Ratcheting up his drive to get his stimulus plan approved, President Barack Obama told an enthusiastic crowd in Fort Myers, Florida, on Tuesday, “I believe in hope, but I also believe in action.” It was time to put aside the tired, old plans of the last eight years, he said, “that got us in the fix we’re in.”
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, members of the Senate were mulling over the bill and whether to back it or oppose it, as the majority of Republicans are planning to do. (The Senate passed the bill Tuesday afternoon.) But three of them, including the two senators from Maine, and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania have already promised to back the package, which will give the president the boost he needs to send the bill back to the House for additional discussion and approval.
Before arriving in Florida, where he was warmly greeted by Gov. Charlie Crist, the president was in Elkhart, Indiana, where the unemployment rate has tripled over the last year, standing at 15.3 percent. The president has promised that his stimulus package, now at $838 billion, will salvage four million jobs. If the current rate of job loss continues–and nearly 600,000 workers were pink slipped in January–the nation could be rapidly approaching the unemployment rate of 25 percent during the Great Depression.
Between the two stops to address the American people, Obama held his first prime-time press conference on Monday. And one answer that will probably stay with viewers longer than any other is the way he will determine the success of his measures.
“I think my initial measure of success is creating or saving 4 million jobs,” the president began. “That’s bottom line number one, because, if people are working, then they’ve got enough confidence to make purchases, to make investments. Businesses start seeing that consumers are out there with a little more confidence, and they start making investments, which means they start hiring workers. So step number one: job creation.
Step number two, he said, “Are we seeing the credit markets operate effectively?” The third step pertained to housing. “Have we stabilized the housing market?”
But, he said, the biggest measure of success is whether we stop contracting and shedding jobs and we start growing again.
Of increased concern to average Americans is to what degree the stimulus package will impact their lives, and just how much they can expect to trickle down to them after going through a maze of bureaucracy.
“When passed, this plan will ensure that Americans who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own can receive greater unemployment benefits and continue their health care coverage,” Obama promised.
“We’ll also provide a $2,500 tax credit to folks who are struggling to pay the costs of their college tuition and $1,000 worth of badly needed tax relief to working- and middle-class families,” he continued. “These steps will put more money in the pockets of those Americans who are most likely to spend it, and that will help break the cycle and get our economy moving.”
During several occasions, he chastised the previous administration, faulting them for the financial morass. There were even some pointed words for the current crop of “obstructionist” Republicans, who, for a number of reasons, are opposing the package. “We’ve learned very clearly and conclusively over the last eight years, tax cuts alone can’t solve all of our economic problems, especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few Americans. We have tried that strategy time and time again, and it’s only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now,” he said.
There were several questions about the crisis in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he answered by reminding the press that he had dispatched former Sen. George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke as his ambassadors to deal with the issues there. He even fielded a question on Alex Rodriguez’s admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs, which Obama said was sending the wrong signal to American youth.
What signal was Obama sending to the Black press? Well, if you ask the National Newspaper Publishers Association Hazel Trice Edney, it was not a good one. “We were nothing more than window dressing,” she complained. Though two Black reporters were tapped–Michael Fletcher and Helene Cooper–no one from the Black-owned media was called on.