Obama Pushes Economic Plan, Saying It Can't Wait

Obama says we will have lost more jobs in 2008 than in any time since WW II.

January 2, 2009, 6:45 PM

Jan. 5, 2009— -- President-elect Obama went to Capitol Hill today to lobby Congress for his economic recovery plan, although he doesn't become president for another two weeks.

"The reason we are here today is because the peoples' business can't wait," Obama said while sitting in an armchair by a fireplace alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "We have an extraordinary economic challenge ahead of us."

A short time later before meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Obama said "the economy is bad and the situation is getting worse."

"We have to act and act now" in order to break what he called the "momentum of this recession," Obama told reporters.

The president-elect said that he expected a jobless report later this week to be "sobering," and added, "We will have lost more jobs in 2008 than in any time since World War II."

So far this year, nearly 2 million jobs have been lost and this week's report is expected to reveal more than 445,000 more jobs were lost in December. The worst year for job losses before now was 1982 when the country lost 2.1 million jobs.

Obama is hoping to persuade lawmakers to support an economic stimulus package that has as its "No. 1 goal" the creation of 3 million new jobs as well as $300 billion worth of tax cuts.

The incoming president said he want to "shape an economic investment and recovery plan that will start to put people back to work."

Pelosi promised her cooperation, saying, "Tomorrow we will start a new Congress. We will hit the ground running on initiatives."

Obama is meeting with Democratic as well as Republican leaders who have expressed concern that the stimulus package could ultimately cost up to $1 trillion.

Later this week, Obama intends to deliver what his aides are billing as a major address on the economy, which will not only outline his plans for a stimulus package, but will outline conditions for the spending so the American people feel the money will be allocated openly and transparently, with no waste.

In his weekly radio/YouTube address released this weekend, Obama emphasized the urgency of his job creation program by stating, "If we don't act swiftly and boldly, we could see a much deeper economic downtown that could lead to double-digit unemployment."

To generate some momentum for his economic package, the incoming president will make a major speech on the economy Thursday. Aides have released details of what Obama calls his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, which is expected to cost between $675 billion and $775 billion.

Republican lawmakers could have some of their concerns about the package assuaged by the Obama team's announcement that it intends to set aside as much as $300 billion of that aid in the form of tax breaks, most of it for businesses and payroll tax deductions for those who make less than $200,000.

ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos said Obama's team hopes to make the income tax cuts retroactive to 2008.

In a further bid for bipartisan support, the Obama administration is insisting that there be no pork barrel earmarks added to the bill, that there is transparency in the bill's passage and how the money is spent and that there is spending oversight.

In addition to the tax breaks, 10 percent of the money would be used to expand unemployment insurance and health-care relief for the jobless.

But half of the cash is intended to create up to 3 million jobs by spending on infrastructure, energy, education and health care.

In a concession to the reality of congressional action, the administration has dropped its plans to have the legislation written and passed in time for Obama to sign immediately after his inauguration on Jan. 20. Instead, the administration is now shooting to have it ready for the president by mid-February.

The sheer size and expense of the project has many Republicans already criticizing what they have heard of the plan through the media, but even some of president-elect's supporters question whether it is plausible that so many new jobs can be created.

"Time and again history has proven government-centered job creation doesn't work. Under [President] Carter in the late '70s people had all sorts of plans and ignored larger economic realities," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told ABCNews.com.

"In Japan they spent 13 years building an airport no one [once used]. Under the Socialists the French tried over and over again to create jobs and it didn't work. We know what creates jobs and it isn't putting the Treasury Department at the center of American capitalism. We need an investment strategy that supports the private sector and small entrepreneurial businesses," he said.

Just before Thanksgiving, Obama pledged to "create or preserve" 2.5 million jobs, a figure he increased to 3 million less than a month later after receiving projections that indicated that without substantial action, up to 4 million jobs would be lost in 2009 and unemployment could rise precipitously.

Jobless Rate Highest in 15 Years

The unemployment rate in November 2008 -- the last month the federal government released statistics -- was 6.7 percent, the highest in 15 years.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Obama called creating 3 million new jobs "the No. 1 goal of my plan" and said 80 percent of them would be in the private sector.

"There is a real difference between creating 3 million new jobs and creating or preserving 3 million jobs," Robert Reich, treasury secretary under President Clinton, told ABCNews.com. "The economy lost 1.9 million jobs in 2008, and if nothing is done we'll probably lose 2 million or more in 2009. The stimulus plan could conceivably prevent a lot of that from happening."

Speaking Saturday, Obama did not give a time frame in which the new jobs would be created, but in December he set a goal of creating or saving 3 million jobs in two years.

"Creating and preserving jobs is a more realistic goal than just creating them and it depends on the time frame. Something needs to be done to stop the erosion in 2009," said Reich who will testify about the unemployment rate Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

In 2009, Reich said, a goal of creating or saving a total of 1.5 million jobs was reasonable, but employment rates were contingent more on stimulating the economy back to health than establishing jobs programs.

"Realistically," he said, "instead of 2.5 million jobs lost in 2009, you lose 1.5 million, so that's 1 million there. If we create new jobs net half a million, that's a total of 1.5 million."

During the presidential campaign -- before the scope of the unemployment crisis was known -- Obama pledged to invest $150 billion in 10 years to create about 5 million "new green jobs" in industries that will produce the next generation of alternative fuels, plug-in hybrid automobiles and a power grid.

An aide to the Obama transition told ABCNews.com that some of the 3 million jobs would come from those 5 million green jobs.

"The 5 million green jobs [are] over a longer time horizon," the transition aide said. "So there's overlap -- some of the 3 million would be green jobs that count towards the 5 million green jobs. But they are certainly not additive."

Obama Promising Green Jobs

The green jobs promised during the campaign would harness "America's highly skilled manufacturing work force," according to the campaign's Web site, to create new bio-fuels and hybrid cars, jobs that would potentially require years of training and retooling before they could become a reality.

Obama is still talking today about environmentally friendly jobs, but in industries that would require far less investment or training. Instead of jumping to overhaul the national power grid, the president-elect wants to first employ people to weatherize homes and public buildings to make them more energy efficient.

The bulk of the new jobs in the short run will not be in green industries or new technology but in old-fashioned construction and repair projects -- building roads, bridges and schools -- reminiscent of the New Deal's Works Projects Administration.

Obama has said he wants to target projects deemed "shovel ready" and has insisted on a "use it or lose it" policy, warning states that they will lose the money if they don't begin building promptly after receiving it, according to a transition aide.

Obama has called the plan "the largest new investment in national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s," but Republican lawmakers contend these projects could cost up to $1 trillion and were created by Obama and his team behind closed doors without their consultation.

"We need to find the right mix of tax relief and other measures to grow the economy," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement last week.

"This will require the consideration of alternative ideas, public congressional hearings and transparency, not a rushed, partisan take-it-or-leave-it approach," he said.

Today, Obama will reportedly meet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, both Democrats, and then McConnell and Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio.