Obama Plans to Confront Economy 'Head-On'

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."

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