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Obama Takes Stimulus Campaign To Americans


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

The troubled economy is the focus of official Washington today. The Obama administration is unveiling its plans for the billions of dollars remaining in the federal financial bailout. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is speaking at this hour. Later today, the Senate holds a final vote on the economic stimulus bill.

President Obama pushed hard for his $800 billion economic stimulus plan in his primetime press conference last night. He warned that a failure to act could turn a crisis into a catastrophe.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON: The press conference was part of a weeklong blitz to convince members of Congress and the public to support the stimulus plan. The president took just 13 questions but gave lengthy answers to each in the hour-long news conference.

Again and again he said the debate was between those who think the government should do nothing and those who believe it must act and act now.

President BARACK OBAMA: At this particular moment with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money, which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that's moving through Congress is designed to do.

LIASSON: Although the president has been careful to warn that it will take a very long time to climb out of the recession, last night he explained just how the American people would know if his plan succeeded. He said people would be able to get loans, the housing market would stabilize, and the economy would stop shedding jobs.

He said the plan at hand would save or create four million jobs; in the past he said up to four million. And the chairman of his Council of Economic Advisors has been even more specific. Christina Romer has predicted that the stimulus plan would restrain unemployment at a peak of about 8 percent later this year. Last night President Obama looked toward a turnaround in 2010.

Pres. OBAMA: My hope is that after a difficult year - and this year is going to be a difficult year - that businesses start investing again, they start making decisions that, you know, in fact there's money to be made out there, customers or consumers start feeling that their jobs are stable and safe and they start making purchases again. And if we get things right, then starting next year we can start seeing significant improvement.

LIASSON: He also communicated his impatience with Republican opposition to the bill.

Pres. OBAMA: What I've been concerned about is some of the language that's been used suggesting that this is full of pork and this is wasteful government spending, so on and so forth. First of all, when I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then you know, I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now and the economic crisis that we have right now.

LIASSON: Although the economic crisis dominated the news conference, Mr. Obama also promised to look for openings to engage Iran. He criticized Afghan President Hamed Karzai's government for being detached. He tried to deflect questions about the second half of the financial rescue package, which Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is set to announce today, and he refused to say whether - as many have predicted - he would have to come back and ask Congress for even more money for the banks.

Mr. Obama also talked about baseball player Alex Rodriguez admitting he had used steroids. The president said it was depressing but that he was glad Major League Baseball was finally taking it seriously.

Pres. OBAMA: And that our kids hopefully are watching and saying, you know what, there are no shortcuts, that when you try to take shortcuts, you may end up tarnishing your entire career, and that your integrity is not worth it.

LIASSON: The president also talked a lot about bipartisanship and where it went. The 80 votes in the Senate the Obama team had once wished for have not materialized. The key vote taken yesterday brought over just three Republicans. Yet the president said his downpayment might bring returns in the future.

President OBAMA: You know, when I made a series of overtures to the Republicans, going over to meet with both Republican caucuses, you know, putting three Republicans in my Cabinet, something that is unprecedented, making sure that they were invited here to the White House to talk about the economic recovery plan; all those were not designed simply to get some short term votes. They were designed to try build up some trust over time, and I think that as I continue to make these overtures over time, hopefully that will be reciprocated.

LIASSON: Mr. Obama admitted that down the road trying to pass legislation with tough choices on healthcare, energy, or entitlement reform could be even more difficult.

President OBAMA: But I am the eternal optimist. I think that over time people respond to civility and rational argument.

LIASSON: Today President Obama takes his case for the stimulus to Fort Myers, Florida, where he will be introduced by one Republican official who is supporting the package: Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.