Barack Obama Steps Into Leadership Gap

Barack Obama has chosen not to observe the tradition requiring a president-elect to keep quiet on the sidelines until Inauguration Day. He made a series of bold calls this weekend for action on the economy, including a fiscal stimulus package and a plan to help homeowners. “I am disappointed that we haven’t seen quicker movement on this issue by the administration,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

From Financial Times:

With dutiful regularity, America’s president-elect has reminded the US public since November 4 that the country only has one president at a time. What he forgot to add was that his name is Barack Obama, not George W. Bush.

In a series of weekend statements – a radio address to the public on Saturday, a prime time Sunday morning interview and an afternoon press conference in Chicago – Mr Obama made it plain that economic events will not respect America’s oddly archaic 77-day transition.

Since his emphatic victory last month, Mr Obama has watched the economy fall off a cliff. The most recent data came on Friday, with the largest single monthly jump in unemployment since 1974. The Obama transition team, which has produced the fastest series of economic appointments “in history”, according to Mr Obama, has observed Mr Bush’s abdication of presidential authority with mounting concern.

Almost two million jobs have been lost since September. One in ten American mortgage holders are either in arrears or have had their homes repossessed by the banks. In what may well qualify as an understatement, Mr Obama on Sunday told NBC’s Meet the Press: “I am disappointed that we haven’t seen quicker movement on this issue [to assist struggling homeowners] by the administration.”

Mr Obama’s chief source of frustration with the outgoing president is Mr Bush’s refusal to agree to a second fiscal stimulus package, at a time when economists of all political stripes are calling for what the president-elect described as a “blood transfusion” to stabilise the patient. Hence Mr Obama’s intervention this weekend.

Without putting a cost-estimate on the package, Mr Obama on Sunday outlined the contours of a fiscal stimulus that would keep the US economy alive pending more substantial action. The plan, which emphasises aid to struggling states, many of which are deepening the crisis by cutting spending to meet their legal balanced budget requirements, could be passed by Congress some time in January.

Some hope the plan, which would cost at least $500bn, may even be ready for Mr Obama to sign on January 20 after he has taken the oath of office. The 111th Congress starts work on 6 January. “Things are going to get worse before they get better,” said Mr Obama yesterday. “My number one priority going in is to make sure we have an economic recovery plan that is equal to the task.”

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