Obama Names Economic Team; Chides Congress

President Barack Obama accompanied by Economic Recovery Advisory Board Chair Paul Volcker, left, speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Feb. 6, 2009, where he introduced members of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
AP Photo/Ron Edmonds
President Barack Obama decried as "inexcusable and irresponsible" the delay of his economic recovery legislation in Congress with an estimated 3.6 million Americans losing their jobs since the recession began.

Mr. Obama's remarks were some of his most direct and pointed in support of the massive economic package that the Senate considered Friday and tried to pare down. President Obama acknowledged the $900-billion-plus plan was not perfect and pledged to work with lawmakers to refine the measure, which he called "absolutely necessary."

"But broadly speaking, it is the right size," Mr. Obama said in prepared remarks. "It is the right scope. ... It will take months - even years - to renew our economy. But every day that Washington fails to act, that recovery is delayed."

The president named an outside economic team of advisers as the nation dealt with more bad news in the unemployment report for January. Employers slashed payrolls by 598,000, the most since the end of 1974, catapulting the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent. The rate is the highest since September 1992.

"These numbers demand action. It is inexcusable and irresponsible to get bogged down in distraction and delay while millions of Americans are being put out of work. It is time for Congress to act," Mr. Obama said bluntly.

"That's 3.6 million Americans who wake up every day wondering how they are going to pay their bills, stay in their homes, and provide for their children. That's 3.6 million Americans who need our help," he said.

Borrowing themes from an address the night before to fellow Democrats on retreat in Williamsburg, Va., Mr. Obama reminded lawmakers that the Democratic Party won the White House and control of Congress.

"The American people did not choose more of the same," Mr. Obama said. "They did not send us to Washington to get stuck in partisan posturing, or to turn back to the same tried and failed approaches that were rejected in the last election. They sent us here with a mandate for change, and the expectation that we would act."

Mr. Obama took a sharper tone than he has in recent weeks and seemed to be sending a message to Republicans, who voted as a block against the plan in the House and who are demanding massive changes to the measure in the Senate.

"We are not going to get relief by turning back to the very same policies that for the last eight years doubled the national debt and threw our economy into a tailspin," Mr. Obama said - an implicit criticism of the GOP that was in power during that period.

Mr. Obama's feisty speeches, delivered back-to-back, were a reminder of the aggressive campaigner who helped his party boot Republicans from office. It was also a sign he and his advisers were increasingly worried about losing their first major legislative priority so soon after taking office.

Mr. Obama expressed frustration with his economic stimulus legislation being debated in the Senate. Lawmakers on Thursday inched toward a compromise package of spending and tax cuts that could cost well over $900 billion.

"We lost half a million jobs each month for two consecutive months," Mr. Obama told reporters traveling with him to Williamsburg.

"Every economist, even those who may quibble with the details of the makeup in a package, will agree that if you've got a trillion dollars in lost demand this year, and a trillion dollars in lost demand next year, then you've got to have a big enough recovery package to actually make up for those lost jobs and lost demand."

Slightly more than half the country approves of President Obama's $800 billion-plus stimulus package, a new CBS News poll finds. But support for the bill has fallen 12 points since January, and nearly half of those surveyed do not believe it will shorten the recession.

Fifty-one percent of those surveyed support the stimulus package, while 39 percent do not. An additional 10 percent don't know. Last month, 63 percent supported the package and just 24 percent opposed it.

A Band Of Outsiders

Earlier on Friday, President Obama announced a team of outside economic advisers to help boost an economy in a virtual free-fall.

The president signed an executive order creating the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

In a statement, the White House said the board will offer independent advice in regular briefings to the president, vice president and their economic team.

The White House said the board's initial focus will be programs to "jump-start economic growth."

Mr. Obama has already tapped Volcker, a top Obama adviser, as the leader of the high-profile panel of advisers. Members will include former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson, TIAA-CREF President-CEO Roger Ferguson and Harvard University professor Martin Feldstein, who wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece last year titled "John McCain Has a Tax Plan To Create Jobs."

Obama friend and campaign finance chairwoman Penny Pritzker also is on the board, as are two labor officials - Anna Burger of Service Employees International Union and Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO.

Also named to the 15-member board:

  • John Doerr, Partner, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers
  • Mark T. Gallogly, Founder & Managing Partner, Centerbridge Partners L.P.
  • Jeffrey R. Immelt, CEO, General Electric Co.
  • Monica C. Lozano, Publisher & Chief Executive Officer, La Opinion
  • Jim Owens, Chairman & CEO, Caterpillar Inc.
  • Charles E. Phillips, Jr., President, Oracle Corporation
  • David F. Swensen, CIO, Yale University
  • Laura D'Andrea Tyson, Dean, Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley
  • Robert Wolf, Chairman & CEO, UBS Group Americas