The President is rightly proposing using government money to help hire more Americans. Back at his house, Obama should set an example for Congress by rehiring consumer advocates at the White House Office of Consumer Affairs who have been deposed since the G.W. Bush era.
Every other Democratic president since President Kennedy has hired a Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs. Eleven months into his first year, Obama has yet to fill the post. President Nixon gave the Special Assistant a broader role and big staff when he created the White House Office of Consumer Affairs with a 1971 Executive Order that read:
There is need for a consumer office within the Executive Office of the President, which not only advises and represents the President on matters of consumer interest, but also analyzes and coordinates the implementation of all Federal activities in the field of consumer protection, helping to establish priorities and resolve conflicts, and recommending ways in which governmental consumer programs can be made more effective.
This is the gift President Obama needs to give American consumers for the holidays, a voice in the White House to balance out the economist troika of Geithner, Summers and Bernake. And some more progressive jobs to boot.
President John F. Kennedy created the Special Assistant post in 1961 to give average folks a voice in the West Wing. The White House Office of Consumer Affairs thrived until being diminished greatly by the Reagan Administration, then de-funded by Newt Gingrich during the Clinton Administration. Obama needs to issue the executive order to bring it back.
Consumer Watchdog has created an online application to let the President know we should be in the picture and the office should return. "Barack and Me" allows you to take a photo of yourself with Obama, to caption the photo, and send the image to the White House. Facebook friends can use this application and add the photo to their live feed.
Why hasn't Obama welcomed the opportunity to give consumers this kind of direct access and issued the order to rehire the White House consumer advocates?
Sure, he's been busy, but if ever there was a President who needed to show his fealty to the consumer it's this one. The real reason is probably that Geithner, Emmanuel and Summers hardly want to argue in the West Wing with the likes of a Joan Claybrook, former Public Citizen leader, let's say. But that's exactly why Obama needs to re-establish the post now.
The President was lucky to be in China last month when the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program issued his findings that Tim Giethner got rolled by Goldman Sachs into needlessly throwing tens of billions of dollars taxpayer money at AIG.
In Mao's China, the Treasury Secretary would've faced the firing squad, forget rehabilitation. Obama needs to send a signal that go-along-and-get-along insiders like Geithner aren't the only ones representing consumers in the White House.
If ever there was doubt that the White House needs a consumer voice to balance out Treasury Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the finding by TARP special inspector general Neil Barofsky should seal the deal.
Barofsky revealed how Geithner was played by Goldman Sachs into giving AIG backers, like Goldman, 100% on the dollar in government relief. The New York Fed, "refused to use its considerable leverage," to force creditors to take less. The result was "tens of billions of dollars of government money was funneled inexorably and directly to AIG's counterparties."
Inside the Obama Administration months later, Geithner and Summers were the twin voices defending big AIG bonuses until the President himself backed them down. AIG officials are still threatening to walk if they don't cannot get big bonuses even though US taxpayers own 80% of AIG.
Now more than ever, there needs to be a consumer advocate in the White House balancing out the Goldman boys. It's your chance to speak up. Take a minute and whisper in the ear of the President at Barack and Me or Facebook. May I suggest, "Jobs begin at home, Sir."