Obama Guarded In Speech On Budget, Economy
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Twelve weeks after taking the oath of office, President Obama took stock of the U.S. economy today. He spoke at Georgetown University, saying he wanted to explain what he's done about the recession, why he's done it and what he has left to do.
NPR's Scott Horsley has the story.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Hardly a day goes by that President Obama doesn't say something about the economy. One day he's talking about low mortgage rates, saving consumers money, another day, how government spending is putting highway crews to work. Today was a chance for the president to put all those puzzle pieces together in a single frame.
President BARACK OBAMA: I want every American to know that each action we take and each policy we pursue is driven by a larger vision of America's future. A future where sustained economic growth creates good jobs and rising incomes. A future where prosperity is fueled not by excessive debt, or reckless speculation, or fleeting profits, but is instead built by skilled productive workers.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama warned his audience today's speech would be long and more prose than poetry. He started by explaining the popping of the financial bubble that caused the recession and the initial steps the government's taken to clear away the wreckage. Those include spending and tax cuts to spur demand, measures to help homeowners avoid foreclosure and efforts to unclog the credit markets so businesses and families can borrow the money they need.
There are some signs these steps are beginning to work. Credit's getting a little easier to come by, more homeowners are refinancing, freeing up cash for other spending and the economic stimulus package has helped put some people to work.
Pres. OBAMA: Now this is all welcome and encouraging news. It does not mean the hard times are over. 2009 will continue to be a difficult year for America's economy. And obviously most difficult for those who have lost their jobs.
HORSLEY: People who are out of work or worried about their jobs don't spend as much. And that may explain why the Commerce Department today reported another drop in retail sales. White House economic advisor, Christina Romer, said on NBC's "Today Show" the administration is not trying to sugar coat the news.
Ms. CHRISTINA ROMER (White House Economic Advisor): We know the economy is still sick. We know we've got several more months of job loss, for example. So we certainly don't want to lead people to think that, you know, spring is right here for the economy. It's more giving them a sense that we are seeing signs that the programs are working, that we're seeing a sense of some parts of the economy are starting to find their bottom.
HORSLEY: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke also pointed today to tentative signs that the steepest downturn may be nearing an end. But Bernanke told an audience at Morehouse College in Atlanta, more must be done to shore up the financial system.
Mr. BEN BERNANKE (Federal Reserve Chairman): We will not have a sustainable recovery without a stabilization of our financial system in our credit markets. We are making progress on that front as well. And the Federal Reserve is committed to working to restore financial stability as a necessary step toward full economic recovery.
HORSLEY: President Obama also stressed the importance of shoring up banks, even though he acknowledged it's unpopular. To justify some of his longer term proposals, Mr. Obama borrowed a parable from "The Sermon on the Mount," saying the economy needs a new rock-solid foundation to withstand future storms.
Pres. OBAMA: If we don't invest now in renewable energy, if we don't invest now in a skilled workforce, if we don't invest now in a more affordable health care system, this economy simply won't grow at the pace it needs to in two, or five or ten years down the road. If we don't lay this new foundation now, it won't be long before we're right back where we are today.
HORSLEY: For Mr. Obama, today's speech comes sandwiched between two high-profile foreign trips. It was a chance for the president to show he's still focused on the domestic economy and issue a point-by-point rebuttal to those who would challenge his ambitious economic agenda.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.
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