Jamie Galbraith responds to the question:  What can Obama do now, without the need of 60 votes in the Senate, to address our current problems?

  1. The President should announce that cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits are off the table for the lame-duck session, and thereafter. He should point out that the mandate of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, which is published on their web-site, did not authorize it to opine on the finances of the Social Security or Medicare systems. For this reason alone, should the Commission include recommendations to cut Social Security benefits (such as by increasing the nominal retirement age) for the alleged purpose of maintaining balance in Social Security finances, the President should urge Congress to refuse to take up such a recommendation.
  2. The President should name a commission of independent experts to recommend within three months concrete steps to reduce unemployment significantly by 2012 — that is to say, practically immediately — including jobs/investment programs and steps to reduce the size of the labor force, including through work-sharing, increased vacation time, more attractive early retirement under Social Security and access to Medicare at a younger age.
  3. The President should direct Jacob Lew, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, to suspend the use of the present baseline macroeconomic forecasts and to impanel a commission of inquiry into the models and methods underlying medium-range forecasts, to best determine how those models and methods should be modified (a) to take account of the experience of the financial crisis, and (b) to correct major inconsistencies and mutually improbable assumptions in the long-term forecasts.
  4. The President should name Damon Silvers to the position shortly to be vacated by Larry Summers.

James K. Galbraith holds the Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government/Business Relations and is a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.  He was executive director of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee in the early 1980s. He is the author of six books and several hundred scholarly and policy articles, as well as a stinging critique of President Obama’s deficit commission:  Why the Fiscal Commission Does Not Serve the American People.

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