Obama plans economic summit, heads to Ohio

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will hold a “fiscal responsibility summit” next month with members of Congress and other groups to discuss entitlement programs and the economy, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.

Obama, who takes over from George W. Bush on Tuesday, told the paper in an interview that Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, would be among those invited.

Obama’s biggest priority in the initial days of his administration will be stabilizing the ailing U.S. economy, but the paper said he told advisers he wanted to tackle problems with entitlement programs such as Social Security and the Medicare health insurance program during his watch as well.

“What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further,” Obama told the newspaper. “We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else’s.”

Obama said that creating jobs and maintaining national security will be his top priorities, but added his efforts as president should be measured by whether the United States can overcome predicted job losses in the months ahead, the newspaper reported.

Obama plans to go to Ohio, an electoral battleground state that has suffered from a loss of manufacturing jobs, to tour a factory on Friday that manufactures parts used to build wind turbines.

The president-elect aims to highlight his plans to create jobs through investments in environmentally friendly energy sources such as wind power during the visit.

The newspaper said Obama repeated his assurance there was “near-unanimity” among economists that government spending would help restore jobs in the short term.

But he said it was impossible to separate the nation’s financial ills from the long-term need to rein in healthcare costs, stabilize the Social Security pension system and shore up the Medicare program for the elderly.

Social Security and Medicare face shortfalls in the future due to the aging U.S. population.

Both programs are popular and politically sensitive to reform. Bush fell short in his effort to reform Social Security in 2004. He now says it was a mistake because Congress was unwilling to take on a tough issue.

Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Eric Beech