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Obama: Optimistic Fiscal Team Determined to Revive American Economy

President-elect Barack Obama unveiled his top economic advisers Monday, saying they share his desire to fuel long-term economic growth and create jobs. Economic experts examine the challenges that lie ahead for the team.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    President-elect Obama's economic team announcement. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman reports on the Chicago event.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    For the second time since Election Day, President-elect Obama held a high-profile event to talk about the economy, this time to unveil his economic team, still 57 days before he is to be sworn into office.

    BARACK OBAMA, President-elect of the United States: With our economy in distress, we cannot hesitate and we cannot delay. Our families can't afford to keep on waiting and hoping for a solution. They can't afford to watch another month of unpaid bills pile up, another semester of tuition slip out of reach, another month where, instead of saving for retirement, they're dipping into their savings just to get by.

    And I want to repeat: This will not be easy. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes to this crisis, which has been many years in the making, and the economy is likely to get worse before it gets better. Full recovery will not happen immediately.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Mr. Obama named four new members of his economic team today, including New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary. Geithner has worked closely with Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke on the implementation of the $700 billion rescue package to help financial institutions.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    Tim Geithner offers not just extensive experience shaping economic policy and managing financial markets; he also has an unparalleled understanding of our current economic crisis in all of its depth, complexity and urgency.

    Tim will waste no time getting up to speed. He will start his first day on the job with a unique insight into the failures of today's markets and a clear vision of the steps we must take to revive them.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Geithner served as undersecretary of the treasury for international affairs in the Clinton administration from 1999 to 2001. The top job at Treasury for part of that time belonged to Lawrence Summers. Mr. Obama tapped Summers today to head the White House National Economic Council.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    With respect to both our current financial crisis and other pressing economic issues of our time, his thinking, writing and speaking have set the terms of the debate.

    I'm glad he will be by my side, playing the critical role of coordinating my administration's economic policy in the White House, and I will rely heavily on his advice as we navigate the uncharted waters of this economic crisis.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Mr. Obama also announced two other members of his economic team.

    Christina Romer, to be chair of his Council of Economic Advisers. A professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, Romer is best known for her study of America's response to the Great Depression.

    The other was Melody Barnes as director of his White House Domestic Policy Council. She was chief counsel to Edward Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    Mr. Obama said the team was moving quickly to craft policy proposals.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    And that work starts today, because the truth is, we do not have a minute to waste.

    Right now, our economy is trapped in a vicious cycle: the turmoil on Wall Street means a new round of belt-tightening for families and businesses on Main Street, and as folks produce less and consume less, that just deepens the problems in our financial markets.

    These extraordinary stresses on our financial system require extraordinary policy responses. And my administration will honor the public commitments made by the current administration to address this crisis.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    After a 10-minute opening statement, Mr. Obama took questions from assembled reporters, including one about when he would raise taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year.

  • JOURNALIST:

    Will you let the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2010 or will you use legislation to repeal them before that?

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    Well, I said during the campaign that my plan represented a net tax cut. And that's important to remember: 95 percent of workers in this country would receive a net tax cut under my plan.

    Now, what I've also said during the course of this campaign is we've got to restore some balance to our tax code. And the Bush tax cuts were disproportionately targeted towards the very wealthiest Americans. Those who are making more than $250,000 a year can afford to pay a little bit more.

    And it is important, if we're going to help pay for some of these expenditures that are absolutely necessary to get our economy back on track, that those who are in a position to pay a little bit more do so.

    Whether that's done through repeal or whether that's done because the Bush tax cuts are not renewed is something that my economic team will be providing me a recommendation on.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Mr. Obama called on Congress to act swiftly on a stimulus plan. But when pressed, he declined to put a price tag on such a package.

  • JOURNALIST:

    Could you give taxpayers a range of — of the figure that you're thinking of?

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    I'm not going to discuss numbers right now, Kim, because I think it's important for my economic team to come back with a recommendation.

    But what I want to emphasize is that there's a consensus among across the political spectrum that we need a stimulus, and we have to make sure that the stimulus is significant enough that it really gives a jolt to the economy, that it is putting people back to work, that it is making investments, that it is restoring some confidence in the business community that, in fact, their products and services are going to have customers.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Mr. Obama also was asked his reaction to U.S. auto executives' plea to Congress last week for $25 billion in loans to keep their companies afloat.

  • BARACK OBAMA:

    I was surprised that they did not have a better-thought-out proposal when they arrived in Congress. I think Congress did the right thing, which is to say, "You guys need to come up with a plan and come back before you're getting any taxpayer money."

    And my attitude is that we should help the auto industry, but what we should expect is that any additional money that we put into the auto industry, any help that we provide is designed to assure a long-term sustainable auto industry and not just kicking the can down the road.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The president-elect said he also had been in touch today with President Bush and Federal Reserve Chair Bernanke on their ongoing efforts to shore up the financial markets.