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Stimulus Dominates Obama's Second Week

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Stimulus Dominates Obama's Second Week

Politics

Stimulus Dominates Obama's Second Week

Stimulus Dominates Obama's Second Week

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On a day when the unemployment number hit 7.6 percent, President Barack Obama named former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker to head a panel of experts helping him deal with the deepening downturn. The bad news on the jobs front wrapped up a week in which the fledgling administration hit one rough spot after another.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The economy isn't doing the Obama administration any favors. The 598,000 jobs eliminated in January constitute the worst one-month decline since 1974. President Obama has been using the grim report to stress the urgency of an economic-stimulus program.

Here is NPR's Don Gonyea.

DON GONYEA: The bad economic news keeps getting worse. Since President Obama's election in November, some 1.8 million jobs have been eliminated nationally. The unemployment rate has risen to 7.6 percent. And the administration sees the problem as accelerating. The president spoke at the White House this afternoon.

President BARACK OBAMA: Somewhere in America, a small business has shut its doors. Somewhere in America, a family said goodbye to their home. Somewhere in America, a young parent has lost their livelihood, and they don't know what's going to take its place.

GONYEA: Today, the president also announced the creation of a new Economic Recovery Advisory Board, separate from his Council of Economic Advisors, and apart from the Treasury. The board will be headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and will include representatives from the corporate world, academia and organized labor.

But that announcement was overshadowed by the jobless numbers, a sobering end to a week that began with difficulty of a different kind. Former Senator Tom Daschle, tapped to oversee a major overhaul of the nation's health-care system as secretary of Health and Human Services, came under fire for delayed payment of some $140,000 in delinquent taxes and penalties for free use of a limousine service. On Monday, the White House stood by Daschle. Here's Press Secretary Robert Gibbs that day.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): The president believes that Senator Daschle is still the best suited to shepherd health-care reform through Congress, and get something to the president's desk that will save the American people money, and make the quality of health care far better.

GONYEA: But the very next morning, Daschle withdrew. The president had five network TV interviews already scheduled that day, hoping to promote the economic stimulus. Instead, the headline would be his admission that Daschle had been a mistake. This was on NBC.

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm here on television saying I screwed up, and that's part of - the era of responsibility is not never making mistakes, it's owning up to them and trying to make sure you don't repeat them. And that's what we intend to do.

GONYEA: There was better health-care-related news on Wednesday, when the president signed new legislation extending health care for uninsured children, under the so-called SCHIP program that had been vetoed by President Bush.

President OBAMA: These legislators have passed this legislation on a bipartisan basis to continue coverage for 7 million children, cover an additional 4 million children in need.

GONYEA: But the president also used that event to turn the focus back to the economic stimulus package that had become the subject of heated, deeply partisan debate in Congress. It was on Wednesday that he began to use some tough rhetoric of his own, and not a moment too soon for some Democratic partisans.

President OBAMA: For the past few days, I have heard criticisms of this plan that frankly, echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis in the first place, the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems, that we can address this enormous crisis with half-steps and piecemeal measures and tinkering around the edges.

GONYEA: He ratcheted things up even further last night at a gathering of U.S. House Democrats in Williamsburg, Virginia, responding to Republican criticisms in an almost mocking tone.

President OBAMA: Then you get the argument, well, this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is?

(Soundbite of laughter)

President OBAMA: That's the whole point. No, seriously.

GONYEA: The president's own behavior highlighted the conflict between his stated goal of promoting bipartisanship, and his drive to pass a huge and controversial piece of legislation. Next week, there'll be more aggressive promotion, with a Monday town hall meeting in the struggling town of Elkhart, Indiana, and a prime-time White House news conference that night - President Obama's first.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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