WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said yesterday his administration was confronting the economic crisis on all fronts and seeing signs of progress as he sought to reassure recession-weary Americans about his recovery strategy.
“We will recover from this recession. But it will take time, it will take patience,” he said in the opening statement of his second prime-time White House news conference since he took office on Jan. 20.
Knocked off stride by public anger over hefty corporate bonuses and facing skepticism about his massive budget plan, Obama moved to regain his political footing and refocus attention on his broader economic agenda.
He made his case to the American people the same day he pressed for coordinated action among the world’s major economies, and just a day after unveiling a trillion-dollar plan to soak up toxic bank assets at the root of the global financial meltdown.
Obama took the podium after U.S. stocks slid while investors paused to reassess the government’s latest effort to clean up bank balance sheets. Initial euphoria over the plan had driven stocks sharply higher on Monday.
Though the economy was in the spotlight, Obama’s news conference also gave him a chance to lay some groundwork a week before he makes his debut on the world stage with his first major presidential trip overseas.
Brushing aside suggestions the G20 summit of major economies in London on April 2 would find him at odds with Europeans, Obama said he expected leaders to share common goals of boosting growth and updating outdated financial regulations while avoiding trade protectionism.
Obama, who has vowed to repair America’s image overseas after eight years under predecessor George W. Bush, said there was signs his policy changes were “restoring confidence” internationally in the U.S. global leadership.”
He also made clear that he was serious about his recent overtures of a fresh start in relations with longtime U.S. foe Iran and said the status quo of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which he has promised strong U.S. engagement, was “unsustainable.”
Focusing on the economy, Obama said, “We’ve put in place a comprehensive strategy designed to attack this crisis on all fronts. It’s a strategy to create jobs, to help responsible homeowners, to restart lending, and to grow our economy over the long-term. And we are beginning to see signs of progress.”
The administration has recently cited glimmers of improvement in the devastated housing market, but most key economic indicators remain under extreme stress.
Obama’s high approval ratings have been tested amid a public backlash over payment of $165 million in executive bonuses by American International Group after the insurance giant received $180 billion in taxpayer bailout funds.
Obama was forced to repeatedly condemn the AIG bonuses while trying to temper public outrage and fend off calls for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s resignation for his handling of the affair.
“There was was a lot of outrage and finger-pointing last week and much of it was understandable,” Obama told reporters, adding that the time for “outsized rewards” on Wall Street was past.
The AIG furor distracted from Obama’s effort to convince Americans that his $787 billion economic stimulus program will jolt the economy out of recession and his record $3.55 trillion budget for fiscal 2010 will be money well spent.
Trying to change the subject back to his economic rescue efforts, Obama defended his budget blueprint, which opposition Republicans and even some fellow Democrats have criticized for being too costly.
Obama said his budget, which will be taken up by congressional committees this week, would pave the way for broad economic growth “by moving from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest.”
The Congressional Budget Office projects under Obama’s budget plan the deficit for fiscal 2009 will be just over $1.8 trillion and for fiscal 2010 will be almost $1.4 trillion.
Mindful of the challenges he faces, Obama tempered his economic outlook. “There are no quick fixes and there are no silver bullets,” he said.