Obama Promotes an Array of Financial Proposals

President-elect Barack Obama pledged Tuesday to eliminate unnecessary government spending and programs. He vowed to get rid of programs that have outlived their usefulness, or that exist solely because of the power of politicians. Video by AP
By Dan Eggen and Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In his second news conference in as many days, President-elect Barack Obama continued his assertive approach to the nation's financial woes, naming two more top economic officials and promoting a broad array of recovery plans he intends to push upon entering the White House in January.

Claiming a "mandate to move the country in a new direction," Obama promised to make major cuts in the federal budget to help pay for his proposed stimulus package. He appears poised to play an increasingly high-profile role in trying to reassure consumers and the financial markets, in the process overshadowing President Bush, even though the incumbent has released more than $1.4 trillion in the past two days to spur the economy.

Democrats close to the transition process also indicated that Obama is moving closer to an agreement with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that would keep him in his post for at least another year, maintaining continuity in leadership of the military at a time when the United States is immersed in a pair of overseas conflicts. Gates would join a national security team that is expected to include Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones as national security adviser. Those appointments could be announced as early as next week.

Obama's moves on domestic and fiscal policy this week also underscore the severity of the economic problems he will confront in January, and suggest that he intends to push for broad reforms in health care, energy policy and other areas under the umbrella of the financial crisis.

"I don't think there's any question that we have a mandate to move the country in a new direction and not continue the same old practices that have gotten us into the fix that we're in," Obama said at his news conference in Chicago. "But I won 53 percent of the vote. That means 46 or 47 percent of the country voted for John McCain. And it's important, as I said on election night, that we enter into the new administration with a sense of humility."

Framed by American flags, Obama spoke from behind a lectern bearing a rectangular placard reading "The Office of the President-Elect." He said once again that Bush will remain the president until Jan. 20 but added that the "extraordinary circumstances" brought on by the nation's economic crisis made it crucial for him to show that he is prepared to govern.

"I think it is very important for the American people to understand that we are putting together a first-class team, and for them to have clarity that we don't intend to stumble into the next administration," he said. "We're going to hit the ground running. We're going to have clear plans of action."

Obama named Peter R. Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget, the arm of the White House responsible for crafting the federal budget and overseeing the effectiveness of federal programs. Obama also named Rob Nabors, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, as deputy director of the OMB.

Obama is slated to hold another news conference today. Bush, by contrast, has not held a full news conference since August. He spent yesterday at an Army base in Kentucky greeting troops returning from Iraq.

For a president-elect to take such a prominent role in attempting to steer policy so early in a transition is unprecedented, historians and political scientists said. In 1932 and early 1933, for example, Franklin D. Roosevelt rebuffed pleas for input from President Herbert Hoover and refused to answer questions from the press. Other party transitions have been warmer but still distant, such as when George H.W. Bush briefed Bill Clinton on his plans to commit U.S. forces to Somalia in December 1992.

Paul C. Light, a presidential transition expert at New York University, said aggressive intervention may be Obama's best option if he hopes to control the agenda in January.

"I don't think Obama really has much choice," he said. "This crisis is so bad that if Obama doesn't act, it will become his crisis, too. He could be blamed for not acting right now."

Bush has been notably cordial in his relations with Obama, and he said during brief remarks on Monday that there will be "close cooperation" between the two sides on major issues. "I don't think you've ever seen this level of communication and cooperation at all levels," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

That does not mean the two men agree on policy issues. Bush remains opposed to Democratic plans for further large-scale stimulus spending to boost the economy, arguing that the $700 billion rescue plan that Congress passed and other measures are sufficient for now. The White House has also resisted Democratic proposals to spend additional money to help foundering Detroit automakers.

That opposition, combined with continued uncertainty in the financial markets, has given Obama an opening to propose his own stimulus plan and other initiatives, which are almost certain to pass under an expanded Democratic majority in Congress, experts said.

"Obama has become more than the president-in-waiting; he's become the president," said presidential historian Robert Dallek. "And Bush has almost deferred to him, which is surprising."

Upon being named OMB chief, Orszag, 39, resigned his post as director of the Congressional Budget Office, where he oversaw a staff of 235 who produce nonpartisan analyses of economic and policy issues. Unlike many of his predecessors, who hewed closely to pure number-crunching, Orszag has carved out a niche as a leading thinker on health-care policy.

Obama said Orszag will take the lead in scouring the federal budget, which is straining under record deficits, with an eye toward eliminating programs that do not work. The president-elect called that task an essential complement to his plan to enact the economic stimulus package soon after he takes office.

His stimulus plan, which is being crafted by his growing team of economic advisers, is intended to create or save 2.5 million jobs over the next two years. It is an undertaking that some analysts say could cost as much as $700 billion.

"If we're going to make the investments we need, we must also be willing to shed the spending we don't," Obama said. "In these challenging times, when we are facing both rising deficits and a sinking economy, budget reform is not an option. It is an imperative."

At his news conference today, Obama is expected to announce more economic appointments.

Staff writer Kari Lydersen in Chicago contributed to this report.

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