By Lori Montgomery, Ariana Eunjung Cha and Anne E. Kornblut
Friday, September 10, 2010; 12:55 PM
President Obama on Friday named university professor Austan Goolsbee to head the Council of Economic Advisers and urged quick passage by Congress of a package of small-business incentives to help create jobs and revive a still-lagging economy.
In remarks at a wide-ranging news conference, Obama also repeated his strong opposition to a Florida pastor's now-suspended plan to burn Korans and said he has urged Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to extend a partial freeze on construction of Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
Obama again blamed Republicans for blocking his economic platform for what he calls partisan reasons.
"The American people didn't send us here to think about our jobs - they sent us here to think about theirs," the president said.
"Next week, we can end a month-long standoff on a small-business jobs bill that's been held up in the Senate by a partisan minority," he said.
The package of tax breaks and other incentives includes a new loan fund that would encourage community banks to provide up to $30 billion to small businesses, improving access to credit.
"I hope we can now move forward to get small-business owners the relief they need," Obama said, citing the decision Thursday by Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) to support the bill.
"The proposals that we've put forward are ones that historically have garnered bipartisan support," the president said. "Everything we've done is designed to stimulate growth in the economy - that's our entire agenda."
The small-business package is part of Obama's proposal for $180 billion in fresh infrastructure spending and business tax breaks. It includes a plan for increasing and permanently extending research and development tax credits for businesses, rewarding companies that develop technologies domestically and preserve American jobs.
Its passage is considered extremely uncertain in the weeks before a midterm election expected to present a major challenge for Democrats.
The selection of Goolsbee, who is already one of three economists on the advisory panel, signaled confidence by Obama in his current economic team despite criticism by some members of Congress. House Republican leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) last month called for the firing of key economic officials because he said they have failed to revive the economy.
Obama has long looked to Goolsbee - a liberal economist whose academic research is focused on the new economy, government policy, taxes and technology - for guidance about economic issues. Goolsbee, 41, was an economic adviser to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and 2004 U.S. Senate run.
With the departure from the council chairmanship of Christina Romer, who will return to the University of California at Berkeley this month, and budget director Peter Orszag earlier, Obama had the opportunity to radically change his inner circle of advisers. Instead, he chose continuity. To replace Orszag, Obama selected Jack Lew, who was a deputy secretary of state and a budget director for former president Bill Clinton. Lew is awaiting confirmation.
Asked about the Rev. Terry Jones's now-suspended plan to burn Korans, the president repeated his belief that such an action would endanger U.S. troops. Jones has put the burning on hold pending a possible meeting with an imam sponsoring a plan for a Muslim center in Manhattan near the site of Ground Zero.
"The idea that we would burn the sacred text of somebody else's religion is contrary" to American principles, Obama said. "My hope is that this individual prays on it and refrains from doing it."
In comments on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began last month in Washington, Obama said he has urged Netanyahu to extend the 10-month partial moratorium on new construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank that is due to expire on Sept. 26.
"The settlement moratorium has actually been significant. It has significantly reduced settlement construction in the region," Obama said. "What I've said to Prime Minister Netanyahu is that given so far the talks are moving forward in a constructive way, it makes sense to extend that moratorium so long as the talks are moving in a constructive way."
"Now I think the politics for Prime Minister Netanyahu are very difficult," he said. "One of the things I've said to [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas is you've got to show the Israeli public you are serious and constructive in these talks.
"The only way they're going to succeed is if they are seeing the world through the other person's eyes, and that requires a personal relationship, building trust."
Obama reaffirmed his desire to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and try some terrorists in civilian courts.
"I am absolutely convinced that the American justice system is strong enough that we should be able to convict people who murder innocent Americans, carry out terrorist attacks against us," he said.
"We can do that; we've done it before. We've got people who engage in terrorist attacks who are in our prisons, maximum security prisons, all across the country, but this is an issue that has generated a lot of political rhetoric. People understandably are fearful. But one of the things worth reflecting on after 9-11 . . . we can't be frightened by a handful of people who are trying to do us harm."
Staff writer Anne Bartlett contributed to this report.