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Obama unveils task force to help families

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama unveiled a new task force on Sunday charged with helping struggling working families, as an aide said Obama’s economic recovery plan would be expanded to try to save 3 million jobs.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama gets out of his SUV before boarding a plane for a 12-day Hawaii vacation at O'Hare airport in Chicago, December 20, 2008. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

The White House Task Force on Working Families, to be headed by Vice President-elect Joe Biden, would aim to boost education and training and protect incomes and retirement security of middle-class and working families whose plight Obama had made a central issue of his campaign.

Biden’s panel of top-level officials and labour, business, and activist representatives would help keep working families “front and centre every day in our work,” Obama said in a statement released by his transition office.

Biden said the economy was in worse shape than he and Obama had thought it was.

“President-elect Obama and I know the economic health of working families has eroded, and we intend to turn that around,” Biden told ABC’s “This Week.”

“We’ve got to begin to stem this bleeding here and begin to stop the loss of jobs in the creation of jobs,” he said.

An transition aide said grim forecasts for the economy Obama will inherit when he takes office on January 20 prompted him to raise the job-creation target of his economic recovery plan to 3 million jobs created or saved in the next two years.

Last month, Obama’s stated goal had been to protect 2.5 million jobs with a combination of middle-class tax cuts, money for public works programs like the building of roads and mass transit as well as money to bolster health and other social programs.

“There is going to be real significant investment, whether it’s $600 billion (400 billion pounds) or more, or $700 billion,” Biden said. “It’s a number no one thought about a year ago.”

The Obama administration could not afford to worry initially about the ballooning national deficit in the face of the most severe recession in the post-war era, he said.

“There is no short run other than keeping the economy from absolutely tanking. That’s the only short run,” said Biden.

Some Democrats are pressing for a package in the $1 trillion range, though other lawmakers are wary of the discussion of price tags upward of $600 billion.

Republican Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia told CNN’s “Late Edition” that taxpayers must be protected amid a pricey bailout for the auto industry and other potentially costly measures to revive the economy.

“Most American taxpayers are scratching their head wondering when all this bailout stuff is going to end and probably thinking when is my bailout coming,” he said.

But Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank argued that failure to act “will cost us even more.”

“This economy is in the worst shape since the Great Depression and if we do not respond in a very firm way, it gets worse and worse and feeds on itself,” he told CNN.

Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Ross Colvin in Honolulu; editing by David Wiessler