Obama Sets The Tone On Economy

President-elect Barack Obaba has met with economic advisers and has spoken to reporters about the transition, the economy and other matters. The meetings come amid news from the Labor Department that job losses are accelerating.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Rising unemployment is just one of the challenges Barack Obama will face as president. We're going to hear more now about how Mr. Obama is starting to tackle those challenges. As we mentioned earlier, today the president-elect met with his economic advisory group before holding his first news conference in Chicago. NPR's John Ydstie is here to talk about what happened today. Hello, John.

JOHN YDSTIE: Hi, Michele.

NORRIS: First, let's talk about this advisory group meeting. Who was there? And what do we know about what was said inside that room?

YDSTIE: Well, there was a number of representatives and business, super investor Warren Buffett, participated by speaker phone Richard Parsons, chairman of Time Warner was there. Anne Mulcahy, chairman and CEO of Xerox, also a lots of veterans of the Clinton economic team, former treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, altogether 17 people. President-elect Obama said they talked about the serious situation the economy faces. He singled out the dire straights of the American auto industry which is experiencing plummeting sales. And has just been Washington the last couple of days asking for help. And in fact, governor - Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm is a member of the committee and obviously very interested in that subject. Probably, most importantly and symbolically, all of the members of the committee filed in to the press conference room and stood behind Obama throughout the press conference, giving the message, that don't worry, I've got some heavyweights on my economic team.

NORRIS: And in that meeting, sitting at that rectangular table, you got a sense of what he might look like seated in the Roosevelt room. But there was no announcement of a treasury secretary this week.

YDSTIE: No, no announcement. Although, at least two - may be three people in the meeting are on the short list, Larry Summer, Paul Volcker, and Robert Rubin. Obama has been pressured by pundits and investors to name someone soon. He responded to them by saying he'd work with all deliberate haste as he put it to name his economic team. But he said, he wanted to choose the right people and he wouldn't be rushed.

NORRIS: Now, speaking of moving with haste. There are a lot of people saying that Barack Obama should get involved right now and play a role in meeting these economic challenges before the inauguration. Is that likely to happen?

YDSTIE: Well, Obama was quite clear about that. He said more than once during the press conference, the United States only has one government and one president at a time. Indicating I think that he's not going to take a direct role in trying to formulate and influence policy. On the other hand, I've talked to his economic aids and it's clear they're consulting with Democrats on Capitol Hill about a second stimulus package that will be taken up by the lame-duck Congress in the next few weeks. Also, Obama said, his economic team would be reviewing the $700 billion rescue plan to make sure it's working properly especially with regard to helping home owners stay in their homes. That's something the Bush administration has been criticized for not doing.

NORRIS: Now, once he does take office he made it pretty clear today that his top priority would be fixing the economy.

YDSTIE: Yes, he did. And the first priority he said is, let's get a stimulus package.

President-Elect OBAMA: 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.

YDSTIE: And the president-elect said he was interested in seeing job creation measures in the stimulus. Also help for state and local governments so they wouldn't have to compound the unemployment problem by laying people off or be forced to raise taxes to balance their budgets and further hurt the economy. He also talked about his tax cuts for the middle class which could be enacted quickly as part of a stimulus plan.

NORRIS: What about the tax hikes for people making more than $250,000 dollars?

YDSTIE: Well, Obama didn't answer that question, certainly that he's been criticized by John McCain during the campaign saying that could hurt the economy. But he did seem to keep the door open by saying that he and his team are going to be watching the economy closely between now and January, and reviewing their economic proposals. So, it's possible, we'll see that tax hike pushed off.

NORRIS: That's NPR's John Ydstie.

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