Obama presses Bush to do more to save economy
Action on failing industries and rising jobless figures cannot wait until January, says future leader
Barack Obama sent a clear signal yesterday that he intends pressing President George Bush to take new and significant steps to counter the worsening economic conditions in the United States when the two men meet at the White House tomorrow.
"We don't have a moment to lose," Mr Obama said about the economic mess, making his first radio address to the nation just four days after his emphatic victory over John McCain. New figures released on Friday showed the jobless rate hitting a 14-year high of 6.5 per cent.
Mr Obama paid tribute to Mr Bush for his White House invitation, which will include a tour of the family quarters with his wife, Michelle. "This speaks to a fundamental recognition that here in America we can compete vigorously in elections and challenge each other's ideas, yet come together in service of a common purpose once the voting is done," he said.
But while the reins of power remain with Mr Bush until 20 January, Mr Obama is showing that he does not mean to sit silently on the sidelines until then. He met his panel of economic advisers on Friday in Chicago and afterwards made plain his desire to see the US Congress pass a second economic stimulus programme even before he becomes president.
"While we must recognise that we only have one president at a time and that President Bush is the leader of our government," Mr Obama told the country, "I want to ensure that we hit the ground running on January 20th, because we don't have a moment to lose." His manoeuverings are already stoking tensions with Mr Bush and his economic team, including Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. While Democrats on Capitol Hill favour taking new steps, on top of the $700bn bailout package already passed, the outgoing President is more wary.
As if recognising that working with Mr Bush on the economic storm may not be easy, Mr Obama added that co-operation between his economic panel and the Bush administration will be "particularly important at a moment when we face the most serious challenges of our lifetime". Aside from the worsening employment figures, the few days since the election have also seen further steep stock market losses and the spilling of more blood by America's car manufacturers. General Motors reported on Friday that it had lost $2.5bn in the third quarter of the year and was in danger of running out of cash entirely.
Providing a safety net for the big three – Ford, GM and Chrysler – will also be on top of Mr Obama's to-do list even before he takes office. Rick Wagoner, the chief executive of GM, is known to be holding discussions with aides to the president-elect. The industry is currently asking for $50bn from the US government to help it to survive a stunning collapse in sales.
Mr Obama is expected to be in Washington next weekend, when world leaders arrive at the White House for their emergency summit on the global economic meltdown, first proposed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and to be hosted by Mr Bush. While the president-elect will not participate directly in the meeting, it is likely he will meet some of the participants on the fringes.
Downing Street said there were no plans for Gordon Brown to hold talks with Mr Obama in Washington. But insiders said it was possible there could be an impromptu face-to-face meeting between the Prime Minister and election victor in the margins of the summit.
The first official meeting between the two men has been arranged for the first week of February, a fortnight after the inauguration, meaning Mr Brown could be one of the first world leaders President Obama sees.