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Obama picks 'best US minds' to save economy

Enemy of defeated Democrat candidate is chosen to fill crucial position of commerce secretary

By Leonard Doyle in Washington

President-elect Barack Obama asserted his authority over the country's gaunt economic landscape yesterday, unveiling a high-powered team of economic advisers at a Chicago press conference and describing a multi billion-dollar job creation plan on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.

"We need a big stimulus plan that will jolt the economy back into shape," Mr Obama said, one that will "focus on the 2.5 million jobs" he intends to create in his first term. "Its going to be costly", he added, hinting at the $500bn (£330bn) his advisers say will be necessary to break the grip of a spiralling recession.

Mr Obama revealed that his choice for Treasury Secretary is Timothy Geithner and that the head of the National Economic Council will be Larry Summers, a veteran of the former Clinton administration where he ran the Treasury. Praising his appointees as some of the "best minds" available, he said they will bring "leadership, sound judgement and fresh thinking", to the task of handling a deepening economic crisis amid fears that millions could be out of work in the US next year. The president-elect sought to put his stamp of authority on efforts to reassure the spooked financial and credit markets. But he also indicated that he wants the newly elected Congress to begin work on "an aggressive economic plan" aimed at heading off the recession.

One of his closest economic advisers, Austan Goolsbee, said "the day he arrives" in office an economic recovery package will be put in place "that includes major tax cuts, major infrastructure spending on green energy - that will be his first focus".

Mr Obama is also expected to round out his economic team with a political heavyweight by naming New Mexico's Governor, Bill Richardson, as his Commerce Secretary. Like Hillary Clinton, who is expected to be named Secretary of State in a few days, Mr Richardson is a former Democratic presidential candidate. Mr Obama is building a "team-of-rivals" Cabinet, but Mr Richardson's difficulties are more with Mrs Clinton, who views him as a turncoat, as opposed to the President-elect, with whom he has developed extremely close ties.

In scale and ambition, Mr Obama's emerging economic plans to restart the economy are expected to be breathtaking and Mr Richardson will be at the sharp end of making them work. Mr Obama has already signalled that he intends to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the most ambitious job-creation programme in living memory.

Mr Obama will not become President until 20 January. At his Chicago press conference, he focused on the need to create a sustainable economy, where America's crippling addiction to oil has finally been tackled head-on. Asked about a bailout for the US car-manufacturing industry, Mr Obama said it was "the backbone of the US economy", but that the companies needed to come up with a better plan for long-term survival.

In another signal to reassure spooked markets, Mr Obama has instructed the Democratic leadership of the incoming Congress to get to work on a multi billion-dollar job-creation programme the minute it is convened on 6 January next. He wants to have a huge stimulus plan for the real economy ready to be signed into law when he enters the White House as the 44th president.

The spending programme of more than $500bn is likely to be the greatest injection of government money into public works such as schools, roads and bridges since the Great Depression. It will also include aid for the jobless, tax cuts for workers and direct aid for cities and states already going bankrupt as the recession in the real economy bite.

Mr Obama's campaign promise to repeal Mr Bush's much-maligned tax cuts on Americans who earn more than $250,000 is also headed for the scrap heap, amid concerns that high taxes on the business community could stall a recovery.

The new team: Obama's Cabinet

Confirmed choices

*Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

*Director of the National Economic Council Larry Summers

*Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Daschle

*Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel

*Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

*Senior Advisers David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett

Reported choices

*Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

*National Security Adviser James Jones

*Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano

*Commerce Secretary Bill Richardson

*White House Attorney General Eric Holder

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