, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": I think the important thing that the president wanted to convey was that he has a plan. I mean, the polls show that people who are worried, they're scared about the economy, they're scared about their own future. They want to think that the president has a plan to fix the problem.

And it almost doesn't matter as much what is actually in the plan, because, actually, when you look at it, he talked about these five pillars of recovery. Well, when you looked at the five pillars of the recovery — investments in healthcare, investments in renewable energy, investments in education — they look kind of like the Obama campaign platform from a long time before the economic collapse. But I think the idea was to show "I'm on it. I have a plan. This is where we're going."

BAIER: So you didn't see much new in this?


BAIER: Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: No, I think the key point is "I'm paying attention. My attention has not been off anywhere else. I understand job one, and job one for the American president here in April of 2009 is the economy." And he is saying he is back on it, and he understands it.

And he also then has to what I think of as a balancing act. He's up on a high-wire. The whole thing is he has to be optimistic, but not too optimistic.

Today we saw some numbers that indicated that retail sales, for example, are down from the first two months. So he has to be able to say "I understand this. I anticipated this. This is a little bump in the road, but it's not anything to get frantic about."

If we anticipate there will be more job losses, more foreclosures down the road, but we think we understand the dynamic here.

And Ben Bernanke today speaking at Morehouse College in Atlanta said much the same thing. Look at what the Fed is doing. We're getting into commercial piper to make available more money for specific areas of consumer loans and to small business and to people who want to buy things.

What you see in combination here is, just as Byron suggested, an administration saying, "We are paying attention, and we have a plan."

BAIER: Fred?

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": The problem is, it's not a very good plan. And you saw in the speech the basic contradiction in his plan. You read back about the New Deal, and there were two things Roosevelt had to deal with — economic recovery and his agenda, his basically liberal agenda. He chose the agenda over recovery.

I think Barack Obama is doing exactly the same thing, because he has built in here, if he wants economic recovery, then anybody can look and see all the things in his plan that work against economic recovery — cap and trade, which will shrink the economy, for one thing. They see tax hikes in the future.

He talked at some length about the new regulatory regime, which sounded pretty draconian to me.

And so that contradiction that is built in there. He didn't shy away from it, he just didn't call it a contradiction.

And there is one other thing, and that's the banks. It is something like — I may have this figure a little bit off — but about 75 percent of all the bank holdings in the company, all the deposits, are in the top ten banks, the big banks.

And he continues to criticize these banks, and he's telling them how we're going to put curbs on the pay for your executives, and so on. And what we're seeing of course is executives fleeing from these banks and going to other places, hedge funds or other places, where they can work and not be in these banks.

These banks — if he keeps that up, if he keeps thrashing these banks, they're not going to lend. They aren't now lending, and they're not going to lend. They're scared to death.

WILLIAMS: You describe talk of regulation as draconian.


WILLIAMS: To my ears, it strikes me as responsible given the behavior of the banks was a major contributing factor to get us into this economic crisis.

BARNES: Maybe so, but it's not going to spur —

WILLIAMS: Wait a second, Fred. The banks are right now on an offensive against the Obama administration and against any regulations, some of them talking about wanting to give the money back.

But you look at Goldman. Goldman is reporting profits. Wells Fargo reporting profits. So why do they need all of our money, and why did they refuse to account for the money, and why is it that the credit markets were remaining frozen until people started to put pressure on them?

BAIER: Juan, you can't characterize the banks as being against the Obama administration. They want to give back the money because they don't want the strings attached.

WILLIAMS: Correct. They don't want the regulation that Fred called draconian a moment ago because the administration says as we are trying to manage this recovery, we may have to make some demands on these banks.

BAIER: Byron, let me ask you this. There were a couple of lines in this speech that clearly were aimed towards, perhaps, the anger that you are seeing around the country and these 750-plus tea parties that we will see tomorrow. The president seemed to be trying to get a message out to them — calm down.

What was the message? What was the tone?

YORK: Well, the tone is we've got this under control, and, you know, we're going to make things better.

He sent a message, I thought, about banks when he put in some text that wasn't in the text that had been released by the White House. It was about we want to encourage people to make things, people who are productive, as opposed to those guys who just push money around.

It was a very anti-bank message, subtly done, and probably connected with people.

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