Video: Gregg: Stimulus should have narrow focus

updated 2/13/2009 9:49:23 AM ET 2009-02-13T14:49:23

Republican Sen. Judd Gregg said Friday that he pulled out of the job of commerce secretary after realizing that "I'm just going to be a little too conservative" for President Barack Obama's administration.

If you're going to be on a football team, "you've got to pull out and block on every play, you can't do it on every other play," the senator said.

"I didn't feel comfortable going forward because of my individuality, for lack of a better term," Gregg said during an appearance Friday morning on CNBC.

Gregg said he thinks Obama is on the right track in attempts to stabilize the shaky financial system and that the proposal of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner — much criticized as being too vague — is going to be an extremely strong initiative once it is filled out with details.

At the same time, Gregg said his conservative inclinations would show up in terms of fiscal spending.

Regarding the $790 billion economic stimulus plan, "I think there was a tactical error made ... in that you allowed the appropriators to write the package," said Gregg.

He said he thinks the stimulus plan "should be focusing mainly on trying to stabilize the real estate markets, and promoting small business and getting jobs."

On the other hand, Geithner's proposal has been misjudged, Gregg said.

"You are talking over a trillion dollars ... to clear off the books in the areas of consumer credit and commercial-backed real estate loans. That's big," Gregg said of Geithner's plan. "You are talking very strong initiatives in the area of foreclosure abatement. And you're talking a significant commitment to capital into the banks coming in either a direct infusion or through buying bad debt off their books."

Latest setback for Cabinet
Gregg's unexpected withdrawal marked the latest setback for Obama in his attempt to build a Cabinet. It came as the new president expended political capital in Washington — and around the country — for his economic package.

Now Obama also finds himself needing to fill two vacancies — at Commerce and at the Health and Human Services Department. Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for that post amid a tax controversy. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was confirmed despite revelations that he had not paid some of his taxes on time.

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New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was Obama's first choice as commerce secretary. He withdrew in early January following disclosure that a grand jury is investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the awarding of contracts in his state. Richardson has not been implicated personally.

Gregg was one of three Republicans Obama had put in his Cabinet to emphasize his campaign pledge that he would be an agent of bipartisan change.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Gregg told the White House early this week that he was having second thoughts and met with Obama about them during an Oval Office meeting on Wednesday. Emanuel said there were no hard feelings and "it's better we figured this out now than later."

"He went into this eyes open and he realized over time it wasn't going to be a good fit," Emanuel added.

Gregg said he'd always been a strong fiscal conservative and added: "It really wasn't a good pick."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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