"Home, home on the range..."
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-summit16dec16,1,160115.storyHandpicked collection of experts and business leaders are on same page in forum's opening day.
WASHINGTON It was part economic talk show, part political tent revival.
The White House pulled out all the stops Wednesday as it convened a two-day conference to drum up support for restructuring Social Security, overhauling the tax code, curbing "lawsuit abuse" and enacting President Bush's other second-term priorities.
Vice President Dick Cheney welcomed the participants and then sat almost wordlessly through a panel discussion on "The State of Our Economy."
President Bush participated in an hourlong session called "The High Costs of Lawsuit Abuse."
Treasury Secretary John W. Snow dangled the prospect of more tax cuts, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson bemoaned the high cost of medical care.
One after another, a hand-picked collection of economists, experts and business executives served up an unrelenting and unstinting series of testimonials to the wisdom of the president's economic priorities. To a person, they urged the administration to do more of the same.
"Thank God the election is over," said Mary Farrell, managing director of UBS Wealth Management of New York. "I have never seen so much economic misinformation and illiteracy out there in the marketplace. We have a wonderful economy."
One thing the opening day was not was a frank exchange of ideas.
There was no hint of disapproval of Bush's across-the-board tax reductions, which the president and many economists credited with stirring a recovery but which had also contributed to widening budget deficits. There was no criticism of Bush's goal of allowing workers to divert some of their Social Security taxes into private accounts, which some analysts worried could weaken the public retirement program.
Economists on the panels Wednesday declared the U.S. economy to be in fine shape, even though job creation had not caught up with population growth three years after the 2001 recession.
"The weakness that we worried about in the economy several years ago is now almost all gone," said Harvard University economist Martin Feldstein, the White House's leadoff speaker. "We really are seeing very strong economic performance."
When administration officials asked conference participants for ideas and suggestions, they recited White House proposals: more tax cuts, limits on lawsuits, fewer federal regulations.
In a panel on healthcare, participants promoted health savings accounts, a Bush initiative that would encourage individuals to purchase high-deductible catastrophic health insurance plans. While proponents say the plan could help more people buy insurance, some critics worry it could prompt employers to scale back on the health benefits they offer to workers.
The conference will continue today. Panel discussions include "Financial Challenges for Today and Tomorrow" and "Preparing for the Jobs of the 21st