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It's Still the Economy: Obama's First Press Conference

Posted by: Theo Francis on November 07

The economy is job one — but for now, it’s President Bush’s job.

So said Sen. Barack Obama at his first press conference as president-elect, with 18 heavyweight economic and political advisers behind them. (See the end of the post for the list.)

“It is not going to be quick and easy for us to dig ourselves out of the hole we are in,” Obama said toward the end of his remarks, which began with a catalog of grim economic data. “But America is a strong and resilient nation.”

As expected, he didn’t name any new nominees. He called for a stimulus package “sooner rather than later” and said that if one isn’t passed in a lame-duck session this year, “it will be the first thing I get done as president of the United States.”

Still, he cautioned that he remains in a supporting role for some time (10-1/2 weeks, to be precise). “The United States has only one government and one president at a time,” Obama said. “That government is the current administration.”

The markets seemed to be expecting something more dazzling, but took the appearance more or less in stride: The Dow losing about half of the 250-point gain it had recorded by the time Obama began speaking.

Asked how he would handle disagreements with the sitting administration, Obama sidestepped the question -- but showed that he realizes it may not prove a walk in the park to have both houses of Congress under his party's control. "I'm not going to anticipate problems," Obama said. Where there is disagreement, he suggested, it may not come between Democrats and Republicans as much as "between people of the same party."

In laying out his priorities, Obama said, unsurprisingly, that a "rescue plan for the middle class" was most urgent.

For the stimulus bill, he rattled off several elements that have wide support among Democrats on Capitol Hill, as well as many in the business community: an extension of unemployment benefits, aid to automakers -- "the backbone of American manufacturing" -- and financial assistance to state and local governments, to avoid layoffs and tax hikes.

Obama called it important to review the bailout efforts the government has already made, but other than calling for assistance to homeowners facing foreclosure, he didn't go into detail about how he might change it. He stressed that his longer-term economic policy is to strengthen the economy and create jobs. "A new president can do a tremendous amount to improve confidence," Obama said.

In the Q&A, he parried a few questions more or less deftly, declining to say how he would respond to a congratulatory letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or to go into detail about the state of U.S. intelligence.

Oh, and that puppy he's getting for his kids? They'd like to adopt a shelter dog, but may have to go with a hypoallergenic one to avoid problems with one daughter's allergies.

Finally, for those of you who like to read tea leaves, here's the list of VIPs standing behind Obama at his press conference, courtesy of the transition team:

Standing Order From Right to Left:

  • William Daley - Chairman of the Midwest, JP Morgan Chase; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Commerce, 1997-2000

  • Robert Reich - University of California, Berkeley; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Labor, 1993-1997

  • Penny Pritzker - CEO, Classic Residence by Hyatt

  • Roger Ferguson - President and CEO, TIAA-CREF and former Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve

  • Lawrence Summers - Harvard University; Managing Director, D.E. Shaw; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Treasury, 1999-2001

  • Anne Mulcahy - Chairman and CEO, Xerox

  • Richard Parsons - Chairman of the Board, Time Warner

  • Paul Volcker - Former Chairman, U.S. Federal Reserve 1979-1987

  • Rahm Emanuel - United States Representative (IL-05)

  • Vice President Elect Biden

  • Jennifer Granholm - Governor, State of Michigan

  • Robert Rubin - Director and Senior Counselor, Citigroup; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Treasury, 1995-1999

  • David Bonior - Member House of Representatives (Michigan) 1977-2003

  • Laura Tyson - (Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley; Former Chairman, National Economic Council, 1995-1996; Former Chairman, President’s Council of Economic Advisors, 1993-1995)

  • Antonio Villaraigosa - Mayor, City of Los Angeles

  • William Donaldson - Former Chairman of the SEC, 2003-2005

  • Eric Schmidt - Chairman and CEO, Google

  • Roel Campos - Former Commissioner of the SEC

Reader Comments

Sorry State

November 7, 2008 05:23 PM

Sorry Obama. We know stimulous packages didn't do any good. It's just a pain killer drug. The patient needs urgent surgery before dead!


November 7, 2008 10:23 PM

Jennifer Granholm needs Obama more than Michigan needs Jennifer Granholm


November 8, 2008 08:10 AM

Market Probe International Reports Worldwide Economic Election Survey Results

Prior to the election, many Americans were pessimistic about the economic outlook for the next 12 months, and more of them favored Barack Obama based on their perception and expectation that he would be more likely to improve the economy if elected president.

The findings come from a survey of 1,000 American registered voters and are part of a major international study completed among representative population samples in 21 countries among 10,392 respondents. Conducted by Market Probe International on behalf of Porter Novelli, the survey was designed to gauge current sentiment among Americans on the key issues of today, including the global economic crisis, the role of government in the economy, the upcoming U.S. Presidential election and perceptions of the U.S. around the world. In the random and representative sample of 500 men and 500 women, self-declared Democrats comprised 35%, Republicans, 29%, Independents, 23%; the rest declined to declare political affiliation.

The survey asked which candidate respondents preferred; 51% preferred Obama, 39% preferred McCain and the rest had no preference.

At a time when the economy is the biggest issue for Americans, expectations of improvement are higher for Barack Obama. The economy is not the only issue on which American voters see more upside with Obama than with McCain. Obama is more widely expected than McCain to bring about improvements in other matters of concern to Americans as well.

“The findings of the global pulse poll demonstrate that the U.S. Presidential election is being closely watched around the world. Interestingly the survey shows that the rest of the world has a clear expectation as well as preference for an Obama victory----to an even stronger degree than among registered voters in the US.

The survey was conducted by members of the independent global research consortium GlobalNR in conjunction with Porter Novelli. The same survey with minor variations was conducted in 21 participating countries including the United States. According to Alan Appelbaum, one of the founding members of GlobalNR and President and CEO of New York–based Market Probe International: “At this crucial time in American politics and in the world economy, my GlobalNR partners and I, as independent researchers thought it was very important to measure perceptions and expectations impartially and globally among nationally representative population samples, with comparability between countries. All aspects of the research were carried out in accordance with procedures established by the American Marketing Association, the Market Research Association and ESOMAR, so we are confident that we have a realistically accurate representation of opinions in the countries we’ve surveyed


November 8, 2008 12:34 PM

You did it! You Did it!!

People, you were MAGNIFICENT! FANTASTIC! As I said before, I am Soooooooo PROUD! of you. And Sooooooo PROUD! to be one of you. My pride in all of you is OVERWHELMING! You took on the longest, toughest, most bruising campaign EPIC! in American history. Then you repeatedly stepped up to the plate to do your duty for each other, and for the greater good of the World. :-)

In spite of the extremely serious conditions confronting us, I can barely keep my feet on the ground from the euphoria I feel over how heroically you all stepped forward for each other, your country, and the greater good of the World. You are a great people.

Some of you repeatedly stood in voting lines for hours determined to cast your vote. Others seemed so determined to vote they looked like they were on a pick nick, ready to endure whatever it would take to cast their precious votes. It was a BEAUTIFUL! BEAUTIFUL! thing to see.

President Obama, and the First Lady Michelle Obama are highly intelligent people, and seem to have their values, and hearts in the right place. It's about the people, and their needs over money and material things in a time of great need. (Papulo Primo) - The People First.

President Obama has been very wise in seeking the advice, and counsel of many of our best experts. All of whom seem genuinely eager, and willing to help however they can. We are all very fortunate to have them.

And we are very fortunate to have continuously had the help, and support of the Worlds people, and their leadership in spite of the highly negative, and hostile relationship they have had to endure from the Bush Cheney administration.

Over the coming days, months, and years ahead we will have much to do. But I know that what ever the challenge is we can handle it, and count on each other. This is America again. And you have made that perfectly clear.

I am Sooooooo PROUD to know you.

God bless you all

jacksmith - WORKING CLASS :-)

Robert Herriford

November 9, 2008 10:09 AM

Obama, we all know this is just another step toward socialism. When 60% of the population get a tax refund who have paid no taxes I don't know what else you can call it. It appears like you intend to make FDR look like a capitalist.


November 9, 2008 10:34 AM

Well i need it my husband is in the military and they are about to take our car because we need some financial help. The sooner the better.


November 9, 2008 01:24 PM

We need to put money into the hands of the lower economic classes who will spend it on real goods and services. Business will then have to produce the goods and services to meet the demand, and investors will receive returns from businesses who produce the goods. Bottom up is the only thing that will work now.

Peter Christiansen

November 9, 2008 03:12 PM

We cannot not to afford to adopt single payer national health insurance program ASAP. We pay twice and more than any other country in the world for health care and rank # 41 in quality of health care i.e. life expectancy. Each year the U.S. raids third world countries to provide essential health care in the U.S. and still six million Americans went abroad last year, most of them to third world countries, for medical care. Thousands more Americans die each year from lack of health insurance including access to life saving medicines than from the use of illegal street drugs.

If we have money to fund the occupation of Iraq, bailout banks, subsidize Israel and corporate agriculture and give tax cuts to the rich, surely we have the money to provide all Americans with basic medical care, especially since we are now spending twice as much as other countries with national health insurance. It's way past time for national health insurance.


November 9, 2008 04:32 PM

The problem on wall street and in the portfolios of a lot of corporations and formerly-rich people is that a lot of the derivatives aren't backed by anything. They are pure fraud.


November 9, 2008 09:59 PM

Peter: Yup. It's way past time to use Medicare as the basic payment system for all Americans. People who want extreme care like bypasses could pay extra. Since 1/3 of the people who have bypasses suffer permanent brain damage, fewer people might want that option in their plan. We also need to return to fee-for-service billing because a lot of waste and low-value-added work is being concealed under the rates of the prepaid plans.


November 10, 2008 12:30 PM

Why is the bail out for the bank not welfare.60% of the population dont pay taxes? You must be counting all the children to come up with that figure.That sounds like foxes polls.


November 10, 2008 12:36 PM

As for as the DOW is concerned BUSH the COWBOY is still the PRESIDENT.Until im sorry to say JAN.20TH


November 11, 2008 07:59 AM

Dusty, research our current tax code. You will be surprised to learn that indeed almost half of all Americans do not actually pay taxes. In fact President Bush on his 2008 tax file, has paid more in taxes than probably more than all of us who have commented on this article. I hope an Obama administration leads the way in actually reforming our current tax code.


February 9, 2009 10:20 PM

After watching President Obama, I feel like for the 1st time in 8 years I am not watching "The Twilight Zone" any more. What a great mind our President has and we can bet money,....we are going to recover.......when I watch this transition, I feel maybe my children will see the United States of America as I have been telling them about come back!!!! Yea for President Obama...ethics, a conscience of what is right and what is wrong...he has the correct meter inside him. Thank you!

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.


Election 2008

Washington Bureau Chief Jane Sasseen and other BusinessWeek writers cover the run-up to the Nov. 4 presidential election, paying close attention to how the candidates will handle issues such as housing, the economy, unemployment, and immigration.

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