Obama says world waiting for U.S. to take action
Published Monday, February 9, 2009 10:07PM EST
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 10:10PM EDT
U.S. President Barack Obama said "the citizens of our country and all countries" are waiting for America to take action on the economic crisis, in his first prime-time news conference.
"Last month, our economy lost 598,000 jobs, which is nearly the equivalent of losing every single job in the state of Maine," said Obama Monday evening
"If there's anyone out there who still doesn't believe this constitutes a full-blown crisis, I suggest speaking to one of the millions of Americans whose lives have been turned upside down because they don't know where their next paycheque is coming from."
Obama held the news conference to urge Congress to push forward an economic stimulus package. He said the single-most important part of the plan is a measure to save or create 4 million jobs, which is "what America needs most right now."
Obama also took a jab at Republican efforts to introduce more tax cuts into the stimulus plan, saying the U.S. needs to learn from the mistakes of the last administration.
"As we've learned very clearly and conclusively over the last eight years, tax cuts alone can't solve all of our economic problems," he said, speaking to reporters in the East Room of the White House. "Especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few Americans. We have tried that strategy time and time again, and it's only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now."
Obama chose to hold his first press conference far earlier than most previous modern presidents. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton waited months into their first terms, although John F. Kennedy held one just 10 days after taking office.
Although the economy was the central topic of the press conference, and the theme of Obama's opening address, he also touched on other issues during the question-and-answer session.
On the issue of Afghanistan, he acknowledged that the Taliban have safe havens along Pakistan's border, and the U.S. must work closely with Pakistan to help bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
He also said his administration is reviewing a Bush policy that blocks the media from covering repatriation ceremonies.
Stimulus plan passes key vote
Earlier in the evening, a stimulus package measured at more than $800 billion passed a key Senate vote, but only three Republicans supporting the plan.
By a vote of 61 to 36, the Senate voted to close debate on the plan, paving the way for a final vote on Tuesday. Sixty votes were needed to push the bill forward.
The plan will have to be reconciled with the House version of the stimulus package, which Obama wants passed by the end of the week.
Also on Monday, Obama took his campaign for swift economic action to the U.S. Midwest, speaking directly to everyday Americans struggling through the recession.
"We can't afford to wait. We can't wait to see and hope for the best," Obama said during a town-hall session in Elkhart, Ind. "We can't posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us in into this mess in the first place."
Northern Indiana has been ravaged by job losses. In one county, the unemployment rate hit 15.3 per cent in December, an increase of 10.6 percentage points from the previous year.
Obama told Elkhart's residents the stimulus package would give them more job opportunities, better unemployment benefits, and tax relief.
"Being here in Elkhart, I am more confident than ever that we will get where we need to be," Obama said. "Because I know people are struggling, but I also know that folks here are good workers and good neighbors who step up, who help each other out, who make sacrifices when times are tough."
On Tuesday, Obama is expected to travel to Fort Myers, Fla., and on Thursday he will journey to the Illinois communities of Springfield and Peoria. It's the first time Obama has travelled across the country since his inauguration.
Speaking in Elkhart, Obama admitted the stimulus plan was "not perfect" but "it is the right size, it is the right scope. Broadly speaking, it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform the economy for the 21st century."
He added that "doing nothing is not an option. We've had a good debate. Now it's time to act."
When will things get better?
Mark Plotkin, a political analyst and Washington-based radio host, said Obama's presence in Elkhart shows that he's willing to escape the confines of the capital and speak with working-class Americans.
"He wanted to go into communities that have been extraordinarily hard hit and show some empathy for them," he told CTV Newsnet. "I think it buoys him and shows that he's in touch."
But one woman in Elkhart, who gave her name as Tara, asked Obama why Americans should trust him when two of his nominees -- including Tom Daschle for secretary of Health and Human Services -- had come under fire for tax lapses.
"You've come to our county and asked us to trust you, but those that you have appointed to your Cabinet are not trustworthy and can't handle their own budget and taxes," she said.
Other audience members booed her but Obama waved them down said it was a "legitimate question." He told her that the nominees had made honest mistakes.
"If you're not going to appoint anybody who's not made a mistake in their life, then you're not going to have anybody take a job," he said.
After Obama's town-hall session, the Dow Jones industrial average slipped just 9.72 points to finish the day at 8,270.87, while Toronto's S&P/TSX composite index rose 39.26 points to 9,047.28.
Tom D'Aquino, of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said those looking for signs of economic recovery should watch for growing confidence in the stock market.
"I think the first sign of hope will be when the talk of fear begins to conditionally move towards one where there's an expression of greater confidence," he told CTV's Power Play.
"A huge impact of fear for fear's sake is having a profound effect on people because what he have in effect is a capital strike -- people are not spending, companies are not investing, consumers are not going into the stores and buying."
With files from The Associated Press