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Habemus ... Gene Sperling On Reddit

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, March 13 2013

The news hoopla surrounding the new pope did not prevent Gene Sperling, assistant to the president for economic policy, from answering some of the questions posed to him on the social news site Reddit Wednesday afternoon.

Sperling offered himself up to Reddit users earlier Wednesday to discuss the president's tax and budget policies.

He did not reply to any of several questions about his difference of opinion with the journalist Bob Woodward, but he did answer 11 questions, mainly about economic policy, in very detailed form.

He answered a question about the lowering corporate tax rates by pointing to President Obama's corporate tax reform framework. The questioner had also asked whether Sperling could pass around his resume in economic policy circles. Sperling replied in a P.S., "Regarding your resume, happy to take a look. Why don't you post it here? Not a bad way to get some exposure."

In response to the question citing Australia's example of eliminating agriculture subsidies, Sperling noted, "the President does in fact have a proposal to reduce agriculture subsidies in his FY2013 budget, and he proposed it again in his offer to Speaker Boehner."

Responding to the question, "what is the largest factor hampering the economy right now," Sperling noted that there are "several recent positive signs that our economic recovery is gaining momentum."

He went on to say that "one of the biggest factors holding us back is the refusal of Republicans in Congress to meet the President halfway on a plan to replace the sequester with a comprehensive, balanced plan to bring down our deficits in a way that still promotes demand in the short-term to give our recovery more momentum."

In other answers, Sperling noted that some elimination of oil subsidies could be part of tax reform plans or plans to end the sequester; defended the White House's action — or, citing few investigations of Wall Street CEOs, what some might call lack thereof — to hold to account the progenitors of the mortgage crisis; and gave a detailed explanation of the administration's position on "chained CPI."

The White House adviser seemed right at home in the wonkier end of Reddit's user pool. This answer, on long-term deficit reduction, is fairly indicative of the kind of responses he was giving:

We chose the amount of long-term deficit reduction to ensure that our debt and deficits were falling as a percentage of our economy -- an important metric for ensuring confidence in whether the United States is still the best place to make long-term investments. We have already achieved $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction and believe achieving $1.5 trillion-$1.8 trillion more in a balanced way is the best way to hit that target ... But I want to stress, the ultimate goal for economic policy is not hitting a specific metric, but whether the culmination of your policies lead to a stronger, more secure, and more inclusive middle class where everyone can rise, and where even children born into the poorest circumstances have a chance to reach their potential and where dignified work and retirement is promoted.

His visit to Reddit wasn't all economic policy. Sperling was also a consultant on the Aaron Sorkin TV show "The West Wing," where, he told Reddit users, he met his wife, Allison Abner, a writer on the show. Fielding a question about show, he said it was realistic, except that real White House staffers don't walk as fast and aren't as good looking.

What I liked most about The West Wing -- and what was most realistic to me -- was that instead of portraying people in Washington as either cynical or naive, our boss, Aaron Sorkin did a great job at portraying serious and deeply committed and well-intentioned people trying to do good things in what is a very difficult, complex and political environment. That is how I think most of us -- on both sides of the aisle -- see our efforts. The West Wing captured that and I think it has inspired many young people to go into public service.