May 9th, 2011
03:28 PM ET

Letters to the President: #840 'The nervousness of new money'

Reporter's Note: President Obama has been pitted, in economic terms, against Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan. Which means each is no doubt studying the other’s plan for the budget, just as the president studies my daily letter to the Oval Office. Ha!

Dear Mr. President,

I was listening to a presentation by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan on the radio over the weekend, (Yes, I had a long drive to contend with. No offense to the congressman…) and he said one thing which I suspect you, me, and the lamppost would all agree with: The uncertainty of our economic future is making a lot of business folks hesitant to kick the economy up a notch.

Think about it. You have a big re-election coming up. It is not a certainty that you’ll win. So if the first lady decides she wants to slap some new curtains up in the Lincoln bedroom in October, are you going to say, “Sure. Knock yourself out.”? I suspect not. Most likely you’ll say something like, “You know, Michelle, that’s a fine idea. But I’m pretty sure Mitt’s going to fight us for them if things don’t turn out so well next month. What do you say we hold off until December?”

It is understandable that a lot of business people are doing their version of that same trick right now. Is the economy improving enough that they might be able to hire some more people? Maybe. But they won’t hire until they are reasonably sure the rebound is going to last. Are you promising big savings in health care in the long run? Yes. But in the short run, they’ve got to pay their bills, and many aren’t so sure your savings will ever materialize anyway. Aren’t you promising to tax only the rich and protect everyone else from higher taxes? Of course you are. But a) many of them may qualify as rich under your definition and b) it seems pretty clear that someday, someway, if we keep spending on all the programs we have now, everyone is going to have to pay more. Everyone. So even if they are not rich now…well, you get the picture.

So that is the kind of uncertainty I’m talking about. You can argue that some of the fears of these business folks are unfounded, false, or even silly. But Washington has not exactly been a rock of stability and reliability, and when you ask people to bet their livelihoods on policies that are still being written, budgets that seem as shaky as a two-legged table, and economic plans that defy understanding in a practical sense, you can understand their nervousness.

To put it very simply, I’m not sure anyone out here would bet a dollar on what will come out of DC next, or how it might affect them. And no matter what policies you want to pursue, if you don’t give people some ability to know what is coming their way, many just can’t really start investing in this economy again.

Just a few thoughts on a Monday. I’m on the road in North Carolina this week, so call if you want, but I won’t be able to come over until the weekend.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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