Obama pushes stimulus, sees no easy out for banks

FT. MYERS, Florida Tue Feb 10, 2009 5:33pm EST

1 of 20. President Barack Obama speaks at a town hall meeting in Fort Myers, Florida February 10, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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FT. MYERS, Florida (Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to wrap up a huge economic stimulus bill and warned investors not to expect quick fixes as financial markets plunged on the lack of detail in a new bank rescue plan.

Obama, speaking at a town hall meeting in a Florida city hard hit by mortgage foreclosures, praised the Senate for passing an $838 billion spending and tax cutting bill that the president says is crucial to avoid economic catastrophe.

"That's good news," Obama said after an aide passed him a note on stage about the Senate vote.

Obama said there was still work to be done to reconcile differences between the Senate version and a $819 billion bill passed earlier by the House of Representatives.

"I'm not going to tell you that this plan is perfect. I mean, it was produced in Washington," Obama said to rueful laughter.

"But I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act in the face of this crisis will only worsen our problems. Doing nothing is not an option."

In Washington, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner unveiled a bank rescue plan to remove up to $500 billion in bad assets and support $1 trillion in lending.

But financial markets, hoping for more details, fell on the news.

"Wall Street, I think, is hoping for an easy out on this thing and there is no easy out," Obama told television network ABC in an interview.

"There's a lot of work that has to be done to put these banks back on a firmer footing."

Geithner did not detail how the administration would address housing issues that sparked the financial and economic crises. Obama said he would lay out those plans himself.

"I'm going to be personally making an announcement in the next couple of weeks what our overall housing strategy is going to be," Obama told the Florida audience, answering a question about the unwillingness of banks to restructure the terms of housing loans when homeowners were not yet in default.

"Unless we address this in a serious way, we are not going to be able to get the economy back where it needs to be," Obama said.

The Florida trip, which included emotional moments with people hurt by the nation's economic downturn, was the second stop on a roadshow in which Obama is taking his argument for the stimulus package directly to Americans.

On Monday he went to Elkhart, Indiana, where unemployment has rocketed as the economy fell into the deepest recession in decades.

IMPORTANT MILESTONE

The stimulus package is an important milestone for the new president, a Democrat who took office three weeks ago, inheriting the crisis from his predecessor George W. Bush. He wants a finished bill on his desk by February 16.

Republicans complain it has too many spending projects and not enough tax cuts. The House version passed with no Republican support, while the Senate version drew only three Republican votes.

The final version will also need those votes to pass, setting up a new round of haggling this week.

Obama, who had originally worked to attract bipartisan support after championing a more cooperative approach in Washington, has shown decreasing patience for the stand of Republicans whose policies, he said, had caused the problem.

"It's a little hard for me to take criticism from folks about this recovery package after they've presided over a doubling of the national debt," he said at a news conference on Monday. "I'm not sure they have a lot of credibility when it comes to fiscal responsibility."

Obama went to Fort Myers partly because it had the country's highest foreclosure rate last year, with 12 percent of housing units receiving a foreclosure-related notice.

Unemployment in the area was 10 percent in December -- more than triple the rate two years ago, the White House said.

(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles, Matt Spetalnick and David Alexander; Editing by Doin Chiacu)

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