- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

CHICAGO | President-elect Barack Obama vowed in his first press conference Friday to move swiftly on a second economic stimulus plan, framed at the podium by his economic advisers and stressing he had no higher priority.

“We have a current financial crisis that is spilling out into rest of the economy, and we have taken some action so far. More action is undoubtedly going to be needed,” he said. “The one thing I can say with certainty is that we are going to need to see a stimulus package passed either before or after inauguration.”

Speaking to a group of more than 100 national, local and foreign journalists following more bad economic news, Mr. Obama noted there is “one president at a time” so he would not be challenging the Bush administration.

However, he was careful not to endorse any of Mr. Bush’s plans, though he thanked the president for being gracious and said he looked forward to meeting with him at the White House Monday.

“I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later. If it does not get done in the lame-duck session, it will be the first thing I get done as president of the United States,” he said.

Mr. Obama said he would arrive at the White House Monday with “a spirit of bipartisanship and a sense that both the president and various leaders in Congress all recognize the severity of the situation right now and want to get stuff done.”

“The critical point and I think the critical tone that has to be struck by all of us involved right now is the American people need help. This economy is in bad shape,” he said. “Now is a good time for us to set politics aside for a while and think practically about what will actually work to move the economy forward. And it’s in that spirit that I’ll have the conversation with the president.”

The White House remained cool, however, to the idea of another stimulus package, and claimed that the actions they have taken so far to help the economy and homeowners specifically are being overlooked.

“The stimulus proposals that we have seen out there are very limited and very forward-looking and long range,” said White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto

He singled out infrastructure spending as having an “exceedingly limited impact on the economy in the short term,” saying that only 25 cents of every dollar appropriate for infrastructure is spent in the first year. Mr. Fratto argued that the $700 billion economic rescue plan passed by Congress and being implemented by the Treasury Department has a “multiplying effect” that is more effective than a congressional appropriation.

“When you improve the conditions of banks to go out there and make loans, it’s not a $1 for $1 impact on the economy, it’s actually larger than that,” he said.

Mr. Fratto said that the economic rescue plan and the administrations two programs aimed at helping homeowners are being overlooked.

“There is a lot going on right now, and we think these things are having an impact right now, and will over the short term,” Mr. Fratto said.

The White House says that since July they have helped 2.5 million homeowners avoid foreclosure through the HOPE NOW alliance, a government-driven private sector group that helps lenders, mortgage providers and homeowners renegotiate loans.

And they say they the Federal Housing Administration has personally renegotiated loans for another 400,000 homeowners.

Mr. Obama said he has spoken with all of the living past presidents and has been re-reading some of Abraham Lincoln’s writings.

On the economy, he said the focus must be on jobs to restore consumer confidence.

“It’s going to be very important for us to provide the kinds of assistance to state and local governments to make sure that they don’t compound some of the problems that are already out there by having to initiate major layoffs or initiate tax increases,” he said. “So there are some things that we know we’re going to have to do, but I’m confident that a new president can have an enormous impact. That’s why I ran for president.”

Mr. Obama, a senator from Illinois, fielded nine questions, choosing who would make the inquiries from a list on his podium.

He seemed relaxed as he mused on the future White House dog, joked about Nancy Reagan’s seance with dead presidents and as he brushed aside a French reporters shouted question with a smile and a “Bonjour!”

He teased Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet sometimes a thorn in his side during the long campaign for wearing a sling, learning on live television with a global audience that her shoulder had been cracked on Election Night when she was attempting to run to his speech.

“I think that was the only major incident during the entire Grant Park celebration,” he said.

Mr. Obama called on all of the networks with the exception of Fox News, and just three newspapers. His aides noted the president-elects economic meeting had run late and he needed to get to an intelligence briefing.

“This is the first of what will be many news conferences,” said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who will be heading to Washington as part of the transition team.

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Mr. Ward reported from Washington.

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