- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009

The Obama administration pressed for patience Sunday to allow time for the $787 billion economic stimulus package passed by Congress last week to turn around the nation’s faltering economy.

“I think it’s safe to say that things have not yet bottomed out … but this is a big step forward toward making that improvement and putting people back to work,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Mr. Gibbs countered Republican accusations that the package won’t do enough to spur the economy in the short term, saying the president is “focused on making sure that that money gets out the door very quickly.”

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod promised that the package would have an immediate impact in some areas of the economy but declined to put a timetable on when it will produce widespread results.

“We’re in the worst recession since World War II,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It took us a long time to get into this mess. It’s going to take us awhile to get out of it.”

Mr. Obama will sign the bill into law Tuesday in Denver.

Mr. Axelrod also said Sunday that the U.S. economy depends on a viable auto industry, though he cautioned that the needed restructuring, a plan for which two of Detroit’s Big Three must produce this week, will be painful to all parties.

“We need an auto industry in this country. There are millions of lives, livelihoods that depend on it,” Mr. Axelrod said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We have a real interest in seeing the auto industry survive, but it’s going to require a major restructuring of the auto industry.”

That restructuring, he said on Fox, is “going to be something that’s going to require sacrifice not just from the autoworkers but also from creditors, from shareholders and the executives who run the company. And everyone’s going to have to get together here to build companies that can compete in the future.”

General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC face a Tuesday deadline to submit to Congress a long-term viability plan that shows how they can repay billions of dollars in government loans.

Complicating the issue is that talks with the United Auto Workers have not produced one key element of GM and Chrysler’s viability plans - major wage and benefit concessions from the union. GM’s talks were broken off Friday night, wire services reported, over the company’s payments for retiree health care. They resumed Sunday.

GM and Chrysler have both said that they could not benefit from bankruptcy because people would not buy cars from a manufacturer that was perceived as about to collapse. But the outright downfall of either GM or Chrysler would send shock waves rippling through the economy, further complicating any recovery effort.

When asked on Fox whether the Obama administration would allow GM to go into bankruptcy, Mr. Axelrod ducked the question.

“I’m not going to prejudge anything. I think that there is going to have to be a restructuring of those companies. I’m not going to get into the mode of how that happens. We’ll wait and see what they have to say on Tuesday,” he said.

Despite the president’s efforts for a bipartisan measure, Congress on Friday passed the massive spending and tax package with no Republican support in the House and only three Republican senators voting for it.

Mr. Gibbs downplayed the lack of Republican cooperation, saying that the Democratic president will continue to reach out to the other party in Congress.

“We hope that Republicans will decide they want to reach back,” he said. “We understand that nothing is going to get done in this country to improve the lives of the American people if the parties in Washington continue the same old game and continue to fight.”

Mr. Axelrod said the plan, which the administration and Capitol Hill Democrats predict will preserve or create 3 million to 4 million jobs, should help prevent the nation’s 7.6 percent unemployment rate from reaching 10 percent.

“That’s our hope,” he said on “Meet the Press.” “There’s no doubt that without it that’s what, that’s where we were looking at - double-digit unemployment.”

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