Obama urges action on stimulus

President-elect Barack Obama's image appears on screens on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as he gives a speech on his economic plans for the country. Obama warned of consequences if Congress does not inject billions of dollars to stimulate the national economy.

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Kai Ryssdal: On the one hand it was a typical presidential speech that Barack Obama gave today. Lots of new programs and big promises. But there was a very definite message, too. Now. Congress has got to get going now on his economic stimulus plan. But doesn't anybody else remember what happened last time Congress rushed to authorize $700 billion? Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports from Washington.


John Dimsdale: The president-elect painted a dire financial future if Congress fails to enact a huge government spending program for roads, education, health care and technology.

President-elect Obama: If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. The unemployment rate could reach double digits. Our economy could fall one trillion dollars short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four.

Obama's warning was only slightly less ominous than President George Bush's pitch for the Troubled Asset Relief Program last September.

President Bush: The government's top economic experts warn that without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic.

Congress approved $350 billion for TARP, although those troubled assets were never purchased. The Treasury Department decided instead to make direct investments in banks. But Alan Levenson, the chief economist at T. Rowe Price says this time, Congress will ask for more details.

Alan Levenson: The TARP was: 'give us the capacity to do something. We're not sure what.' I think that there is going to be a little bit more specificity about what Congress is enacting than with the TARP.

And Levenson says the next president is less inclined toward hyperbole.

Levenson: Obama is, by his nature, not a person to try to sow panic with those kinds of statements. He doesn't want to use works like catastrophe, panic, crash. But putting a number on it, like a trillion dollars, does get people's attention.

Congress is no longer expecting to have a stimulus package ready by Inauguration Day. More realistic predictions are for the middle of February. The momentum is there, if not all the specifics.

In Washington I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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