CHICAGO — With the economy in crisis, President-elect Barack Obama called on the new Congress to act quickly in passing a costly stimulus package to create jobs as a follow-up to the hundreds of billions of dollars the Bush administration has committed to rescue financial markets.
“The economy is likely to get worse before it gets better,” Obama said in a downbeat forecast, delivered 57 days before he takes the oath of office and with Americans heading into the year-end holiday season.
“Most experts now believe that we could lose millions of jobs next year,” he said, urging the newly elected Congress to act quickly on his plans after opening its session on Jan. 6.
At a news conference, Obama was critical of the Big Three automakers, saying he was surprised they did not have a better-thought-out plan for their future before asking Congress to approve $25 billion in emergency loans.
He said once he sees a plan, he expects “we’re going to be able to shape a rescue.”
Obama declined to say how large a stimulus package he wants from Congress. Democratic lawmakers speculated over the weekend that the price tag could reach $700 billion over two years as the nation struggles to emerge from a recession compounded by a credit crunch. “It’s going to be costly,” the president-elect said.
Obama made his comments as he unveiled the top members of his economic team, beginning with New York Federal Reserve President Tim Geithner to be his treasury secretary. Geithner, 47, is a veteran of financial crises at home and overseas and has worked closely with the Bush administration in recent months.
Obama chose Lawrence Summers as director of his National Economic Council. Summers was treasury secretary under former President Bill Clinton.
Obama said his newly minted economic team offered “sound judgment and fresh thinking” at a time of economic peril.
He expressed confidence the nation would weather the crisis “because we’ve done it before.”
Obama also announced two other members of his economic team in the making. He named Christina Romer as chair of his Council of Economic Advisers, and Melody Barnes as director of his White House Domestic Policy Council.
Obama’s principal theme was urgency.
“We do not have a minute to waste,” he said, citing the turmoil in the financial markets as well as the deterioration of the broader economy.
He also said he would “honor the commitments made by the current administration” to deal with the problems, signaling approval of the Bush administration’s latest effort to rescue Citigroup as well as the broader $700 billion bailout designed to shore up the financial markets.
Bush said earlier in the day that the government’s dramatic rescue of Citigroup was necessary to “safeguard the financial system” and help the economy recover, and he said there could be more such moves if other institutions need help.
“We have made these kind of decisions in the past. We made one last night. And if need be we will make these kind of decisions to safeguard our financial system in the future,” Bush said.
As a candidate, Obama was a supporter of the $700 billion bailout measure.