November 5th, 2008
11:00 AM GMT
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LONDON, England – It's been the most expensive presidential campaign in history, a grueling slug fest. But as difficult as the campaign has been, it's nothing compared to the challenges of dealing with the economy, the toughest economic challenges facing any president since the 1930s.

A deepening recession, consumer confidence at a record low, rising unemployment, the continued fallout in house prices, massive write-downs by financial institutions, the cost of a massive bail out, not to mention the looming huge health costs for retiring baby boomers. 

The reality is that a lot of priorities and promises such as health care reform are likely to be pushed to the back at least for now.

The number one priority for the Obama administration will be dealing with the deepening recession. A second government stimulus package will be pushed out quickly. It won't turn the economy around, but it will send the right signal.

But the challenges of spending their way out of recession are compounded by the huge deficit that the new administration will inherit.

The deficit for fiscal 2008 which ended in September was $455 billion or 3.2 percent of GDP. Analysts say it could be a trillion dollars for the current fiscal year or more than 7 percent of GDP.

But like so much else in this financial crisis, the immediate goal is getting the financial system and economy back on track; deficit reduction will have to wait.

Bill Clinton realized early in his administration he couldn't afford to fulfill some of his campaign promises and that fiscal restraint was more important.  It was an act of political courage, and when he left office, the Bush administration inherited a budget surplus.

George W. Bush pushed through tax cuts, Medicare prescription drug benefits and entered into a war on two fronts, and the cost has been enormous. During his administration the national debt has nearly doubled to more than ten trillion dollars. President Bush is leaving the new administration a country that is in a weakened position fiscally.

A lot of hopes are riding on Barack Obama. Not only will his leadership be tested in getting the country through its current economic crisis, but once times get better, it will be tested again in making fiscal discipline a priority.

His economic legacy, and the country's, is riding on both.

As always I welcome your thoughts.  Are expectations too high in terms of what the new president can accomplish?

Will it be possible to make good on campaign promises and still leave a fiscally responsible legacy?


November 5th, 2008
05:20 AM GMT
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LONDON, England - When Barack Obama is sworn in as U.S. president on January 20, 2009 he will be taking office on the usual wave of enthusiasm for a new political beginning, but against a grim economic background.

Barack Obama must act quickly to turn around the U.S. economy.
Barack Obama must act quickly to turn around the U.S. economy.

There's a much-told story about a couple becoming utterly lost in the back lanes of some rural area and chancing upon an ancient local inhabitant.

Watch Bill Hubard of MIG Investments discuss what President-elect Obama must do to clean up the economic mess

Asked for the directions to their destination, the old man leans on his stick, furrows a wrinkled brow and remarks sorrowfully: "If I wanted to get there, I wouldn't start from here."

Obama won't have any choice, any more than the couple in the story did.

Shortly after the crowds attending the inaugural parade have gone to their homes (assuming they haven't lost them to foreclosure by hard-hit mortgage lenders), ill tidings will reach the Oval Office: the national income numbers for the fourth quarter of 2008.

They will confirm to everyone but a few academic pedants and hair-splitters that the United States will be well into recession by then.

By then, too, the usual remarkable capacity of the U.S. economy to create jobs will be fully exhausted. The unemployment rate will be rising inexorably.

Add all that to a housing market still on life-support, and the feel-bad factor will be overwhelming.

The U.S. consumer will be in parlous state, and retailers will be licking their wounds after a disastrous 2008 holiday season.

So what will the new president need to do to dig his nation out this sticky economic mess?

In fairness, a start has been made by President George W. Bush's administration after a hesitant start.

Fingers crossed, the worst of the financial turmoil is already behind us: the banks have been underpinned by hundreds of billions of dollars of government money and U.S. stocks appear to be escaping out of the cycle of volatility that has marked the past few weeks.

Economic forecasters believe the back end of 2009 will see global recovery - without adding any riders stipulating that what the new U.S. president does will alter the outlook.

But it plainly will.

The holder of the most powerful office on the planet can do more than anyone to influence global economic fortunes, especially if he has the support of the U.S. Congress, which holds the key to the awesome power of the U.S. federal budget (albeit painfully overstretched by the bank bailout plan).

So what should Obama be doing? What will be his most powerful tools? How will he stimulate the economy? How will he best use the "presidential bully-pulpit" to instil confidence into a stricken nation?

Should he adjust the duties of the U.S. Federal Reserve to include an obligation to prevent the formation of financial bubbles? Or would he be well advised to avoid extending the boundaries of economic regulation, while perhaps making sure that the existing framework is used more effectively?

How will he lift the housing market off the floor? And should he reach out to those many Americans suffering the distress and humiliation of being turfed out of their own homes because they can't make the mortgage payments?

Please give us your answers and ideas.



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CNN International's business anchors and correspondents get to grips with the issues affecting world business, and they want your questions and feedback.

 
 
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