Urgent Calls For A New Stimulus Package

The U.S. economy took more hits this week as automakers reported huge losses. Then on Friday, the Labor Department released a worse-than-expected unemployment rate. President-elect Barack Obama responded by calling for a new stimulus package.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

NPR's Jeff Brady now reports that bad news in the U.S. auto industry and the unemployment rate sharpened calls for President-elect Obama and others for a new economic stimulus package.

JEFF BRADY: Given that Barack Obama is set to become president during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s, it's no surprise that his first press conference focused primarily on the economy.

(Soundbite of press conference)

President-elect BARACK 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.

BRADY: Yesterday and throughout his campaign, Senator Obama expressed a preference for focusing help on those in the lower- and middle-income brackets.

President-elect OBAMA: The goal of my plan is to provide tax relief to families that are struggling, but also to boost the capacity of the economy to grow from the bottom up.

BRADY: But Senator Obama made it clear yesterday that this is just his plan, and he may tweak some of it, including the part that increases taxes on the wealthy if he thinks that might hurt the economy. He also encouraged the Bush administration to speed implementation of a $25 billion loan program for the hobbled U.S. auto industry.

Another proposal he talked about briefly on Friday involves spending $50 billion to help state and local governments avoid layoffs and finish infrastructure projects. Economist Rebecca Blank with the Brookings Institution says typically, such spending takes too long to put in place to fix an already struggling economy, but she says this recession may be different.

Ms. REBECCA BLANK (Economist, Brookings Institution): In part, a whole number of states have pent-up projects, if you will, planned projects that are ready to launch, that they've actually delayed, and this additional money will let them start it immediately. There's also - this is not good news - a fear there's going to be a long-enough recession that even if it takes some time for this money to come online, it will still be helpful when it does.

BRADY: Putting folks to work on such projects would surely help; 1.2 million jobs have disappeared this year, half of them in just the last three months. Most of the losses were in construction and manufacturing. Rebecca Blank suspects unemployment numbers will get worse in coming months before they get better. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Washington.

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Obama Urges Swift Action To Stem Financial Crisis

Holding his first post-election news conference, Barack Obama said quick action is needed to deal with "the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime." Speaking in Chicago, he said that the passage of an economic stimulus plan by Congress will be his No. 1 priority when he takes office in January.

"We are going to have to act swiftly," Obama said, but he reminded the public that President Bush is the president and is still making the decisions.

"Immediately after I become president, I am going to confront this economic crisis head-on by taking all necessary steps to ease the credit crisis, help hardworking families, and restore growth and prosperity."

Flanked by American flags and financial advisers, Obama laid out several ways his transition team will begin to take charge of economic issues. He said his administration will fashion a rescue plan for the middle class and address the impact of the economic crisis on other sectors of the economy domestically and internationally.

He spoke of needing to "help the auto industry adjust" to the changing market.

"I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead. ... It is not going to be quick. It is not going to be easy. ... I know we will succeed if we put aside partisanship and politics and work together as one nation."

There was anticipation in the air as Obama made his first public appearance since his victory speech on election night. And there was bad news: The unemployment rate is up to 6.5 percent — the highest level in 14 years — and 240,000 jobs were lost in October. This year more than 1 million Americans have joined the unemployment rolls.

Before the news conference, Obama met with a cadre of economic heavyweights, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; Lawrence Summers, a Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton; and billionaire Warren Buffett, who joined the summit by telephone.

Asked about a letter of congratulations from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Obama said that Iran's development of a nuclear weapon "is unacceptable." Obama said he wants "to be very careful that we are sending the right signals to the world as a whole." He added, "I am not the president and I won't be until Jan. 20."

Obama has been invited to meet with President Bush on Monday at the White House. "We are gratified by the invitation," Obama said. He plans to take a tour of his new home and engage in a substantive conversation with the current president.

Obama brushed off questions about Cabinet appointments, saying he was proud of his choices of vice president and chief of staff and wants to proceed with "deliberate haste" to assemble his administration. The important thing, he said, was "to get it right."

When a reporter stood with her arm in a sling, he asked her what happened. She said she hurt it running to hear his victory speech in Grant Park Tuesday night.

The news conference was short and not particularly deep, except concerning the economy. The president-elect appeared at ease, mixing humor with seriousness. He said he had spoken to all the living presidents but didn't want to get into "a Nancy Reagan thing" of using seances to speak to presidents of the past. He did add that he has been reading the writings of Abraham Lincoln for inspiration.

As for the White House dog, he told reporters that there were lots of considerations. One of his daughters has allergies. The dog "has to be hypoallergenic," Obama said. The family preference would be to get a dog from a humane shelter. But, he added, "a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."

He said that he and his wife, Michelle, have not made a decision on which school or schools his daughters will attend in Washington.

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