President-elect Barack Obama has increased his employment goal with the nation's economic outlook worsening, seeking to create or save 3 million jobs in the next two years instead of the 2.5 million he proposed last month.
Obama set the more ambitious target earlier this week after meeting with top economic advisers who cautioned that the nation's unemployment rate could exceed 9 percent given the current pace of job losses, Obama transition officials said Saturday.
During the presidential campaign, Obama pledged to create or save 1 million jobs. He increased that goal to 2.5 million over two years just last month.
Obama and his family traveled Saturday to his home state of Hawaii for a two-week vacation. But advisers were using Obama's guidance as a roadmap for a draft stimulus package to have ready when he returns on Jan. 2, advisers said.
Obama met with Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his economic leadership team Tuesday in Chicago.
Transition officials said Christina Romer, an economics professor who Obama has chosen as chair of his Council of Economic Advisers, opened the meeting by arguing that historical data and wide-ranging expert opinions suggest that upcoming economic problems could be more severe than anything the country has faced over the past half century. She said the country is likely to lose another 3 million to 4 million jobs over the next year without significant action.
Biden and Obama responded by pushing for a more ambitious jobs plan, driven by federal investments in health care, education and energy that could have a stimulative effect and lay the ground work for long-term reform and a more sustainable economy. Ideas included weatherizing 1 million homes, shifting to a paperless health system, investing in disease prevention and modernizing schools.
A ‘bold’ approach
Obama's team and congressional staff over the last week have been scrambling to come up with details of a plan to pump up the droopy economy with $650 billion or more in government spending over the next few years.
The aides met in the basement of the Capitol on Friday to devise ways to pump public money into science, energy, education, health care and infrastructure programs, as well as to help the poor and unemployed.
They hope unleashing a torrent of spending in the near term will create jobs and lift the economy.
Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress want to enact the still-emerging plan as soon as possible after he takes office on Jan. 20.
The plan, which some Obama aides think could swell to about $850 billion after negotiations with Congress, would be the largest investment in public infrastructure since the federal highway system was established in the 1950s. It also would provide tens of billions in dollars of aid to financially strapped states.
Obama declined Friday to put a price tag on his plan, but said the economic problems require a bold approach.
"I'm not going to give you a number because we're still making these evaluations," he said in response to a question at a Chicago news conference where he named four new members of his administration. "But you are exactly right that what we've seen, in terms of the evaluation of economists from across the political spectrum, is that we're going to have to be bold when it comes to our economic recovery package."
Biden, speaking in an interview set to air Sunday, said he believed there will be another stimulus package of roughly $700 billion to keep the economy from "absolutely tanking."
"The economy is in much worse shape than we thought it was in," Biden told ABC's "This Week," according to excerpts released Friday.
Transition officials said Obama and Biden directed the team to incorporate several principles into their job-creation programs, including:
- No earmarks for any spending proposals.
- Requirements that states and local governments use federal funds quickly to ensure immediate job creation.
- New public-private partnerships to support innovation. Transition officials said Obama expressed frustration with Washington's failure to jump-start "smart grid" power lines to increase electricity savings and said more partnerships with the private sector could help that idea get under way.
- Full transparency to ensure citizen oversight of fund allocation.
- Investments in ideas that work over ideology.
- A focus on reducing waste in the federal budget.
- Steps to protect workers from future recessions by enacting measures like the existing unemployment insurance program that automatically expand stimulus in tough times.