Former World Bank president criticizes Obama over US deficit

Updated: 2013-02-07 06:04


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WASHINGTON - Former World Bank president Robert Zoellick on Wednesday criticized US President Barack Obama for under-prioritizing the country's massive deficit.

"I am very reluctantly concluding that President Obama just doesn't treat spending discipline or saving the safety net as priorities for his second term," Zoellick said during a speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center here.

"There have been hints at dealing with spending, but only after more tax increases and with no definition of specific steps to limit spending increases," he noted.

Referring to Obama's inaugural address last month, Zoellick echoed critics who panned the speech for making little mention of the government's heavy spending, which has climbed dramatically under the Obama administration.

"His priorities ... have not been for a budget deal," Zoellick said, adding that he believes Obama's preference is "a bigger role in government and a greater re-distribution in income."

"As Tim Geithner left office, he said -- look it up -- the US budget problem is really quite small," Zoellick said of the US treasury secretary during Obama's first term in the White House.

Citing Tuesday's Congressional Budget Office report, which forecasts that new tax hikes and the looming 85-billion-dollar spending cuts will significantly stunt the US economic growth this year, Zoellick questioned whether Geithner had seen the numbers.

Lamenting the current state of budget negotiations, Zoellick said Obama's "post-election posture hasn't been that of a gracious victor." He said that it's up to the president to lead, to build trust, and to help all parties to a negotiation.

"If any of you have ever tried to have a negotiation, you know you cannot do a deal if the purpose is to humiliate and destroy the other side," Zoellick told the audience at the public policy think tank, although it was unclear whether he was referring to Democrats or Republicans.

As for the Republican Party, it cannot force a pro-growth package without presidential leadership, Zoellick said, adding that Republicans "need a negotiating partner."

He cautioned against using the debt limit as a "new cliff," a reference to the GOP threats last month to default on the US debt unless the White House agrees to spending cuts. Economists said such a move may throw the economy into a tailspin.