Florida:President Barack Obama urged the US Congress on Tuesday to wrap up a huge economic stimulus bill and warned investors not to expect quick fixes as stock markets plunged on the lack of detail in a new bank rescue plan.
Obama, speaking at a town hall meeting in a Florida city hard hit by mortgage foreclosures, praised the Senate for passing an $838 billion spending and tax cutting bill that the president says is crucial to avoid economic catastrophe.
“That’s good news,” Obama said after an aide passed him a note about the Senate vote.
Obama said there was still work to be done to reconcile differences between the Senate version and a $819 billion bill passed earlier by the House of Representatives.
“I’m not going to tell you that this plan is perfect. I mean, it was produced in Washington,” Obama said to rueful laughter. “But I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act in the face of this crisis will only worsen our problems. Doing nothing is not an option.”
The White House said it was “hopeful and optimistic” about the prospects for passage of a final bill before a weekend deadline laid down by Obama.
“In only a very short period of time, we’ve now got a pretty big bill through both the House and the Senate,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. ”Now we have to reconcile some differences. But we’ve got broad agreement from a majority of those in Congress for a sizable recovery package ... so I think we’re in a good place.”
In Washington, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner unveiled a bank rescue plan to remove up to $500 billion in bad assets and support $1 trillion in lending. But the stock market, hoping for more details, tanked on the news.
He said the problem was caused by some banks whose books were not as transparent as they should have been. “There’s a lot of work that has to be done to put these banks back on a firmer footing,” Obama said.
Geithner did not detail how the administration would address housing issues that sparked the financial and economic crises. Obama said he would lay out those plans himself.
“I’m going to be personally making an announcement in the next couple of weeks what our overall housing strategy is going to be,” Obama told the Florida audience, answering a question about the unwillingness of banks to restructure the terms of housing loans when homeowners were not yet in default.
Asked if he wasn’t being alarmist, the president told ABC News he was trying describe the circumstances the country faced with declining demand causing huge job losses, falling consumer confidence and a big credit squeeze.
The Florida trip, which included emotional moments with people hurt by the nation’s economic downturn, was the second stop on a roadshow in which Obama is taking his argument for the stimulus package directly to Americans.
On Monday he went to Elkhart, Indiana, where unemployment has rocketed as the economy fell into the deepest recession in decades.
The stimulus package is an important milestone for the Democratic president, who took office three weeks ago, inheriting the crisis from his predecessor George W Bush.
Obama wants a finished bill on his desk by 16 February.
Republicans complain it has too many spending projects and not enough tax cuts. The House version passed with no Republican support, while the Senate version drew only three Republican votes.
The final version will also need those votes to pass, setting up a new round of haggling this week.
Obama, who originally worked to attract bipartisan support after championing a more cooperative approach in Washington, recently has shown less patience with criticism from Republicans whose policies, he said, had caused the problem.
Obama went to Fort Myers partly because it had the country’s highest foreclosure rate last year, with 12% of housing units receiving a foreclosure-related notice.
Unemployment in the area was 10% in December - more than triple the rate two years ago, the White House said.