Obama says aiding economy trumps budget deficit

CHICAGO Mon Nov 17, 2008 9:39am EST

1 of 4. President-elect Barack Obama leaves a gym in Chicago, November 15, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/John Gress

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - The United States government should not worry about deficits over the next two years while spending money to jumpstart the ailing economy, President-elect Barack Obama said in a television interview that aired on Sunday.

Obama, a Democrat who takes over from President George W. Bush, a Republican, on January 20, said consensus had emerged between economists in both major U.S. political parties that expensive measures were necessary to avoid a deep recession.

"The consensus is this, that we have to do whatever it takes to get this economy moving again, that we have to -- we're going to have to spend money now to stimulate the economy," he told the CBS television network's 60 Minutes news program.

"And (consensus is) that we shouldn't worry about the deficit next year or even the year after; that short term, the most important thing is that we avoid a deepening recession."

During his presidential campaign Obama pledged to fund all of his policy proposals, but the severity of the economic downturn has made balancing the budget a low priority as the government takes measures to stimulate economic growth.

Obama said the $700 billion bailout bill passed by the U.S. Congress had helped stem the financial crisis, even though the $300 billion already spent may not have had visibly positive effects.

"I think ... part of the way to think about it is things could be worse. I mean, we could have seen a lot more bank failures over the last several months," he said.

"We could have seen an even more rapid deterioration of the economy-- even a bigger drop in the stock market. So part of what we have to measure against is what didn't happen and not just what has happened."

Obama, who has made revamping U.S. energy policy a key goal once he's in the White House, said falling gasoline prices did not make the issue any less critical.

"Gas prices at the pump go up, everybody -- goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly -- we act like it's not important," he said.

"As a consequence, we never make any progress. It's part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it."

(Additional reporting by Kim Dixon, Editing by Sandra Maler)

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