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Obama acting increasingly presidential

Not 'a minute to waste' in addressing economic woes, the president-elect says.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 25, 2008



Washington

At a time when millions of worried Americans are looking to Washington for economic and political leadership, President-elect Obama appears to be acting more presidential and less "-elect" by the day.

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As he unveiled his team of economic advisers Monday, Mr. Obama emphasized that action to try to stimulate the economy is coming. While he remained deferential to the current administration, he said he wanted to hit the ground running and in general conveyed an air of imminent control over ongoing US financial-rescue efforts.

Obama seems to recognize the obvious: The state of the US economy – indeed, the world economy – is so fragile that repair efforts will dominate his initial years in office. His success or failure could well end up defining his entire White House term.

"That work starts today. The truth is, we don't have a minute to waste," said Obama at his economic personnel announcement.

The US has only one president at a time. Obama does not yet have his hands on any of the US government's levers of power. But given the evident efficiency so far of his transition efforts, and the fact that the next Congress will be firmly in Democratic control, it is reasonable for him to emphasize his own policy proposals to fill a perceived power vacuum in the nation's capital, says Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar and author of "What Do We Do Now?," a just-published book on presidential transitions.

"The promise of him getting a very fast start is very real," says Mr. Hess.

As he rolled out his new team for the cameras, Obama emphasized one aspect of each one's résumé, perhaps as an attempt to portray them as complementary parts of a whole.

As expected, President-elect Obama announced that he has picked New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner as his nominee to be the next Secretary of the Treasury.

While Mr. Geithner is a veteran of financial crises, Obama talked of Geithner's international experience, pointing out that the New York Fed president lived in Africa as a child and has lived and worked throughout Asia.

"The reality is that the economic crisis we face is no longer just an American crisis, it is a global crisis, and we will need to reach out to countries around the world to craft a global response," said Obama.

Next, Obama talked about Larry Summers, who will coordinate administration economic efforts from within the White House, as someone who has long talked about income inequality and the problems of the middle class.

Obama said that efforts to bolster the middle class will be the "core" of his economic policies.

Christina Romer, who will be chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is both an economist and an economic historian, said Obama. Ms. Romer, currently a top official at the National Bureau of Economic Research, in particular has studied how the US recovered from the Depression, said Obama.

Obama also announced that Melody Barnes will serve as director of his White House Domestic Policy Council and that he will talk about further nominations and prospective efforts to control federal spending at a follow-up announcement on Nov. 25.

Overall, the President-elect's theme was urgency.

He said he would "honor the commitments made by the current administration," signaling that he will not attempt to modify or undo Bush administration bailouts already proposed or completed.

He declined to specify how large a stimulus package he would request from Congress. But he did indicate that in general it would be, well, large. "It's going to be costly," he said.

Obama sounded sympathetic to the problems of the auto industry, saying "We've got to make sure that it is there and that the workers and suppliers and the businesses that rely on the auto industry stay in business."

At the same time, he said that he was "surprised" that the US automakers did not have a "better-thought-out proposal" when they arrived in Washington earlier this month to beg for a bailout.

"The auto industry needs to present us with some clarity about the dollar figures they are talking about," said Obama.

Overall, the president-elect expressed confidence that the US could weather the current crisis.

"We've done it before," he said.

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