November 14th, 2009
08:37 AM ET

Dear President Obama #299: Time to tape up the piggy bank

Reporter's Note: President Obama has spent more money in his first 300 days in office than the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, spent in eight years. The deficit is now stretching out to somewhere around Jupiter. That has a lot of people worried. I’m writing another letter to the White House, but wondering if I should be looking for a second job instead.

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Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

There is an old saying, “If you have a problem and money is the solution, you don’t have a problem.” It has it’s limitations, as you might guess. For example, if I enjoy a scrumptious lunch at Big Bobby’s Truck Stop and Wrestling Emporium but don’t have the eight bucks to cover the bill, trust me, I have a problem; especially if Big Bobby is around at the moment. Obviously people, programs, businesses all need a basic level of working cash, but still I’ve long found that saying worth bearing in mind.

Let me tell you a story. Back when Ronald Reagan came into office, a lot of government programs around the country took big budget cuts, and the folks running those programs howled like cats with their tails in the door. Every time I went to cover a story about their troubles, the punch line was the same, “If only we could get more funding, everything would be fine again.” Finally I got tired of ending all my reports with that refrain, and I felt like it was becoming lazy reporting. After all, everyone knew funding was an issue. I didn’t need to tell them yet again.

So I started saying to my interviewees, “Yes, but you’re not going to get that funding. So what are you going to do to fix your problems anyway?” Suddenly, I was amazed at all the great ideas they had. They started exploring new ways of handling their procedures, their staffs, their paperwork, their clients, and most proved remarkably resilient in moving forward despite their severe budget cuts.

I’m not saying that alone made the cuts a good or bad idea, because sometimes cuts can truly be damaging despite the best efforts of the affected folks. But what I am saying is that in my experience a lot of people in a lot of places (especially, ahem, political types) always think first about throwing money at problems, instead of truly addressing them with intelligence, planning, discipline, and realistic expectations.

So now I see reports that after all that spending over the past eleven-ish months you are going to turn your attention to reducing the deficit. I’m not the one to pronounce judgment on whether all that spending was good or bad, or necessary or not; plenty of your political pals are already deeply engaged in that fistfight. What I will say is that this is a great opportunity for you to show your stuff in another arena; to show that you have just as many ideas about how to solve problems with ideas, effort, and ingenuity…not so much just with cash.

I mean, after all, anyone can spend a fortune fixing up his house. But it takes someone special, with genuinely good ideas and superior planning power to get the same job done, while also guarding the bank account.

Hey, considering your travel schedule to Asia, maybe you should consider posting the deficit in Yen for a while! Not only would it be fun, but maybe it would look like less. Just a thought. Call if you can, but I’m not sure what the international rates are from over there, so uh…considering I’ll be paying for it…be reasonable. Ha!



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Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Conserve' for USA

    Tom, It's funny when the repubs said this after the president was in office for 90 days, the dems said he had to spend the money because of GWB. I've argued with you for nine months about what the president is doing and how he is doing it.
    Now, in the last month or two, your complaints are starting to look the same as my complaints nine monthes ago. Why was it okay for this president to spend more money in six months, than all the other presidents together up to and including GWB?
    The government keeps us arguing between party lines so we can't unite and fight against this maddening spending. If they can keep us fighting amongst ourselves, they can keep on spending with no way to stop them.
    However, if we unite in the cause to stop government over spending, it can be stopped.

    November 14, 2009 at 5:59 pm |
  2. Stephen Erickson


    Thanks for sounding the warning bell. Maybe the President should start by stopping his reckless healthcare expansion. Notice I say expansion and not reform, because that is what we have so far. If we reformed first, we could then expand at no or little additional cost. The current healthcare bills only "pay" for themselves if we are allowed to count $400 billion in unspecified Medicare "waste" cuts and other costs past on to the states. The President said that the healthcare bill will pay for itself, or he would not sign it. But yet he backs a House Bill that looks like it was written by former Enron accountants. How can we take Obama at his word when he says he is now finally serious about deficits? I would add to your open letter to Obama: "Words are cheap Mr. President. Show us the money."

    Stephen Erickson

    November 14, 2009 at 5:35 pm |
  3. Nafisa

    So true!

    November 14, 2009 at 2:50 pm |
  4. Tim Gibson

    For two cents a minute he can call almost anywhere, so not to worry about the cost of the call adding to much to the national debt.

    I am not seeing a result from all this spending on a personal level, yet what I do see, in throwing cash at grant programs is only the next step in big spending and taxation when we are forced by cap and trade to "retro" fit our personal home for a greener and happier global foot print. Yet, no jobs, no green, no problem.

    The problems are not being looked at, repaired or "called out". Meanwhile the piggy bank is just a dust catcher for that retro chic look.

    November 14, 2009 at 12:49 pm |