Details, Please?

Barack Obama talked in broad strokes about his plan to save the economy.

Not a bad strategy for the president-elect. It got him elected, for example.

But at some point, we need details.

Last year, the Treasury secretary presented the Congress a three-page bill that promised to spend about three-quarters of a trillion dollars of the taxpayers’ money to unfreeze the credit market.

The Congress initially balked, and then added a few more pages, and then the Treasury secretary spent the money as he saw fit anyway.

We don’t need a replay of that maneuver.

We need some details. And we need details on a few specific things. For example:

1. Transparency: What is your specific plan to track the money that has already gone out through the Treasury and the Fed? Neel Kashkari has said that he doesn’t have the ability to track this money and the banks (those guys who were forced to take the money) have said that they don’t have to tell us. Well, guess what? They do have to tell us, and we have to have systems in place to track where this money goes.

2. Pork: Define exactly what is in the national interest and what is in the special interest. One man’s pork is another man’s national interest. Tell us upfront what you mean when you say that there won’t be any earmarks. We don’t need to waste money building museums that nobody will see or studying things that nobody needs to study.

3. Long-term vs. short-term: Tell us what projects will end in a specific timeframe and what projects are built to last forever. Once a government program starts, it’s pretty darn hard to kill it. Give us an ending date, not just a starting date for your short-term projects.

4. Trade: How does your program help with our trade deficit? How does it interact with the realities of the global marketplace? What is your plan to increase American exports? Are you for free trade or against it?

5. Entitlements: What is your long-term plan to deal with the coming entitlement disaster? How does spending this much money make us more prepared for when the baby boomers retire en masse?

6. Taxes: How will you pay for all of this in the long term? Will you increase taxes on investment and capital? Will you sharply increase taxes on job creators and entrepreneurs? Will you allow the Bush tax cuts to expire? What kind of tax changes will be built for the long term, and what are only short-term gimmicks?

The president-elect made a lot of bold promises. He promised to reinvent politics and the business cycle. He promised to make a sharp break from the past. He intoned that only government can fix this problem, just as he said that most of the jobs would be created by the private sector.

But he didn’t give us a lot of details. And right now, we don’t need soaring rhetoric. We need details.


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