Roundtable with Young Americans: drawing discussion or votes?

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April 26th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – The White House is hoping to invigorate the same young people who helped elect President Barack Obama in 2008. They’ve introduced an initiative to get young adults talking about fiscal policy, but one local economist isn’t buying into the hype.

President Obama teamed up with Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, at the networking site’s headquarters on April 20th. It was a virtual town hall meeting discussing issues most important to the generation that helped get Obama elected. And now, the administration has introduced a new initiative called “Your Future, Your Solutions,” where Obama will send out advisers to at least 100 “Roundtable with Young Americans” discussions.

Pres. Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg host a virtual town hall meeting. (Photo credit to WhiteHouse.gov)

Kalpen Modi is the Associate Director of Public Engagement, and also a former actor in the film Harold and Kumar. “We’re asking young Americans to host round tables in partnership with the administration in their respective communities and campuses,” he said, “certainly not just limited to just colleges and universities, but all young Americans.”

But Dr. Ernie Goss, an economist from Creighton University, doesn’t see the benefit. “If the young folks are invigorated by them, then they are more naïve than I thought they are,” he said. Goss said these round table discussions will do little to quell the battle over fiscal policy and the deficit.

“This is politics at its worst,” Goss said. “Again the Democrats and Republicans are not serious about debt reduction, they’re not serious about facing up to the economic challenges of this country.”

“The president has not come out with anything serious,” he said. “Why would he come out with them in a roundtable? That’s not the way it’s done.”

Goss said young people will soon be faced with what he calls the “Three Bads”: higher taxes, higher inflation and higher interest rates. He referred to a bipartisan report issued by a panel the President appointed to come up with ways to reduce the national debt. But what they came up with wasn’t very popular, including reforms to Social Security and Medicare that politicians haven’t wanted to go near. Goss said lawmakers ran from it like “Tuberculosis.”

President Obama drops by a roundtable discussion in Cleveland. (Photo credit WhiteHouse.gov)

Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors said on a conference call with student reporters recently that the report emphasized balancing revenue with spending cuts. And that, he said, is what the President tried to do in his last budget proposal.

“What kind of cuts can we afford to make on discretionary that don’t undermine the ‘Win the Future’ agenda,” Goolsbee said. “What kinds of cuts to entitlements can we make that don’t undermine the existence of the basic social compact in the nation, that aren’t going to abolish Medicare and turn senior citizens over to private insurance companies and give them a voucher that will not cover even the cost of insurance.”

Goolsbee pointed the finger at Republicans, who he said are more concerned with keeping tax cuts for the wealthy. But Goss blames all lawmakers for the gridlock. “And every time something’s done, there’s just so much criticism of any proposals. These are not proposals, these are not plans, these are laugh lines on Jay Leno or David Letterman,” said Goss.

The round tables run through May 31st. These discussions are encouraged to be organized by students at the grassroots level, reminiscent of Obama’s campaign in 2008. But the administration will have to wait until 2012 to see if those discussions turn into votes.

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