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Obama Administration Moves Quickly on Economy Following Tuesday’s Speech

February 25, 2009 at 6:00 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: The Obama administration moved on several fronts today in its campaign to turn the economy around. The actions followed the president’s address to Congress and to the nation. Jeffrey Brown has our lead story report.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama strolled to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building this morning with Vice President Biden for the day’s opening event.

Inside, he quickly picked up on his themes of last night, as he nominated a new commerce secretary, former Washington state Governor Gary Locke.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: Last night, I outlined my vision for our common future, one in which we accept the responsibility to act boldly and wisely to confront the extraordinary challenges of our times, put people back to work doing the work America needs done, and lay a new foundation for America’s growth and prosperity.

GARY LOCKE, Commerce Secretary-designate: You eloquently outlined your strategies last night on how America will rebuild, recover, and emerge stronger than ever before.

Working with the professionals at the Department of Commerce, I’m committed to making the department an active and integral partner in advancing your economic policies and restoring the American dream to all Americans.

Democrats praise Obama's speech

JEFFREY BROWN: At the Capitol, there were equally glowing tributes from Senate Democrats, who said Mr. Obama more than met expectations.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: Every time that Obama gives a speech, the bar gets a little higher and a little higher. And, you know, the guy always beats that bar.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), New York: I was almost breathless when the speech was over. I just thought it was an incredible speech.

JEFFREY BROWN: Sen. Schumer also vowed to act quickly on the economic initiatives and urged Republicans to join in.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: Our Republican colleagues have tried to act like they're cheering for the quarterback and then nit-pick his play-calling. Well, President Obama and his agenda are one and the same. You can't separate the man from the agenda.

JEFFREY BROWN: But reviews were mixed among House Republicans, who spoke in the very chamber where the president delivered his address hours earlier.

REP. JOHN FLEMING (R), Louisiana: The president called for fiscal responsibility, and I couldn't agree more. But I am perplexed that he would make this call sandwiched between the biggest wasteful spending bills that the liberals in Congress have ever submitted.

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), Washington: We heard the call last night to start living within our means, and I applaud President Obama's commitment to reducing our national debt, just like families and small businesses have to do with their budgets. Now is the time for both parties to back up their promises for fiscal discipline.

Fiscal discipline core of message

JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, fiscal discipline was a big part of the administration's message today. At the White House and here at the Treasury Department, the president and top deputies pressed their agenda on stimulus, housing, and regulatory reform.

Vice President Biden led the way. Fresh from Ash Wednesday services, he met with his new oversight committee to monitor the $787 billion in stimulus money.

JOSEPH BIDEN, Vice President of the United States: We're going to do this once a week as we kick this thing off, to make sure we know exactly what we're doing.

Again, this has never been done before. We've never been in a position where this much money, with this much need and with this much urgency, is available, and the need for us to follow the money in ways we haven't done it before.

JEFFREY BROWN: And Treasury Secretary Geithner met with Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan on the president's housing plan. Geithner said it's all interconnected.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, Treasury Secretary: Stimulus will be more effective if the financial system is working for recovery, not just against recovery. The housing crisis will be easier to arrest and solve if we move aggressively to put in place this program to help save jobs and stimulate private investment.

They all work together; it's very important to recognize that. So we're trying to move quickly on all those fronts.

Obama urges stronger regulation

JEFFREY BROWN: And Donovan urged Americans to reach out for help if they're facing foreclosure.

SHAUN DONOVAN, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Everything that we do cannot be effective if a homeowner that's in distress can't get in touch with somebody to find out about the program and to actually make it work. I know from my own experience in New York City many homeowners paralyzed literally by fear of what's happening to them, not picking up the phone, not knowing who to reach out to be able to save their homes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Later, the president met with Secretary Geithner and congressional leaders and called for stronger financial regulations.

BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: The choice we face is not between some oppressive government-run economy or a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism; rather, strong financial markets require clear rules of the road, not to hinder financial institutions, but to protect consumers and investors, and not just to manage crises, but to prevent crises from happening in the first place, by restoring accountability, transparency and trust in our financial markets.

Anticipation of budget roll-out

JEFFREY BROWN: Secretary Geithner echoed the call for accountability by the banks. He told the NewsHour, "They've created a deep hole of public distrust and anger, which is enormously damaging. And they have a huge obligation to try to restore that basic trust and confidence, and we're going to make sure they do it."

The government also launched its so-called stress tests on major banks today, including Citigroup, to determine their health.

But at a House hearing, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke again dismissed talk of outright federal takeovers.

BEN BERNANKE, Federal Reserve Chairman: A nationalization, to my mind, is when a government seizes the bank, zeroes out the shareholders, and begins to manage and run the bank, and we don't plan anything like that. It may be the case that the government will have a substantial minority share in Citi or other banks.

JEFFREY BROWN: At the same time, the Treasury announced the largest banks will have immediate access to more help from the $700 billion rescue fund.

That news helped Wall Street cut its losses on the day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 80 points to close at 7,270. The Nasdaq lost 16 points to close at 1,425.

The markets, and everyone else, now look ahead to the president's budget for the coming fiscal year being rolled out tomorrow.