Archive for Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Feel-good summit won’t help economy

August 20, 2002


The economic summit the president had in Waco, Tex., last week was supposed to open the president's eyes and ears to new ideas. Instead, the handpicked participants simply followed the president's lead, acting like those funny toy monkeys that see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

The event at Baylor University met my expectations of Bush II. It was pure feel-good politics in a congressional election year when Democrats are making hay of the nation's continuing economic woes and the Bush administration's seeming inability to inspire confidence in the economy. With so many congressional seats at stake and Americans showing increasing concern about Bush's laissez-faire, tax-cuts-are-the-only-answer economic strategies, the president had to do something to show he is in charge.

Chop trees, maybe?

After spending the first days on his monthlong working vacation at his Texas ranch chopping down alien trees that destroy natural habitats, President Bush sought to show he's not only an environmentalist at heart, but a guy who's not an alien to the average guy, too.

And so in these dog days of August, Bush's summit was meant to inspire us, to have us believe he can help the little people recover from a stagnant job market. And for the millions of Americans who are seeing their life earnings and retirement kitties disappear in a bear market not seen since the 1930s, Bush wants to assure us that things will turn around, too, post the corporate corruption messes at Enron-WorldCom-et al.

There was no real dissent, no debate at the summit of 240 business people, workers, investors and others who attended the three-hour summit. There were, however, a lot of slogans placed strategically throughout the conference rooms: Recovery. Corporate responsibility. Helping workers. Improving education. Small investors' retirement security.

In fairness to Bush, President Clinton didn't do any better when he had his own economic summit a decade ago as he prepared to enter the White House. At least Bush's summit generated some entertainment in a manageable three-hour affair.

Clinton's two-day, 20-hour ordeal was certainly all-encompassing, but, when it was over, people still didn't have a clue what he was going to do other than cut unspecified spending and raise unspecified taxes at some point to balance the budget.

Clinton did come around to doing both, though, and pushed by a Republican Congress he managed the type of fiscal discipline that even Ronald Reagan couldn't accomplish. Annual budget deficits were gone, and surpluses became the norm the last years of Clinton's second term.

Now we're back to ever-growing deficits, and Bush II seems to want to take us back to the Reagan era of ballooning deficits. Bush blames the recent corporate-corruption scandals, the war on terrorism and the economic downturn caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks for a sluggish business environment.

Sure, all those things have taken their toll. But Bush's tax cuts, which he managed to get through while the Senate was still in the GOP camp, haven't delivered what he promised, either. The cuts didn't spark the economy. They have eaten away at the budget surpluses.

To show he's fiscally responsible, Bush announced at the summit that he would not spend $5 billion approved by Congress for homeland security and defense. Big whoop compared to the $1.35 trillion tax-cut package that he wants to make permanent even as deficits continue to spiral upward.

While Bush was holding his economic lovefest with the nodding monkeys, the Federal Reserve was sending a chilling message to the business community and workers that there's a risk of a renewed recession.

Not to worry. Bush promised to "hunt down" corrupt corporate executives if "you break the law."

We would have more faith in those words if Osama bin Laden still weren't on the loose.

Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her e-mail address is

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