President-elect Barack Obama promised today that a "particularly urgent priority" of his administration would be to pass a second stimulus plan and extend unemployment benefits.
The Illinois Democrat stood behind a podium that read "President Elect" and was backed by a row of economic advisers as he spelled out a series of measures meant to "confront this economic crisis head-on."
He made a point, however, of saying at the beginning of his first news conference since winning the election on Tuesday that he was not going to compete with President Bush's economic planning.
"The United States has only one government and one president, and until Jan. 20 of next year, that government is the current administration," he said.
Obama met the press after sitting with his economic advisers while advice -- much of it unsolicited -- swirled around him.
The president-elect consulted with corporate leaders and economic experts, including executives from Xerox Corp., Time Warner Inc., Google Inc. and the Hyatt hotel company. Investor Warren Buffett was expected to participate by telephone.
In his news conference, Obama made it clear that he was intent of passing a second stimulus plan. The idea has been backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but the Bush administration indicated today that it's not clear the Democrats are in agreement on the issue.
"If there are ideas about what can be done that would be stimulative in the short term, we'll listen to them and we'll see if there's an appetite in Congress for what they would like to do," Deputy White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto said. "But it's not clear among Democrats in Congress what they would like to do yet."
Obama urged quick action on a new round of stimulus checks.
"I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later," he said. "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."
Obama also said he would review Bush's implementation of $700 billion bailout plan to ensure the money is "not unduly rewarding the management of financial firms," and determine whether any of that money could be used to help the struggling auto industry. CEOs from Detroit met with Congressional leaders Thursday night and said their pleas for help cannot wait until Obama takes office in January.
The president-elect did not, however, name his economic team, although his camp has made it clear that a treasury secretary will be one of his first appointments.
Bush has invited Obama to send representatives to an unprecedented international economic summit next week. It's unclear whether Obama has accepted that invitation to send representatives. He was not expected to personally attend.
The urgency of the country's economic condition was made clear today with additional signs of economic distress.
Another 240,000 jobs were lost in October, pushing the total number of jobs lost in the past 10 months to 1.2 million. It also boosted the unemployment rate to 6.5 percent, the highest level since March 1994.
Ford announced that it lost $129 million in the third quarter, spent $7.7 billion of its reserves and expects to cut more jobs. Hours later, General Motors said it lost $2.5 billion in the third quarter and used up $6.9 billion of its reserves.
The country's auto industry, which already has won a $25 billion federal loan, met with congressional leaders Thursday night and escalated its pleas for help. They are seeking another $50 million, ABC News has learned, plus help in meeting pension obligations and an expensive new tax credit to be given to people who buy new cars.
Automakers Warn Industry Could Collapse
A senior House Democratic told ABC News that Detroit CEOs warned during the Thursday night meeting that the American automobile industry is in danger of collapse, something that would have a ripple effect throughout the economy.
Democratic Congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are drafting a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson today asking that some of the $700 billion financial rescue package for Wall Street be targeted to help the flagging auto industry.
Obama is under pressure to give some indication of what he will do, whether he will try to guide economic decisions now or wait until Jan. 20. In the meantime, his team has to quickly get up to speed.
"We're not starting from nowhere," said Lawrence Summers, a treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton and one of the 17 members of Obama's transition economic advisory board who met with Obama today.
"Throughout his campaign, the president-elect has been talking about what we need to do. We need to put the middle class at the center of the policy approach in a way that it hasn't been these last years," Summers told NBC's "Today."
Obama should do very little for now, many experts said today, because there can't be a tug-of-war over economic policy.
"There is only one president at a time, so until Jan. 20 President Bush has the last word in executing programs and activities under the existing laws and deciding to sign or veto laws passed by the Congress," Paul O'Neill, Bush's first treasury secretary, told ABCNews.com.
O'Neill said that while Obama campaigned to alter Bush's economic plans, it's not certain he would be willing to block what's already in line with CEOs and experts clamoring for immediate help.
"I would argue we don't really know yet what it is that the president-elect intends to do," O'Neill wrote in an e-mail. "What is said in campaigns often, [appropriately] falls by the wayside when rhetoric has to confront the reality of responsibility."
Stephen Hess, who has worked with four U.S. presidents, said Obama should "have observers, have people in place," but added, "That's it."
"What do you want him to do now that couldn't be done six weeks from now?" Hess asked at a Brookings Institute seminar on presidential transitions today.
President Reagan Began on Economy During Transition
Ken Duberstein, who was President Ronald Reagan's chief of staff, said Reagan began working on an economic recovery plan before he took office.
"He dispatched people like me to go to Capitol Hill," Duberstein told the Brookings seminar. They talked to Democrats and Republicans about economic recovery and got Democrats on board during the transition to back an economic recovery package.
"It started back in transition, by prioritizing, by putting people in the right place," Duberstein said. "You can walk and chew gum at the same time. But you have to focus on walking first. That's the economy."