How much should Obama weigh in?

James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.


Kai Ryssdal: President-elect Barack Obama said on "Meet the Press" Sunday that he's in favor of some kind of rescue package for Detroit. He didn't have many nice things to say about the way carmakers have been doing business, though, and how they got themselves into this trouble. The president-elect's been fairly guarded in his public pronouncements as to what ought to be done economically before he takes office -- even as some on both sides of the aisle are calling for him to be more involved.

To talk about that we've called Jim Thurber. He's the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. Professor Thurber good to have you with us.

James Thurber: It's good to be here.

Ryssdal: You know, the talk obviously today on Capitol Hill is of the auto bailout. But there's also talk of Henry Paulson, the secretary of the Treasury, going back to get the second half of the TARP money, the bailout money, the original $700 billion worth. Do you think the president-elect ought to be weighing in more forcefully on whether that should happen, or not?

Thurber: He is weighing on this issue. He could have more force. I think he's doing it behind the scenes. I think he would like to keep as much money as possible, and political capital, to spend after he is president of the United States. I think that his preference would be to make the decisions about how that $350 billion should be spent. He's already said that it should be spent for infrastructure and other issues, not just on banks. And there's not much more that he can do without acting like he's the president of the United States at this point.

Ryssdal: What's your sense of the tension between the Obama team and the Bush administration?

Thurber: I think there always is a tension between a lame duck president and the next person who's coming in who has specific ideas about what to be done. But Obama needs to say things about the economy and he is. He is about the Big Three automobile manufacturers. He is with respect to investment in the infrastructure to create jobs. So, he does say there's only one president at a time, and then he says "however."

Ryssdal: What does he have to look out for, every time he opens his mouth?

Thurber: He has to look out for statements that will affect that market. The market, to a certain extent, has feelings, psychology about things. When he appointed a new secretary of Treasury the market went up. If he had some bad appointments, it would go down. I think he is saying the right things to assure the market that he is going to use fiscal policy and push monetary policy indirectly to try to get the economy going.

Ryssdal: Professor James Thurber, is the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. Jim Thurber thanks a lot for your time.

Thurber: It's good to be here.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, the most widely heard program on business and the economy in the country.


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