by Jonathan Singer, Thu Feb 18, 2010 at 01:00:25 PM EST
Yesterday, the White House invited a group of nine progressive bloggers, journalists and radio hosts to the West Wing for an on-the-record session with Jared Bernstein, chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden and a leader in the implementation of the stimulus, on the one-year anniversary of the Recovery Act.
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From left to right: Jonathan Singer of MyDD, Duncan Black of Eschaton, Oliver Willis of OliverWillis.com, Chris Hayes of The Nation, unknown administration staffer, Thom Hartmann of the Thom Hartmann Show, Matthew Yglesias of Think Progress, Erin from BlogHer, Tim Fernholz of the American Prospect, White House economist Jared Bernstein. Not pictured, John Aravosis of AmericaBlog. (Photo credit: John Aravosis)
The basic thrust of the event was to present a case for the efficacy of the Recovery Act as a part of the broader effort to convince the American people that the administration's efforts to restore the economy have been successful. To this end, Bernstein provided some stark numbers: While the economy had been contracting at an annualized rate of about 6%, last quarter saw GDP growth of nearly that amount (while conceding that this number isn't necessarily believed to be sustainable in the long term); and that while the economy was once losing 700,000 jobs per month, job losses have been nearly staved off, falling to just 20,000 per month over the past quarter.
The Recovery Act, Bernstein explained, was not only about bringing the economy away from the precipice, but was also about making meaningful investments to prepare the economy for the future. While year one was about bringing the economy off the brink, year two was about expansion (and specifically a type of expansion that ensures the middle class reaps benefits). This latter effort is focused on planting the seed money for priorities such as clean energy, a smart grid, health IT, universal broadband access and high speed rail -- just as earlier economic revolutions sparked by the development of the internet and a nation-wide rail system a century before that required government investment to leverage private capital, so too do the engines of future economic growth need private-public cooperation.
During the question-and-answer period, I asked Bernstein a question related to a series of posts I wrote here at MyDD that had gotten some traction in the Beltway press: Specifically the notion that progressive populism is beneficial on both a policy and political level. Bernstein responded first on the policy level, explaining that the administration was focused on addressing issues of income inequality -- which is now approaching levels unseen since 1928 -- ensuring that the middle class reaps any benefits from economic growth. On the political level, Bernstein was less receptive, saying that there's a difference between rhetoric and policy, while also noting that the President has expressed indignation. When I followed up by pointing to a quote from President Obama as to the effect that he "[does not] begrudge" the multi-million dollar compensation being received by some on Wall Street -- a quote I agreed that did not necessarily sum up all of the President's views, even if that's the way it was perceived by some -- Berstein sought to clarify that what the President was trying to say was that he, like other Americans, believes that people deserve to be compensated for their hard work. Pivoting again to policy rather than language, Berstein stressed the importance of restoring balance to the tax system, helping create better jobs, working to ensure that unions are able to organize fairly (though the Employee Free Choice Act), focusing on the middle class (he mentioned increased child tax credits, as well as tax credits for paying off college debts, paying for elder care, and other provisions), and, more broadly, reconnecting economic growth with the middle class.
I may write up some more thoughts on the meeting later today or tomorrow (I still have a good deal of notes from the pen-and-pad session, but I have to run to class now). But if you're itching to read more now, you can read others' accounts of the meeting from AmericaBlog, Eschaton, Tapped, Matt Yglesias, Matt Yglesias, and Oliver Willis.