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Obama Tasked With Vetting Economic Policy Team’s Competing Ideas

Analysts Mark Shields and David Brooks examine President-elect Barack Obama's new economic team and the challenges he may face in evaluating their views on the financial crisis.

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    Finally tonight, the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Good to see you both on this day after Thanksgiving.

    The president-elect, Mr. Obama, has, Mark, he's rolled out his economic team earlier this week. What do you make of them?

  • MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:

    I guess, first of all, you have to take them separately. I think Paul Volcker is literally, figuratively, historically a towering figure. And his position in — he's an icon. His position is already secure.

    I don't know Christina Romer from Berkeley, except by reputation, which is quite good.

    The other three we're more familiar with. Peter Orszag was the head of the congressional Budget Committee. He's smart — Congressional Budget Office. He's smart. He's knowledgeable. He's fair and open. The question is, can he be Doctor No? That's what a budget director will have to be with this budget deficits that he's facing. That's going to be tough.

    But the other two are, I think, more intriguing and probably more controversial, Tim Geithner as secretary of the treasury and Larry Summers as the economic czar in the White House, and for this reason. They both come from an administration that — and they were among the champions of it, in particular Summers, of deregulation of the financial world and institutions.

    And I think it's incumbent upon the Senate Democrats, at the confirmation hearings, to ask them what they would — what they've learned from the past eight years from deregulation. And we're now at the point where the people in the United States are committed to $7 trillion in obligations as part of this bailout just in the past eight months.

    And, you know, what they would do differently, what they would have done differently, what they've learned, where they were wrong, I think that's a responsibility — the Democrats now are in power. And they're to be held accountable.


    Is that what's going to happen, held accountable? And what do you make of the team?

  • DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times:

    Well, first of all, on the team, it looked like Barack Obama hired every economist in the United States, divided them into 697 different committees, and they're going to live out in tents behind the Oval Office.

    What he did was stockpile brains. Larry Summers, no one doubts his intelligence, Christina Romer. He created this new committee with Volcker and Austan Goolsbee, his longtime economic aide.

    And so what's interesting about the organization is that traditionally you've had these only two groups without the White House, the National Economic Council, which is more Wall Street people, more hands-on, the Council of Economic Advisers, which is more academic economists. Now there's just overlap.

    And, really, there's overlap now between four groups, Treasury, the Volcker, Romer, and whatever the other one I'm forgetting at the moment is, so you've just got this tangle of people here. And they're all very smart, and they're all extremely evidence-based.

    Peter Orszag at the Budget Office, if you ask Orszag a question on any policy issue, he will give you an absolutely honest description of the pros and cons of any policy. So they're all extremely impressive from that front, but how they're going to coordinate policy is the question.