US president-elect Barack Obama pounded home the need for fast action on huge spending plans to rescue the US economy in a meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday as he prepares to take office in a week.
Shifting roles from a politician seeking the presidency to a soon-to-be chief executive facing the country’s worst economic crisis nearly 80 years, Obama will be on a mission of gentle persuasion — and not so gentle arm-twisting as needed — among lawmakers who must approve use of the second half of the US$700 billion financial bailout fund.
Obama asked Democratic senators not to stand in the way of the additional US$350 billion in bailout funds, calling the money essential to helping the troubled economy. He made his pitch in a meeting on Tuesday in the Capitol, where he attended the Democratic senators’ closed-door luncheon.
Lawmakers who emerged from the session said the president-elect pledged to correct what they believe were shortcomings in the way the administration of US President George W. Bush handled the first US$350 billion.
They added he would veto any attempt to block his own administration’s use of the funds.
Obama’s transition team prepared to dispatch top aides to meet Senate Republicans this week in anticipation of a possible vote today on whether to release the remainder of the money in the embattled rescue fund for the financial sector, called the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
The TARP relief measure was rushed through Congress in September as several major US financial institutions failed or were on the verge of collapse.
The flurry of activity comes in the wake of Bush’s decision on Monday to act on Obama’s behalf by asking Congress to release the remaining US$350 billion in the rescue package. The Bush administration’s use of the first half of the massive fund has been roundly criticized by lawmakers in both parties as unfocused, poorly accounted for and not transparent.
If the Senate approves release of the second half of the TARP fund, it would become available to Obama shortly after he takes office on Tuesday.
If he succeeds, Obama would have more than US$1.1 trillion at his disposal to tackle sinking employment and clogged credit within weeks of assuming the presidency.
Obama also is moving on a campaign pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, preparing to issue an executive order in the first days of his administration on one of the most controversial developments of the Bush administration.
Two advisers on the Obama transition team, speaking anonymously because the plan was not yet public, said on Monday the order could be on the books as early as Obama’s first day in office.
The closing of Guantanamo at the US Navy base in Cuba was not expected to happen immediately or even soon after the Obama order.
In an interview last weekend, Obama said it would be “a challenge” to close it even within the first 100 days of his administration.