Obama says will confront economic woes head-on

Tue Nov 18, 2008 6:02pm EST

*Obama says will make Cabinet appointments in coming weeks

*Calls for economic stimulus package to be passed soon

*Obama says it won't be quick or easy to fix the economy

By Deborah Charles and Caren Bohan

CHICAGO (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama said on Friday the United States was facing one of its greatest economic challenges and vowed to confront the crisis head-on as soon as he takes office in January.

Investors are awaiting Obama's choice of Treasury secretary, who will spearhead economic recovery, but Obama made clear he would not be rushed into making hasty appointments.

"I want to move with all deliberate haste, but I want to emphasize deliberate as well as haste," he said.

A president-elect would typically take weeks, if not months, to settle on Cabinet choices. But in light of the financial crisis Obama is moving swiftly and will likely name his economic team soon.

"I'm confident that we're going to have an outstanding team, and we will be rolling that out in subsequent weeks," added Obama, 47, who swept to a decisive victory in Tuesday's election.

At his first news conference since being elected, Obama noted the latest Labor Department figures which showed that U.S. unemployment hit a 14-year-high in October after employers slashed jobs by an unexpectedly steep 240,000.

"We are facing the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime and we're going to have to act swiftly to resolve it," Obama said, as his team of economic advisers, who include top businessmen and well-regarded former government officials, stood in a line behind him.

Obama was speaking after Wall Street plunged around 10 percent during Wednesday and Thursday. The market, which has fallen because of negative economic news and poor corporate results, recovered a bit on Friday and finished the day nearly 3 percent higher.

The brief news conference in Chicago followed a meeting with his 17-member transition economic advisory board on how to tackle the worst economic crisis confronting the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The economic advisory board includes former Treasury secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, former National Economic Council Chairwoman Laura Tyson, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

SECOND STIMULUS SOON

Obama said he wanted the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress to pass a second stimulus package as soon as possible to stabilize the economy, which analysts say may be in deep recession by the time he is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

"We are going to need to see a stimulus package passed either before or after the inauguration. I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than later."

Whoever takes the Treasury job will guide the $700 billion economic bailout package and the regulatory reform needed to prevent a repeat of the current crisis.

With U.S. automakers also reporting billions in losses on Friday, Obama also urged the Bush administration to accelerate a $25 billion retooling assistance plan already passed by Congress.

The automakers are lobbying for up to $50 billion to prevent a collapse that could cost over 2 million jobs.

Financial analysts and traders said they did not hear any surprises from Obama in his news conference.

"He is sending a strong message that he is already on the job," said Greg Salvaggio, senior currency trader at Tempus Consulting in Washington. "He is showing he will be ready to hit the ground running and that should provide some confidence to markets. But the truth is that this economy is hemorrhaging."

In his first foreign policy pronouncement as president-elect, Obama called for an international effort to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, a day after Iran's president urged him to implement a "fairer" U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Obama, who has said he does not rule out direct talks with Iran's leaders, also called on Tehran to end what he called the country's support for terrorist organizations.

Obama said he would be reviewing a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, congratulating him on his election, and would "respond appropriately."

But he said the U.S. approach to Iran could not be done in a "knee-jerk" fashion. "I think we've got to think it through," he said.

(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin, Donna Smith, Kristin Roberts and Andrew Quinn in Washington; Editing by Eric Beech)

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