- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

UPDATED:

As he approached the end of his first 100 days, President Obama on Tuesday attempted to manage the country’s expectations for the economy, telling them that “hard times” are not over despite recent good news, and sought to buy time for his policies to take hold, criticizing what he said is an unreasonable expectation among Washington’s political class for instant results.

The president’s speech at Georgetown University - his first major address on the economy in weeks - recognized “signs of economic progress” such as some jobs being saved, an increase in mortgage refinancing, and increased lending for auto and student loans. Some financial firms have also announced large first quarter revenues.

“This is all welcome and encouraging news. It does not mean that hard times are over. 2009 will continue to be a difficult year for America’s economy,” Mr. Obama said. “The severity of this recession will cause more job loss, more foreclosures, and more pain before it ends.”

The president, after two weeks dominated largely by foreign policy, spoke at length about the causes of the current crisis and went into great detail defending the steps his administration has taken so far and the components of his $3.6 trillion budget proposal for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins in the fall: investments in healthcare, renewable energy and education, along with “savings in the federal budget.”

The one “pillar” of recovery not in the budget “tough new rules of the road for Wall Street” is the still the subject of vigorous debate. The president called on Congress to pass a bill by the end of this year that “punish short-cuts and abuse” and include “rules that tie someone’s pay to their actual job performance.”

Mr. Obama defended his administration’s efforts so far to stimulate the economy and unfreeze credit markets. He said that while households and businesses are cutting down on spending, “the government has to step in and temporarily boost spending in order to stimulate demand.”

And he argued that bailouts for banks and other financial institutions have been necessary because “a dollar of capital in a bank can actually result in eight or ten dollars of loans to families and businesses.”

“That’s a multiplier effect that can ultimately lead to a faster pace of economic growth. That’s why we have to fix the banks,” he said, though he expressed sympathy for the question he is often asked in letters from and conversations with regular Americans.

“Where’s my bailout?” people ask him, the president said.

He rejected arguments for full government takeovers of the banks calling it “the nationalization argument” saying this would “end up costing taxpayers even more in the end” and “is more likely to undermine than to create confidence.”

The president’s speech also attempted to repel critics by labeling them as short-sighted and portraying himself as prescribing fixes that will address long-term challenges such as swelling entitlement obligations, the nation’s growing debt, the crumbling education system and U.S. dependence on foreign oil imports.

Mr. Obama knocked “an impatience that characterizes this town an attention span that has only grown shorter with the twenty-four news cycle, and insists on instant gratification in the form of instant results or higher poll numbers.”

“When a crisis hits, there’s all too often a lurch from shock to trance, with everyone responding to the tempest of the moment until the furor has died away and the media coverage has moved on, instead of confronting the major challenges that will shape our future in a sustained and focused way,” he said.

The president said his speech was a “step back” to refocus on the economy after two weeks that have been dominated mostly by foreign policy, with an eight-day trip abroad and then a crisis late last week involving Somali pirates that lasted through the weekend.

Polls show continued support for Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy. A Tuesday Gallup poll showed 71 percent had “a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in President Obama to do or recommend the right thing for the economy,” while a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll Tuesday showed that 58 percent of respondents believe the president has “a clear plan for solving the country’s economic problems,” though 42 percent think he does not.

Many economic experts warn that unemployment will continue to rise into double digits from its current 8.5 percent mark.

“We know the economy is still in a lot of trouble,” Christina Romer, chairman of the president’s council on economic advisers, said Tuesday morning on NBC’s “Today Show.”

Ms. Romer predicted “several more months of job losses,” and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday said that “we still are likely to see many, many months of unemployment; where hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs.”

The president’s visit to Georgetown was protested by some of the same anti-abortion activists who have been spearheading a movement to stop Mr. Obama from speaking at Notre Dame University at the school’s commencement next month, because of Mr. Obama’s support for legalized abortion and federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

“What Georgetown is doing is trying to protect Notre Dame’s back,” said Randal Terry, a longtime anti-abortion activist who has served jail time for civil disobedience protests against abortion clinics in the past.

“It’s treachery against the Catholic faith,” Mr. Terry said, standing with a handful of other activists, some of whom held large posters showing dismembered heads of aborted babies, outside Healy Hall, the historic main building on the Georgetown’s campus.

During the president’s speech, Mr. Terry could be heard, at least by those in the back of the room, shouting on a megaphone: “Obama, abortion is murder.”


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