Bo Cutter

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Next American Economy Project

Recent Posts by Bo Cutter

  • Obama Needs a Plan "B" on Health Care Reform

    Feb 1, 2011Bo Cutter

    Shaping the future with today’s choices.

    Shaping the future with today’s choices.

    I do not think that the decision -- to throw out the entire health care reform, all of it -- was surprising, given the source. I do think it was outrageous. Nor do I think this, by itself, says anything substantive about a final court decision -- we now have four decisions and are tied 2-2. But this issue will go to the Supreme Court, and the Roberts Court is as enthusiastic about being an activist court -- see the Citizens United decision -- as it was in the 2000 Gore-Bush decision, when it acted like Republican precinct captains. So it feels to me as though the odds that health care reform, at least so far as the individual mandate goes, will be thrown out by the Supreme Court are better than 50%.

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    I mention the 2000 Gore-Bush decision because, you will remember, the Court went out of its way to underline that the decision was a one-time-only event. And guess what? In invalidating the entire health care legislation, Judge Vinson used much the same language. Another one-time decision.

    The administration has to fight this, of course. But someone, somewhere, in the administration better be thinking about plan "B".

    Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

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  • David Lane: New Assistant to the President and Counselor to the Chief of Staff

    Jan 27, 2011Bo Cutter

    Shaping the future with today's choices.

    Shaping the future with today's choices.

    I want to add to my brief comments about Bill Daley that David Lane will also be joining the White House as Assistant to the President and Counselor to the Chief of Staff. David is extraordinary. In the 80's he worked as a young staff assistant to Senator Gary Hart. He worked with me for several years both in business and in the Clinton National Economic Council, and then with Bill Daley, both at Commerce -- as his chief of staff -- and in the Gore campaign. He was then a senior officer of the Gates Foundation, and finally has been CEO of the One Campaign, an advocacy group for international economic development and foreign assistance. He has also become one of the major collectors of outsider art in the country, supporting the artists and their work.

    I should underline David's work on development and global poverty, the area he and I have worked together or in parallel on for the last several years. David has shown unmatched effectiveness as a creative spokesperson for the field and is unique in his ability to bring very different, often opposing voices together in support of this cause.

    David's substantive capabilities, in economics, policy development, and global economic development are major but they are dwarfed by his principal skill: David solves impossibly complicated political/substantive/managerial problems entangled with men and women who cannot stand each other. He never raises his voice; and when he finishes, the problem is solved and the people all like each other.

    I told David that you should never be a counselor or deputy unless you understand the four facts of life: They (1) do all of the work; (2) get none of the credit; (3) take all of the blame; and (4) are always lied to. He is going anyway, and The White House will be a much better place because David is there.

    He is also a baseball obsessive.

    Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

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  • A SOTU that Accomplished it All

    Jan 26, 2011Bo Cutter

    Shaping the future with today’s choices.

    This was exactly the speech the President had to give.

    Shaping the future with today’s choices.

    This was exactly the speech the President had to give.

    As art and theatre, it was at pitch perfect. The speech was simple, well constructed. The sentences had a nice rhythm. It took off with a well done reference to the Tucson tragedy and his brilliant speech there. It had a gracious, inclusive, pragmatic, almost collegial tone. It soared to a great lifting conclusion. And it had a wonderful mantra: "We do big things." And the President, of course, gave it about as well as is possible.

    As policy and substance, this was a major economic strategy speech. I'll go further. This is the first coherent economic strategy a president has put forward in a long time. It was exactly right for our society, and it provides the compass and context for the entire rest of his presidency -- both terms. This is the narrative I have argued for two years the President needed to provide. It is a strategy progressives should want to back.

    He made the two crucial points he had to make: that we must deal with our deficit and we must invest much more in our society. Simultaneously. He then threw in a third point I did not expect: a major reorganization of government. More on that later. The details he emphasized were meaningful. The new investment will involve a new kind of discipline and include private money -- we are going to see some form of an infrastructure bank. Social Security will be protected and strengthened -- he is open to increasing the retirement age. He wants major tax reform and rate reductions, but will push again for higher tax rates at the highest income levels. The numbers say he has to have a new revenue source. He is open to changes in his health care reform bill, suggesting two outcomes: legal reform and a termination of a major reporting burden imposed on small business. There will be more.

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    As politics, the speech exhibited master craftsmanship. The president took over the entire center. He appropriated the future -- but then the Republicans had already rejected any future. He welcomed business into his fold. His reorganization proposal/hint is a master stroke. And his deft use of humor -- absolutely deliberate -- minimized in advance the entire Republican thrust. His tone conveyed the thoughts, "Yes, we (you) will disagree on everything, it will be sort of cute to watch, but in the end we (you) will return to what the teacher wanted in the first place."

    As presidential strategy, this speech showed President Obama thinking in the way I had hoped he would from the start. I know he doesn't play point guard, but this showed a president with great court vision. He had to take back the agenda, reclaim the center, create a center of balance and focus for his administration, and most important of all provide a real narrative for the country. "We do big things." He did it all.

    Yeah, I sort of liked the speech.

    Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

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  • SOTU Should Focus on Three Things: Economy, Economy, Economy

    Jan 25, 2011Bo Cutter

    Shaping the future with today’s choices.

    If I were to speak with President Obama before Tuesday night, I would give the following advice. Each point is important to the country, but also politically valuable for him.

    Make your speech a continuation in tone of your Tucson speech

    Shaping the future with today’s choices.

    If I were to speak with President Obama before Tuesday night, I would give the following advice. Each point is important to the country, but also politically valuable for him.

    Make your speech a continuation in tone of your Tucson speech

    The Tucson speech was magnificent in large part because it appealed to the best of Americans. It spoke to how Americans should deal with each other. The State of the Union speech should continue that message to the next obvious point. President Obama should underline that the American people want Washington to find doable solutions to pragmatic day-to-day issues. He should get way out in front of the Congressional Republicans in terms of offering real discussions.

    Give a short speech focused almost entirely on economics

    The president should convey that: (1) he will focus significantly on the economy; (2) he has an achievable plan; (3) he is thinking about the long and short run; and (4) he will work with the whole Congress.

    This will be the most important of President Obama's first-term State of the Unions. It must be the speech that positions him for the remainder of this term. While the economy cannot be the only topic -- the speech, for example, cannot ignore Afghanistan -- it has to be the main topic.

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    Underline four specifics you want to accomplish with Congress

    First, keep the recovery going. This probably means a further payroll tax reduction, and it certainly means linking real budget restraint to increases in employment.

    Second, come to an overall agreement the American people can understand on reducing deficits and debt. This means restraining everything, not simply those items each party dislikes. This has to include defense spending and entitlements.

    Third, reform our tax system and create a new source of revenue. This has to mean maintaining a progressive rate structure, lowering marginal rates for everyone, ending or limiting loopholes, and a new tax. I think the arguments for a progressive VAT are the strongest.

    Fourth, increase investment in both the private and public sectors. I believe the president should propose -- and could get -- a major multi-year public infrastructure investment initiative.

    Conclude by establishing a new positive tone about what our economic future can be

    The president should emphasize that the crisis is over -- and that we succeeded, at major cost, in avoiding collapse. But the hard work of building the next American economy has just begin.

    President Obama clearly began a much-needed reset as soon as he absorbed the lessons and implications of November's elections. And he has improved his political position far more than I thought would be possible. At the same time, the Republicans have a very difficult coalition management task in front of them. With this speech, the president can go a long way toward defining and owning the agenda of the next two years. That should be his objective on Tuesday night.

    Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

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  • The Giffords Shooting: A Deepening Political Divide at Work

    Jan 13, 2011Bo Cutter

    Shaping the future with today’s choices.

    I have no idea what demons drove the man who shot Congresswoman Giffords and 17 other men and women. And I am not writing this because I see this tragic event as an example of the effects of the harshness that now characterizes our politics. Rather, I want to make broader points.

    Shaping the future with today’s choices.

    I have no idea what demons drove the man who shot Congresswoman Giffords and 17 other men and women. And I am not writing this because I see this tragic event as an example of the effects of the harshness that now characterizes our politics. Rather, I want to make broader points.

    First, on the basis of the facts available, this shooting seems to me to be most of all an example of free range, non-ideological craziness, of mental illness -- not one, directly, of inflamed politics. I recommend to everyone David Brooks' column in the NYTimes yesterday on this topic. Brooks argues that we are not dealing well with the broad problem of mental illness and violence. I agree with him, but I also think that Brooks' focus is too narrow. As a starter, it would be far preferable if it were not so easy for just anyone to buy a semi-automatic Glock 19. (But they can. Sales have soared since the shooting.)

    Second, American political discourse has never been gentle -- you can go back to our beginnings, to the Jefferson and Adams presidential campaigns and the death of Alexander Hamilton and come forward to the present and find a very high level of insult, invective, and, sometimes, violence in our politics. But if I focus on the last 50 years, the political climate does seem to me to be distinctly more harsh and more dangerous. (Although even in saying that, I have to except whole eras like the 60's and the civil rights struggle and what civil rights leaders and activists faced then.) There is something "in the air." I have no idea whether this "something" actually effects anyone's behavior, but my gut feeling is that it does.

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    Third, while the climate seems much more harsh across the board, there is -- or seems to be -- a more violent tilt to the rhetoric of the far right. Jim Fallows refers to a list compiled by the Coalition to stop Gun Violence of "violent" or "insurrectionist" political rhetoric. It is scary, and even though I say "across the board" above and mean it, I strongly doubt that Fox or the Wall Street Journal's editorial page could develop a similar list focused on the left. It is distinctly unhelpful for Democrats to see this particular tragedy as a result of Republican rhetoric; for Republicans then to point to Democratic excess; and on and on. But Republican leaders ought quietly to think hard about what they set loose in the country generally when they seem to indulge violent rhetoric. The disgraceful scenes during the passage of health care reform come to mind, when the Republican leadership made no apparent effort to lower the heat of what sure seemed to be semi-violent, racist insults thrown at Democratic congresspeople.

    But hard thinking about the quality of our national discourse will not take place on either the right or the left. Hand waving and sober commentary will have no effect. The genie is out of the bottle. Our politics are what they are and no one is going to change. The reason stems from the deep structure of American politics today.

    In his excellent book "Civility", Stephen Carter makes the point that as rhetoric becomes more and more inflamed, the differing sides of the political argument find it easier and easier to see each other as "the other." Once you see your opponent that way, it is hard to impossible to see the substance of their arguments or their basic humanity. But Carter doesn't try to explain why this might happen. Bill Bishop, in his equally good book "The Big Sort", shows why. We are now polarized not just by opinions and ideology, but by lifestyle and geography. We no longer live next door to the people with whom we disagree. We may be evenly divided as a nation, but at the local level we live -- to an astonishing and unprecedented degree -- in politically homogeneous neighborhoods. I grew up in a very small, rural village -- you had to get along day by day with neighbors you disagreed with completely with politically. Not any more.

    At the same time, we segregate ourselves on the web. We live in homogeneous neighborhoods there also -- so today we have both our own opinions and our own facts. The talk shows and the blogospheres are almost entirely one voice and are highly intolerant of dissenting views. The awkward task of dealing with the actual thoughts of someone with whom you disagree is completely avoidable.

    In this world, opponents are seen as the other, compromise is seen as corrupt, and any absence of ideological fervor is viewed with suspicion. No amount of fake goodwill is going to change this. I've come to think that until there is a true political voice at the center, nothing will change this. Hands will be waved in dismay, but the rhetoric will steadily worsen, the purpose of politics will be more and more ideological identification, and actual substantive improvement will be harder and harder to achieve.

    Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.

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