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WASTING WARREN: The business guru’s credibility should have been used to endorse a presidential recovery plan
WATCHING the American presidential election campaign unfold reaffirms how much it would have benefited from a serious, centrist third-party challenger. It would have been so clarifying to have an independent voice calling out Mitt Romney for running a campaign that consists of decrying the last 31/2 years of the Obama presidency, while offering to reinstate the very same failed policies that made the eight years of George W. Bush a disaster that President Barack Obama has spent most of his time cleaning up.
And it would have been equally clarifying to have an independent challenger calling out Obama for failing to put a credible, specific economic plan on the table -- relying instead on a series of discrete appeals to each of the Democratic Party constituencies.
But there will be no third-party candidate, so the only hope is getting Obama to raise his game. To do that, the president needs to recognise just how badly he wasted Warren Buffett -- using him for a two-week, wedge-issue sugar high.
Obama got Buffett to endorse the "Buffett Rule" -- a minimum tax rate of 30 per cent for any individual who makes more than US$1 million (RM3.15 million) a year.
The plan had no chance of passing, would have made only a small dent in the deficit and was rightly decried by experts as a gimmick that only diverted attention from what we really need: comprehensive tax reform that can substantially raise revenue in a fairer manner. The Buffett Rule has largely faded away.
Buffett is respected by many as a straight-talking nonpartisan -- someone who can "call the game". What the president should have done is follow the advice of the Princeton University economist and former Federal Reserve vice-chairman Alan Blinder, namely lay out a specific "three-step rehab programme for our nation's fiscal policy".
It should combine a near-term stimulus on job-creating infrastructure, a phase-in, as the economy improves, of "something that resembles the 10-year Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan -- which would pay for the stimulus 15-20 times over" and a specific plan to "bend the healthcare cost-curve downward".
Obama has already offered the first; he still has not risen to the second and the third would be an easy extension of his own healthcare plan.
Obama needs a second look from independents who could determine this election. That will require a credible, detailed recovery plan.
If the president staked out such an Obama Plan, Buffett and a lot of other business leaders would endorse it. It would give the Republicans a real problem.
After all, what would help Obama more right now: repeating over and over the Buffett Rule gimmick or campaigning from now to Election Day saying: "Folks, I have an economic plan for America's future that Warren Buffett and other serious business leaders endorse -- and Mitt Romney doesn't."
The Republicans have tried to stymie Obama; it's been highly destructive. But the people who keep pointing that out don't have an answer for the simplest next question: why have they gotten away with it?
It's because too many Americans in the centre-left/centre-right do not feel that Obama is leading -- is offering an economic plan at the scale of the problem that has a chance for bipartisan support and that makes them want to get up out of their chairs and do battle. Our situation is different from four years ago; people want to know the president has a plan for getting out of this mess.
When the Grand Bargain talks with John Boehner fell apart, Obama retreated to his base when he should have rallied the centre by laying out -- in detail -- the Grand Bargain the country needs.
That would have forced Romney to speak in detail about his plan -- the Paul Ryan plan -- and reveal it for what it is: a radical plan that few Americans would embrace if they understood it.
Then people would see a real choice: a tough-minded-but-centrist plan with real bipartisan support versus a radical plan to gut Medicare, give more tax cuts to the already wealthy and drastically shrink discretionary spending so eventually nothing is left for education, veterans, roads, research, the FBI or the poor.
And the morning after that happens -- when Warren Buffett endorses the Obama Plan, not just the Buffett Gimmick -- the president will have his mojo back. NYT