FIVE IDEAS: How does Obama shore up a struggling economy?

Sunday, January 11, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:39 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Deficit decisions

It’s the worst kind of Catch-22.

If President Barack Obama and his staff don’t fund programs to save the nation’s floundering economy, the worst recession in decades could turn into a depression.

But spending more money would add even more to a national deficit that’s already looming like a dark cloud over future generations. Either way, millions of people lose.

The new president-elect is planning to enact a stimulus package that could add nearly $1 trillion to a deficit expected to reach $1.2 trillion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The fiscal outlook is grim, but the current situation might be even worse. That’s why the prevailing opinion in Washington says something must be done now. Obama’s staffers have expressed awareness of the consequences, and they’ll be doing their best to minimize the damage by making every dollar count.

Just as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s programs did during the New Deal, Obama’s admittedly expensive ideas will be designed to help the American people regain confidence in the economy and maximize efficiency. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress said they’ll be keeping a close eye on the spending to make sure it doesn’t get out of control.

Q: How much aid should the government provide to help Americans cope with the struggling economy?


Chief issues

The search for a new leader continues.

More than six months after Randy Boehm announced his retirement as chief of the Columbia Police Department, five candidates have been named. Because of  a desire for significant change within the force, all come from police departments outside of Columbia.

The committee choosing the new chief has expressed a desire for better communication between the department and the community, especially with minorities. Columbia residents will get their first chance to familiarize themselves with candidates Monday in an informal discussion at the Activities and Recreation Center.

As a college town that continues to expand, Columbia will present several challenges to its new police chief. Not unlike other cities of its size, the community has had its share of diversity issues that must be handled with care. The ability to communicate with citizens and ensure the Police Department isn’t making any enemies would be a valuable asset for whoever takes over the position held by interim Chief Tom Dresner.

Q: What kind of changes would you like to see made by Columbia’s new police chief?

Assessing higher ed

The UM System Board of Curators is once again a hot topic in Missouri’s General Assembly.

In 2008, the possible addition of a student to the board was denied . In the opening session of 2009, some members in the assembly suggested that Missouri’s Coordinating Board for Higher Education be given some power in the UM System.

The Board of Curators is exempt from the coordinating board, leading to a system that Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields called “disorganized." The legislators behind the proposal expressed a desire to make the coordinating board more powerful to perhaps give more uniformity to the state’s higher education system.

Clearly, any changes to higher education in the state start and finish with the UM System. The legislators seem to recognize the importance of the state’s largest and most influential universities, but danger may loom. Large budget cuts are forecast for the upcoming year, and as usual, education could be an inviting target.

Raising tuition is another concern for students and their parents. The assembly must use caution to balance reasonable changes and budget cuts with maintaining quality education.

Q: What kinds of reform would you like to see to the state’s higher education?

Looking for work

The number of jobless people in Missouri isn’t going unnoticed.

The state’s unemployment rate as of November was 6.7 percent, just below the national rate that jumped to 7.2 pecent in December. Enough people are applying for unemployment benefits that a hotline run by the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial relations will no longer be available on Tuesdays and Thursdays, except to first-time applicants.

Appropriately, the state’s General Assembly is looking for answers. Speaker of the House Ron Richard, a Republican from Joplin, spoke of the need to improve the business climate and other basic needs for Missouri families.

Affordable health care and alternative energy sources were cited as ways to bring some relief to Missouri citizens. Richard stressed the need to provide opportunities for jobs and education.

Of course, the Republican controlled assembly will have to work together with Democratic Gov.-elect Jay Nixon, who wants his Show Me Jobs plan passed by mid-March. So far, the legislators are indicating unemployment and other economic issues are to be too important to be stopped by partisan lines.

Q: What can legislators do to fight the rising unemployment rate?

Team of allies

Gov.-elect Jay Nixon is not following the example of his party’s leader in his choice of staff.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama chose one of his campaign rivals from the Democratic primary as his vice president, while another is his secretary of state. He’s also allowing George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to retain his position.

Nixon, who enthusiastically spoke about Obama at the candidate’s rally in Columbia in October, isn’t quite as eager about a “Team of Rivals." On Wednesday, he fired 150 Cabinet-level employees, including longtime spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, Connie Patterson.

As attorney general, Nixon clashed frequently with outgoing DNR director Doyle Childers and his staff. Patterson said about 20 members of that department were fired.

Nixon, who will be sworn in as Missouri’s new governor on Monday, continued to add allies to his staff when he made former Democratic state Rep. Jeff Harris of Columbia his policy director.

Nixon had already given key positions to several people who worked with him at the Attorney General’s Office, including Chief of Staff John Watson. Of course, Nixon will have to work with a legislature that is still controlled by Republicans.

Q: Should Jay Nixon follow Barack Obama’s lead and appoint some staff members with whom he has had political differences?


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