Obama: Fixing Economy Requires Change in Washington

Posted January 8, 2009 at 11:23am

Updated: 1:51 p.m.

President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday revived the anti-Washington, D.C., rhetoric of his campaign as he began pitching his stimulus plan, asserting that fixing the broken economy will require not just new spending and regulations but a wholesale change in “the ways of Washington.”

Leveling his fire from just outside the city in Fairfax, Va., Obama charged that behavior in Washington had helped precipitate a “devastating loss of trust and confidence” in government, the financial markets and the economy.

“We arrive at this point due to an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington, D.C.,” Obama said. “Politicians spent taxpayer money without wisdom or discipline and too often focused on scoring political points.”

Obama said “the culture of anything goes” must end.

“It’s time to trade old habits for a new spirit of responsibility,” he said

Obama demanded a torrid pace of legislating from Congress as it considers the massive economic package that he is soon to propose. “I’m asking Congress to work with me and my team day and night — on weekends, if necessary — to get the plan passed in the next few weeks,” Obama said.

Whether that call will be heeded remains unclear, but Congressional Democrats have said they will move swiftly on the proposal.

Seeming to waste no time on Wednesday, the Senate Democratic Conference will convene a special Caucus meeting this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. to discuss Obama’s proposals for the economic package. Following this meeting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is scheduled to hold a press conference, where he will likely be joined by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii).

Obama laid out several specifics of his proposal, but many details are being kept under wraps or remain undecided. As a start to his promised tax cut for the middle class, Obama said 95 percent of working families would receive a $1,000-tax cut. Obama also will propose further extending unemployment insurance and health care coverage for those who have lost their jobs, and will provide significant aid to states.

Obama said his initiatives would double the production of alternative energy within three years and “modernize more than 75 percent of federal buildings.” He will seek to create “new jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced,” focusing on work that produces clean energy technologies. He would work to ensure all health records are computerized within five years and provide new computers for classrooms

And he will propose creating a new “smart grid” to provide power, expand broadband lines and work to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.

Congressional lawmakers have largely embraced the idea of a stimulus package to restart the economy, although Republicans have called for accountability and sought input in crafting the legislation.

In a statement, House Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) pledged Thursday that Republicans would work “tirelessly” with the incoming president on ways to help the economy but warned that the plan must produce results.

“Any economic package must produce results that energize our small businesses and help middle-class families,” Cantor said. “Republican solutions will focus on job protection, preservation and creation — the top priorities of any true package designed to revitalize the economy.“

Meanwhile, in a press conference, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) largely kept their powder dry.

While saying that “it’s clear to me that the incoming president wants to include some Republican ideas,” McConnell signaled a bill with a $1 trillion price tag could be hard for Republicans to swallow.

“Given the deficit numbers, it really ought not be a trillion-dollar spending bill,” he said.

Boehner echoed McConnell’s praise for how Obama has handled the process so far, and he said that in order for the stimulus plan to get buy-in from the GOP, it must be developed in an open process.

“We paid a heavy price for how the financial package was dealt with” last year, Boehner said, adding that “it’s very important that we go with something like regular order so regular people understand” what is going into the stimulus bill and why it is needed.