President dines with economists, again

McClatchy Washington BureauJuly 2, 2014 

— President Barack Obama dined with prominent economists Wednesday, the second such lunch in less than a month as the administration seeks ways to accelerate the economic recovery.

Meeting with Obama at the White House Wednesday were former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who stepped down in December, and Martin Feldstein, a widely respected conservative economist at Harvard University.

Others at the lunch included Ed Glaeser of Harvard, Robert Hall of Stanford University, Kevin Hassett from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Melissa Kearney from the University of Maryland and Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

The White House said Obama had invited the economists in order to “discuss ways to accelerate economic growth, expand opportunity, and improve the competitiveness of the American economy.”

Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama was expecting a “pretty open-ended conversation about what trends they're seeing in the broader economy and ideas they have for policies that could capitalize on those trends to benefit middle class families here in this country.”

Earnest noted the lunch gave Obama a chance to hear from experts “who aren't constrained by politics in terms of their thinking” but said lunching with the more conservative economists isn’t a sign that he’s looking in particular for ideas to appeal to them.

“What the president is interested in is making sure that he is consulting a wide variety of perspectives,” he said. “There are going to be people on both sides of the aisle that have good ideas.”

Earnest insisted Obama wasn’t hosting the economists to gain their support for any initiatives, though reporters noted several of the economists back free trade policies and the White House is backing a major trade measure.

“This isn't really a meeting to build political or legislative support for one proposal or another,” Earnest said. “This is more about hearing from experts on the economy about what we can do to expand opportunity for the middle class.”

On June 18, the president met with a first batch of prominent economists, many of whom supported the 2009 economic stimulus efforts but complained they were insufficiently small to arrest a deep recession and financial crisis.

Those economists included Princeton University’s Paul Krugman, a popular liberal columnist and past winner of a Nobel Prize in economics, and Alan Blinder, also of Princeton and a former vice chairman of the Fed.

Also attending the first lunch last month were Stanford’s Anat Admati, Erik Brynjolfsson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Roland Fryer and Claudia Goldin of Harvard.

Email: khall@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @KevinGHall.

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