President Obama's Rough Week: Jobs, Wall Street, Health Care Loom Over White House

President Will Address Unemployment in Visit to Ohio Today

ByJAKE TAPPER via logo
January 22, 2010, 7:38 AM

Jan. 22, 2010— -- It may very well be one of the roughest weeks of the Obama presidency.

Amid disappointing jobs figures, speculation that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke may not be reconfirmed and Democrats' losing Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts to Republican Scott Brown, President Obama has faced his share of bad news this week.

Obama addressed the issue of jobs today in Lorain, Ohio, which he last visited two years ago.

Back then, Obama toured National Gypsum Co., a drywall factory that had operated seven days a week, but within two months of his visit word came that the factory would close indefinitely.

Ken Sauvey, who worked there as a bulldozer operator for 34 years, has been looking for another job since then.

"There is none out there, for especially my age," Sauvey, 55, said. "And that's why the younger generation will probably get the jobs before a man my age would be able to get a job."

The president talked about the pressures U.S. families are facing and their difficult fight. Obama said he will not let bumps in the road deter him and that he will continue to fight against big banks and for health care overhaul.

The president's trip is part of his White House to Main Street tour to connect with Americans.

"You still hear in the news today, you know, little hopes and hints of the recovery. But, personally ... until we see people back to work, we just don't quite see a recovery," said Dave Beetler, an operations manager who is one of only two out of the original 70 still employed at the plant.

"He was very, very upbeat, very optimistic about a lot of things that needed to be addressed," Beetler recalled of Obama's visit two years ago. "And you still hear in the news today, you know, little hopes and hints of the recovery. But personally, on my level, and looking through the city, we don't quite see that yet. Until we see people back to work, we just don't quite see a recovery."

The president addressed the issue of health care and admit that "we've run into a bit of a buzz saw along the way." But he said he will continue to fight for "meaningful health insurance reforms."

The president said that he will push Congress to take steps to boost job growth in the United States.

Today's town hall meeting is part of the president's populist push to reconnect with Americans. Obama invoked that side Thursday when he proposed new regulations to limit the risky behaviors taken by big banks insured by U.S. taxpayers. The announcement, said New York Times business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin, took Wall Street by surprise.

"Most of the CEOs and executives I spoke to had no idea this was coming and were shell shocked," Sorkin said on "Good Morning America" today.

"It's a game changer. ... It's truly one step from removing the casinos on Wall Street."

By preventing commercial banks from running risky hedge funds and private equity firms, the president said he was protecting taxpayers.

"Never again will the American taxpayer be held hostage by a bank that is 'too big to fail,'" the president vowed, suggesting ways to limit the size and scope of financial institutions.

But Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner privately expressed concern that the proposal would hurt the ability of U.S. banks to compete globally, according to sources.

"It needs to be done right," a source close to Geithner said. "How it gets implemented and how it gets defined is absolutely critical. We don't want to disrupt the ability of banks to lend."

Will Ben Bernanke be Reconfirmed?

The Treasury boss fears that political fears may now be overriding economic considerations, another industry source said.

He is not alone in his concern. The Dow plummeted and closed down 213 points after Obama's announcement Thursday.

While the proposal may be a significant step, Sorkin said, it wouldn't fully solve the problem and is one of the many issues the White House has to tackle to fix Wall Street.

As Obama pushed new regulations for banks, top Senate Democrats expressed uncertainty about having enough votes to reconfirm Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Bernanke, whose term expires at the end of the month, has been panned by some Republicans, who blame him for failing to stop Wall Street's reckless behavior.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., have all put holds on Bernanke's nomination, which requires 60 votes to proceed to a vote. Three Democratic senators have also said they will oppose Bernanke.

"Under the watch of Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve permitted grossly irresponsible financial activities that led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said in a written statement. "Under Chairman Bernanke's watch predatory mortgage lending flourished, and 'too big to fail' financial giants were permitted to engage in activities that put our nation's economy at risk."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., met with Bernanke Thursday and issued a statement saying that he believes "more pressure needs to be applied to banks to lend money to small businesses and keep more Americans in their homes."

The "American people expect our economic leaders to keep Wall Street honest and level the playing field for middle-class families, and I will continue to hold their feet to the fire to ensure this happens," Reid said. "As the Senate prepares to take up chairman Bernanke's nomination, I look forward to hearing more from him about how he intends to address these issues."

Burton today said the president believes Bernanke is the right man for the job and will be reconfirmed.

"The president has a great deal of confidence in what Chairman Bernanke did to bring our economy back from the brink," he told reporters. "He continues to think he is the best person for the job and will be confirmed by the United States Senate."

If Bernanke is not reconfirmed, Sorkin said, "then the whole game does completely change," adding that he believes Bernanke "will still probably get confirmed."

ABC News' Huma Khan contributed to this report.

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