- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2008

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

“We have a current financial crisis that is spilling out into the 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 on 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 in Washington on Monday with “a spirit of bipartisanship.”

“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 press conference came the same day as the battered U.S. economy received several pieces of distressing news - the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate surged in October to its highest level in 14 years; General Motors and Ford each announced huge third-quarter losses, combined with plans for future layoffs or plant closings; and Goldman Sachs issued a research note projecting that the U.S. economy will see negative growth in both the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009.

The White House remained cool, however, to the idea of another stimulus package, and claimed that the actions 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 appropriated 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 administration’s 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.

Congressional Democrats are considering two additional economic stimulus packages at the cost of at least $100 billion each.

Mr. Obama on Friday attended to a combination of official and family business. He and his wife, Michelle, attended a parent-teacher conference at the University of Chicago Lab School, which their daughters, Malia and Sasha, attend. The president-elect also spent about 20 minutes in the FBI building getting a daily intelligence briefing.

During the press conference, Mr. Obama said he has spoken with all of the living past presidents and has been re-reading some of Abraham Lincoln’s writings, saying they are “an extraordinary inspiration.”

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.”

He also discussed the threat of a nuclear Iran, an issue that was front and center during both his primary and general election campaigns. He said he would review the letter of congratulations from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the first from an Iranian leader to a new U.S. administration in decades and “respond appropriately.”

“It’s only been three days since the election. Obviously, how we approach and deal with a country like Iran is not something that we should, you know, simply do in a knee-jerk fashion. I think we’ve got to think it through,” he said. “But I have to reiterate once again that we only have one president at a time. And I want to be very careful that we are sending the right signals to the world as a whole that I am not the president and I won’t be until January 20.”

The llinois senator fielded nine questions, choosing who would make the inquiries from a list on his lectern.

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

When Mr. Obama saw the members of the press stand for him as he walked out, he seemed surprised, letting out an “Oh, wow!”

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 that the president-elect’s 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.

Mr. Obama also noted the bad news coming from the auto industry, saying he wants the administration to “do everything it can to accelerate the retooling assistance that Congress has already enacted.”

Mr. Fratto, however, said that the White House does not have the authority under the plan passed by Congress to bail out the automakers beyond a loan program being run out of the Department of Energy.

The White House said any further bailouts for automakers will have to come from Congress.

“If Congress has any interest in going beyond that, that’s a decision that they’re going to have to make,” Mr. Fratto said. “We don’t have the authority to do that.”

Mr. Obama said he would reconvene his vast advisory board in the coming weeks, though he does not intend to appear at the White House global economic summit later this month.

Mr. Obama so far has named a chief of staff - Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois - and his campaign strategist David Axelrod will move to Washington as an adviser.

Senior strategist Robert Gibbs will likely become White House press secretary, though an announcement has not officially been made.

Mr. Obama previously has said he would name a Treasury secretary first, and many expect he will retain Mr. Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for a transition period.

“I want to move with all deliberate haste, but I want to emphasize deliberate as well as haste. I’m proud of the choice I made of vice president, partly because we did it right. I’m proud of the choice of chief of staff, because we thought it through,” he said, standing with Mr. Emanuel and Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. at his side.

“It’s very important, in all these key positions, both in the economic team and the national security team, to - to get it right and not to be so rushed that you end up making mistakes,” he said.

David Dickson contributed to this report from Washington.


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