His economic team arrayed behind him on stage, President-elect Barack Obama declared today that the country must act "swiftly and boldly" to prevent millions of job losses.
"We are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions," Obama said at a press conference in Chicago. "We know this won't be easy."
But it can be resolved with a "spirit of optimism" and a "new direction," he said. He said he wanted to bring in the best minds with both a combination of fresh thinking and experience.
The first job of his economic team, he said, will be to craft an economic stimulus plan to create or save 2.5 million jobs in the first half of his administration.
There are estimates that the package could be $350 billion a year -- twice the size of the $175 billion plan he proposed during the campaign.
"I don't want to get into numbers right now," Obama said, saying he wants to await a recommendation from his economic team.
But he noted that there is a "rare consensus" among liberal and conservative economists for a large stimulus package to "jolt" the economy back in shape. "We have to put people back to work," he said.
Obama said he would also await a recommendation from his economic team about how to implement his tax proposals. During the campaign, Obama vowed to rescind the Bush tax cuts for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and households earning more than $250,000 annually and to cut taxes for the middle class instead.
But Obama could avoid raising taxes during a recession by letting those tax cuts expire, as scheduled, on Dec. 31, 2010.
He said will honor public commitments made by the outgoing Bush administration, but wants the new Congress to enact a new "aggressive economic recovery plan" immediately after it convenes Jan. 6, in hopes that a package could be ready for his signature soon after he takes office on Jan. 20.
"We do not have a minute to waste," Obama said, arguing that the country is caught in a "vicious cycle" where Wall Street problems are spilling over to Main Street, but then worsening the woes of Wall Street firms, and on and on.
"Despite all this, I am hopeful about the future," he said.
Obama also said that while the federal government can't allow the auto industry "to vanish," it also can't just write a "blank check" without a promise of change.
He said he was surprised that the Big Three auto executives who pleaded last week for $25 billion in loans did not have a "better thought-out plan" and that Congress did the right thing by requiring them to come back next month with a restructuring plan before it gives more money.
"My attitude is we should help the auto industry," he said, but in a way that restructures the industry in a long-term sustainable way, and that does not just kick "the can down the road."
The mini-biographies of the economic team announced today are below:
Timothy F. Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury
Timothy Geithner currently serves as president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where he has played a key role in formulating the nation’s monetary policy. He joined the Department of the Treasury in 1988 and has served three presidents. From 1999 to 2001, he served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs. Following that post he served as director of the Policy Development and Review Department at the International Monetary Fund until 2003. Geithner is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Lawrence H. Summers, Director of the National Economic Council
Lawrence Summers is currently the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University. Summers served as 71st Secretary of the Treasury from 1999 to 2001 and as president of Harvard from 2001 to 2006. Before being appointed Secretary, Summers served as Deputy and Under Secretary of the Treasury and as the World Bank’s top economist. Summers has taught economics at Harvard and MIT, and is a recipient of the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded to the American economist under 40 judged to have made the most significant contribution to economics. Summers played a key advisory role during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Christina D. Romer, Director of the Council of Economic Advisors
Christina Romer is the Class of 1957 Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, where she has taught and researched since 1988. Prior to joining the faculty at Berkeley, Romer was an assistant professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Romer is co-director of the Program in Monetary Economics at the National Bureau of Economic Research and has been a visiting scholar at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
Melody C. Barnes, Director of the Domestic Policy Council
Melody Barnes is co-director of the Agency Review Working Group for the Obama-Biden Transition Team, and served as the Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Obama for America. Barnes previously served as Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress and as chief counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee from December 1995 until March 2003.
Heather A. Higginbottom, Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council
Heather Higginbottom served as Policy Director for Obama for America, overseeing all aspects of policy development. From 1999 to 2007, Higginbottom served as Senator John Kerry’s Legislative Director. She also served as the Deputy National Policy Director for the Kerry-Edwards Presidential Campaign for the primary and general elections. After the 2004 election, Higginbottom founded and served as Executive Director of the American Security Project, a national security think tank. She started her career as an advocate at the national non-profit organization Communities in Schools.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.