WASHINGTON President Barack Obama on Friday named an advisory panel led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to help guide his efforts to rescue the economy and rebuild the shattered U.S. financial system.
Obama used a White House ceremony announcing the members of his new Economic Recovery Advisory Board to prod Congress to pass his economic stimulus package, a need he said was reinforced by the latest "devastating" job losses.
"It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction and delay or politics as usual while millions of Americans are being put out of work," Obama said. "Now is the time for Congress to act."
Volcker said the entire 15-member panel, effectively a team of rivals ranging from business executives to labor leaders and including experts from inside and outside of the new administration, shared Obama's "sense of urgency."
The Labor Department said on Friday that U.S. employers slashed 598,000 jobs in January, the deepest cut in payrolls in 34 years, and the jobless rate shot up to 7.6 percent in a sign of deepening recession.
Volcker, highly respected across party lines, is among several high-profile players advising Obama on economic policy as he confronts the worst financial crisis in decades.
The team includes Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury secretary who now heads the National Economic Council, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who previously headed the New York Fed. Another important aide is Christina Romer, who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers and is an expert on the Great Depression.
Other members included Robert Wolf, chairman and chief executive of UBS Group Americas, and Jim Owens, chairman and chief executive of Caterpillar Inc, and labor leaders such as Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union.
Penny Pritzker, chairman and founder of Pritzker Realty Group who was also the finance chair of Obama's presidential campaign, will sit on the board as will Laura D'Andrea Tyson, a former Clinton administration economist.
The panel includes some officials who served Republican administrations, such as William Donaldson, who was Securities and Exchange Commission chairman under former President George W. Bush, and Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, who served in the Reagan administration.
Obama has stepped up pressure on Congress to pass a more than $800 billion package of public works spending projects and tax cuts aimed at lifting the economy out of recession. He has set a mid-February deadline for getting the bill to his desk.
Meanwhile, Geithner plans on Monday to unveil a plan to quell turmoil in the banking system and revive frozen credit markets.
Obama has also said one of his key priorities is overhauling a Wall Street regulatory structure whose laxity he believes helped to set the stage for the financial meltdown.
When he announced the idea of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board in November, Obama said its intent was to help him avoid "insular" government decision-making.
Obama relied heavily on Volcker for advice during the campaign for the White House. The 81-year-old former Fed chief gave the Democrat's presidential bid a boost last year with an early endorsement.
As Federal Reserve chairman from 1979 to 1987 under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Volcker was credited with breaking the back of double-digit inflation through interest-rate rises.
Austan Goolsbee, a longtime Obama adviser, is serving as staff director and chief economist for the economic advisory panel. Goolsbee is also a member of the Council of Economic Advisers.
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Alexander, editing by Vicki Allen)