Obama defends recovery plan, cites progress

In a prime-time press conference, he said reviving the economy will take "many months" and "many solutions."

Gerald Herbert/AP
Economic questions dominated the new president’s second full-dress meeting with the Washington press corps.

With his young administration about to enter a crucial few weeks, President Obama at a March 24 press conference vigorously defended his approach to fixing the economy – and insisted that the ice of frozen US credit and business activity may be starting to thaw.

The 35-day-old stimulus bill is beginning to create jobs in advance of a spike in bridge and road work, said Mr. Obama in his East Room appearance, broadcast in prime time on all the networks. Home refinancings are up. House sales are stabilizing in some areas of the country.

“We’re beginning to see signs of progress,” said Obama.

But the recession wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t break up quickly, either, warned America’s chief executive.

“It will take many months and many different solutions to lead us out,” he said.

Economic questions dominated the new president’s second full-dress meeting with the Washington press corps. This was due both to the overriding importance of the issue and the timing of upcoming congressional actions.

Lawmakers are currently drawing up overall budget proposals that will – or won’t – contain much of Obama’s ambitious first-year agenda. Thus, the president was pressed repeatedly on whether his education, expanded healthcare, and emissions-control plans are affordable, or whether they will simply burden future generations with debt.

Those proposed moves are investments needed to ensure that the US economy will show robust growth in coming years, argued Obama. Clean-energy jobs could be a big economic driver, for instance.

“The biggest driver of long-term deficits is the huge [growth in] healthcare costs . . . we have to tackle,” said the president.

As to whether voters should back the administration’s call for even greater authority to bail out financial institutions, in the wake of the national uproar over executive bonuses handed out by government ward AIG, Obama said, “I’m as angry as anybody” about the bonus packages.

But he leavened this criticism with remarks about the need for the nation to recognize that everyone is in this together.

While bankers must realize it’s inexcusable to enrich themselves on the taxpayers’ dime, taxpayers “can’t afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit,” said the president.

Another important event facing the administration is Obama’s first major foreign trip – a swing through Europe that will include extensive multilateral meetings aimed at forging a consensus response to an economic downturn that is battering the world.

The president said he has not, in fact, asked other countries to boost their stimulus spending.

“I’ve suggested that all of us are going to have to do something to lift the economy,” he said.

In advance of the meetings, China on March 23 floated a long-term proposal to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency with some sort of new international marker.

“I don’t believe there’s a need for a global currency,” said Obama.

On other issues, Obama:

•Said he “respects” people who disagree on moral grounds with his decision to expand federal support of embryonic stem-cell research. “I wrestle with these issues every day,” he said.

•Indicated that there would be no quick movement toward peace between Arabs and Israelis. This may be unsurprising, he noted, given the intensity of the conflict, but Northern Ireland was riven by similar passions a decade ago, and “we were here for St. Patrick’s Day and we had what previously were sworn enemies celebrating here in this very room.”

•Said the uplift in national mood that came with with the advent of the first African-American president lasted “about a day.” Since then, he’s been judged not in a racial context but purely on his efforts to fix US problems. That’s “exactly the way I should be judged,” said Obama.

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