Obama Introduces Economic Team, Says 'Work Starts Today'

President-elect Barack Obama pledged Monday to honor the commitments the outgoing Bush administration has made to rescue financial markets and urged the incoming Congress to pass a major stimulus package "right away." Video by AP
By Michael D. Shear and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama sought to assert his authority over the country's deepening financial crisis yesterday, unveiling his economic team and making it clear that he will not wait until Inauguration Day to set his plans for recovery in motion.

Declaring that America is caught in a "vicious cycle" affecting both Wall Street and Main Street, Obama said his advisers will begin work immediately toward passage of a stimulus package large enough to "jolt" the faltering economy back into shape.

Timothy F. Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, will lead that effort as Treasury secretary, along with Lawrence H. Summers, the former president of Harvard University and Geithner's mentor for the past decade, who was named to lead the National Economic Council. Christina D. Romer, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, will head the Council of Economic Advisers, which advises the president on domestic and international economic matters.

"And that work starts today, because the truth is, we don't have a minute to waste," Obama told reporters at a news conference in Chicago, where he was joined by his new team. "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."

Geithner, 47, will coordinate the Obama administration's response to the faltering economy, serving as the primary architect of the stimulus package. While Geithner will assume broad authority to direct hundreds of billions of dollars in government funds from his post at Treasury, Summers is expected to have Obama's ear as the head of the NEC and could play an important role in synthesizing the economic advice the new president receives.

Obama has maintained a low profile in the weeks since his election, resigning his Senate seat and quietly vetting his Cabinet as Congress and the White House haggled over proposals for a stimulus package and a bailout of the automobile industry, neither of which came to pass.

But in his second news conference since becoming president-elect, Obama appeared much more willing to assume ownership of the current turmoil, easing away from his emphatic statement that America has only "one president at a time" and signaling a shift in the balance of power between the current and incoming administrations as the financial crisis engulfs more banks and threatens millions of jobs.

Obama urged Congress to convene in early January to pass a new stimulus package, with the goal of having it ready for the new president's signature immediately after he is sworn in on Jan. 20. And he made it clear that he expects President Bush's economic team to work with his own during the transition.

"A lot of authority has already been provided to the administration," Obama said. "And we need to make sure that that authority is used forcefully in the coming weeks to stabilize the current situation."

Obama was briefed by Bush yesterday as the government agreed to protect Citigroup from billions in potential losses from troubled assets. The president-elect said the news about Citigroup added to the evidence that the country faces "an economic crisis of historic proportions."

Bush appeared reconciled to Obama's newly aggressive approach to the economic crisis. In comments to reporters yesterday morning, Bush promised that "anytime we're to make a big decision during the transition, he will be informed, as will his team. . . . It's important for the American people to know that there is close cooperation."

White House officials heralded that cooperation while suggesting that the current president remains cool to the idea of additional stimulus. Bush said he will continue to consider new bailouts before Obama takes office, meaning that even larger financial commitments could face the next president.

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