US president-elect Barack Obama on Saturday vowed to make the largest investment in the country’s infrastructure since the 1950s and bolster development of broadband Internet connections as part of his program to create 2.5 million jobs.
The announcement came less than a week after the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research officially said the US was in a recession, which began last December. The bureau defines an economic recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months.”
Last month, Obama announced that he had asked his economic team to develop an economic recovery plan that will help save or create 2.5 million jobs, while rebuilding US infrastructure, improving schools, reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil and saving billions of dollars. In his weekly radio address on Saturday, the president-elect unveiled five specific components of the plan that he believes will help the country overcome the recession.
“We won’t do it the old Washington way,” Obama said about his plan. “We won’t just throw money at the problem. We’ll measure progress by the reforms we make and the results we achieve — by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world.”
Under the plan, the Obama administration will launch a massive effort to make public buildings more energy-efficient by replacing old heating systems and installing efficient light bulbs.
“Our government now pays the highest energy bill in the world. We need to change that,” the president-elect said.
The future Democratic president also pledged to create employment on a mass scale.
“We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s,” he said.
Obama said the plan also calls for launching a sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings by making them more energy-efficient and equipped with computers.
Obama also vowed to increase the accessibility of broadband Internet connections in the US, making them available to schoolchildren and hospitals.
Meanwhile, Obama has chosen retired General Eric Shinseki to be the next Veterans Affairs secretary, turning to the former Army chief of staff once vilified by the administration of US President George W. Bush for questioning its Iraq war strategy.
Obama was to announce the selection of Shinseki, the first Army four-star general of Japanese-American ancestry, at a news conference yesterday in Chicago. He will be the first Asian-American to hold the post of Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary, adding to the growing diversity of Obama’s Cabinet.
“I think that General Shinseki is exactly the right person who is going to be able to make sure that we honor our troops when they come home,” Obama said in a transcript of an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press that was to be broadcast yesterday.
Shinseki’s tenure as Army chief of staff from 1999 to 2003 was marked by constant tensions with then secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, which boiled over in 2003 when Shinseki testified to Congress that it might take several hundred thousand US troops to control Iraq after the invasion.
Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, belittled the estimate as “wildly off the mark” and the army general was ousted within months. But his words proved prophetic early last year when Bush announced a “surge” of troops to Iraq after miscalculating the numbers needed to stem sectarian violence.