By Dan Froomkin
1:32 PM ET, 02/ 4/2009
Last night's media blitz on five networks was supposed to let President Obama sell his stimulus package directly to the American public. Instead, of course, the primary focus was on the embarrassing implosion of two nominees with ethics problems.
But he did find some time to get his intended message out. Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Obama tried to reshape the stimulus fight with his flurry of TV appearances, telling each network anchor that the plan would save millions of jobs. He said the projects cited as unnecessary by Republicans amount to a tiny fraction of the overall bill.
"'Now, the recovery package that we've put together has not only immediate relief to families,' Obama told NBC's [Brian] Williams. 'If they've lost their job, they're going to get extended unemployment insurance; they're going to get to keep their health insurance. We're going to make sure that states don't have to lay off teachers....We're also investing in critical infrastructure, green jobs, making sure that we're weatherizing 2 million homes.'
"He talked about the need to save the economy, remake the financial system and overhaul healthcare. He pledged to stay focused on what he called the 'overarching theme of this administration.'"
In stark contrast to former President Bush's untroubled sleep and eternal sunshine, Obama last night copped to some serious worries.
Here he is talking to CNN's Anderson Cooper.
Cooper: "It keeps a lot of Americans right now up at night, does it keep you up at night?"
Obama: "Absolutely. It keeps me up at night and it gets me up..."
Obama: "Literally, because we've got a range of different problems and there is no silver bullet. We're just going to have to work our way through the problem. So, No. 1, we've got to have a recovery package that puts people back to work and ensures that states that are dealing with rising unemployment can deal with unemployment insurance, can provide health care for people who have lost their jobs.
"So that's one set of problems. Then you've got a banking system that has undergone close to a meltdown. And we've got to figure out how do we intelligently get credit flowing again so that small businesses and large businesses can hire people and keep their doors open and sell their products.
"And you know, part of the problem, unfortunately, is that the first round of TARP, I think, drew a lot of scorn. You know, we learned -- you know, we've now learned that people are still getting huge bonuses despite the fact that they're getting taxpayer money, which I think infuriates the public.
"So we also have to set in place some rules of the road. And tomorrow [Wednesday] I'm going to be talking about executive compensation and changes we're going to be making there.
"Even after we get that done, we still have to get a financial regulatory system in place that assures this crisis never happens again. And we've got to do this in the context of a world economy that is declining, because in some ways the Europeans are actually doing at least as badly as we are."
Obama addressed the critics of his package head on. Here he is with ABC's Charlie Gibson:
"The criticisms have generally been around some policy initiatives that were placed in the bill that I think are actually good policy, but some people may say is not going to actually stimulate jobs quickly enough. I think that there's legitimate room for working through those issues over the next several weeks to make sure that we get the best possible bill. But here's the thing that I think we have to understand. The economy is in desperate straits. What I won't do is adopt the same economic theories that helped land us in the worst economy since the Great Depression. What I will do is work with anybody of good faith to make sure that we can come up with the best possible package to not only create jobs and provide support to families, but also to lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth....
"What I've said is that any good idea thrown out there to improve this legislation I'm for. But I want to be absolutely clear here that the overwhelming bulk of the package is sound, is designed to put people back to work, help states that are in desperate straits, help families who are losing jobs and health care, and it's designed to make sure that we've got green energy jobs for the future. In fact, most of the programs that have been criticized as part of this package amount to less than one percent of the overall package. And it makes for good copy, but here's the thing -- we can't afford to play the usual politics at a time when the economy continues to worsen....
"I'm less concerned about bipartisanship for bipartisanship's sake. I'm interested in solving the problem for the American people as quickly as possible."
Here is Obama with Fox News's Chris Wallace: "[M]ost of the criticisms that have been leveled and, you know, that are -- that you've heard on your show about various pet projects that members of Congress might have put in there, when you tally all those up, amount to less than one percent of the entire package.
"The last point I'd make is that many of the critics, what they're calling for are more tax cuts when, in fact, this is already $300 billion worth of tax cuts. And many of the people on the other side of the debate consider many of those wasteful...
"[T]his is not going to be a package that makes everybody happy, but the main criteria I have is, is it going to put people back to work? And I think it actually will."
Obama gave CNN's Cooper what sounded like a surprisingly candid insight into his overall approach.
"Look, the only measure of my success as president when people look back five years from now or nine years from now is going to be, did I get this economy fixed?" Obama said. "I have no interest in promoting a package that doesn't work. Because I'm not going to be judged on whether or not I got a pet project here or there, I'm going to be judged on, have we pulled ourselves out of recession?
"I think the members of Congress understand that as well. I don't question the sincerity of some Republican critics who may think that they can do better on this. And I'm happy to negotiate with them if they've got better ideas. I'm happy to do it.
"What I won't do is in some cases, some of the criticism has suggested that the better approach would be to do exactly what we did over the last eight years that got us into this problem in the first place.
"There is going to be some differences ideologically or in terms, you know, recipes for how to fix the economy. And, you know, those differences we can live with. But I think -- I still think we can arrive at a package that works for the American people."
And he told Cooper he's still learning.
Cooper: "You said, on these grounds, I'll let you pass on that. And final question, you've read a lot about Abraham Lincoln. What is the greatest thing that you've learned from your studies of Lincoln that you're bringing to the office right now?"
Obama: "You know, when I think about Abraham Lincoln, what I'm struck by is the fact that he constantly learned on the job. He got better. You know, he wasn't defensive. He wasn't arrogant about his tasks. He was very systematic in saying I'm going to master the job and I understand it's going to take some time.
"But in his case, obviously, the Civil War was the central issue, and he spent a lot of time learning about military matters, even though that wasn't his area of experience.
"Right now I'm learning an awful lot about the economy. I'm not a trained economist, but I'm spending a lot of time thinking about that so that I can make the very best decisions possible for the American people."
Meanwhile, Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post: "Senate Democratic leaders conceded yesterday that they do not have the votes to pass the stimulus bill as currently written and said that to gain bipartisan support, they will seek to cut provisions that would not provide an immediate boost to the economy....
"Despite warnings of dire consequences if Congress does not act boldly, Republicans have become resolute in their opposition to what they view as runaway and unnecessary spending in the legislation. And as the total in the Senate version climbs to $900 billion, unease also is stirring among moderate Democrats."
Edmund L. Andrews writes in the New York Times about new proposals to redirect the economic stimulus bill toward bolstering the housing market -- despite the fact that the bill was originally conceived as "boosting almost every other part of the economy on the theory that Congress and the Obama administration would tackle the housing problem through other means.
Now, however, "Senate Republicans are seeking new tax breaks and up to $300 billion in mortgage subsidies to attract home buyers. Democrats want to spend at least $50 billion on federal programs aimed at reducing mortgage foreclosures."
David Lightman writes for McClatchy Newspapers about the ongoing Senate debate: "Everything's up for discussion and subject to largely unpredictable votes: How to levy taxes, create jobs, help people buy homes, reinvigorate ailing state and local governments."
Richard Wolf writes in USA Today: "President Obama is willing to change elements of his economic stimulus plan to meet objections in Congress, but he won't agree to increase its cost significantly or weaken its impact, his top economic adviser said Tuesday....
"National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers said Obama wants to focus on the economy's needs, not the relatively small spending items Republicans have criticized."
CNN's Cooper asked Obama what was non-negotiable. Obama replied: "The unemployment insurance, health care for people who have lost their jobs, you know, providing some relief to the states on those fronts, and providing families relief, that's very important.
"Infrastructure investments that lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth, I think, is critical. You know, so, for example, when we say we're going to weatherize 2 million homes, that's not just make-work.
"First of all, you can employ people weatherizing those homes. We are also then saving families -- individual families on their energy bills, but the third thing is, it's making this country less dependent on foreign oil.
"So the same is true for health IT, the same is true when it comes to education. We want to train thousands of teachers in math and science, and invest in science and technology research.
"All of those things will make us more competitive over the long-term. What I do think is negotiable is some programs that I think are good, good policy, but may not really stimulate the economy right now."
David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times: "The core of the administration's case comes down to four points. First, some of its critics' suggestions don't stand up to scrutiny. Second, the bill is, once again, getting larger and will make a major difference. 'The goal was three million jobs,' Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, told me, referring to Mr. Obama's promise that the stimulus would save or create three million jobs. 'It achieves that goal.'
"Third, as Mr. Summers said, 'Fiscal measures are only one prong — one component — of our overall approach.' The response also 'includes financial rescue, support for housing and global economic cooperation,' he said.
"Fourth, aides say this bill is not their only bite at the apple. Mr. Obama is willing to do more in the future. Congress, facing midterm elections, may also want to pass another small stimulus package next year."