Economy Back At Center Stage After Parties

President Barack Obama gives his inaugural address after being sworn in as 44th president at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. AP/Ron Edmonds

With the ceremonies of Inauguration Day in the rear view mirror, President Barack Obama is quickly shifting focus to the number one priority on his domestic agenda - restoring confidence in a recession-plagued economy that has shed millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in investments.

"The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together," Mr. Obama said Tuesday in his Inaugural Address.

The president is expected to meet with his economic team Wednesday to assess his approach and plot the way forward.

Congress already has given him a second installment of financial-industry bailout money, worth $350 billion, and is fast-tracking a massive economic stimulus bill of $825 billion or more. Even those bold measures, on top of hundreds of billions in other federal spending over recent months, may not be enough to prevent the recession from growing deeper.

President Obama also is hoping to win quick approval of his choice of Timothy Geithner to be Treasury secretary. But first, Geithner has to explain how he missed paying $34,000 in payroll taxes.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hear from Geithner Wednesday. The tax issue is expected to be among a number of questions that panel members will pursue.

Geithner failed to pay $34,000 in self-employment taxes for money he earned while he worked at the International Monetary Fund. He paid some of the taxes in 2006 after an audit discovered the discrepancy for 2003 and 2004. But it wasn't until last year that Geithner paid back taxes he owed for 2001 and 2002.

Mr. Obama has called Geithner's tax problems an "innocent mistake."

Democrats are hoping the urgency in dealing with the country's worsening economic problems will convince lawmakers to confirm Geithner quickly.

Mr. Obama's team has declared that the economic crisis presents the new administration with an opportunity. To that end, his economic recovery plan embraces key pieces of his broader agenda - affordable universal health care and energy independence.

On health, his speech only addressed one aspect of his reforms - using information technology to modernize health care delivery. And his promise to "harness" the sun and wind and soil as an energy option is more lyrical sentiment than national energy policy, which likely would still rely on fossil fuels and nuclear power.

The markets gave Mr. Obama no relief Tuesday. Financial stocks fell dramatically, leading a steep drop on Wall Street, with the Dow Jones industrials down 332 points.
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