He was confident, earnest, and knowledgeable. And if President Obama lacked much emotion in arguing his case for a massive economic stimulus package at his prime-time news conference last night, he made up for it by exuding a calm optimism in the face of the worst financial calamity to hit America in many years.
"I can't tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope," he said, "but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans. My administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing a little or nothing at all will result in even greater job loss, even greater loss of income, and even greater loss of confidence. Those are deficits that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe, and I refuse to let that happen. As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work."
Obama went on to urge Congress to pass his economic stimulus package in the next week. And, after a rocky few days, that plan now seems headed for approval. The House has passed an $819 billion bill, and the Senate yesterday cleared away a procedural obstacle to passing an $838 billion measure. If the Senate passes its version today or tomorrow, as expected, the issue will go to a conference committee of both chambers to work out the differences. That won't be easy, but it now appears likely.
"If we get things right, then, starting next year, we can start seeing significant improvement," Obama said.
Obama also kept up the pressure on Republicans to support the plan. He said some of his conservative opponents "play the usual political games" and try to obstruct their adversaries in order to score political points with voters on the right. But his criticisms seemed destined to have little impact. Not a single Republican supported the House bill, and only three Republicans have backed the Senate legislation. GOP leaders say they expect similar shows of unity as debate continues on the economic package. The Republicans generally oppose the level of spending advocated by the Democrats, which they say includes many wasteful projects, and the Republicans favor more tax cuts.
To demonstrate the urgency of the economic collapse and his empathy for Americans in need, Obama has scheduled three trips this week to hard-hit communities. He visited Elkhart, Ind., yesterday before his session with reporters in the White House's ceremonial East Room. He plans to visit Fort Myers, Fla., today and Peoria, Ill., Thursday.
During the hourlong news conference, Obama spoke in unusual depth about many issues—and was so talkative that he had time for only 13 reporters. This was reminiscent of President Bill Clinton, who also went on at length about many topics. And it was a stark contrast to President George W. Bush, who often skimmed over the surface of issues and sometimes diverted questions with a wisecrack or a curt response. Obama, however, was mostly serious and professorial and didn't show much of a sense of humor.
Still, he was a commanding presence, and he used the presidential bully pulpit to good effect in making his case for passage of the stimulus bill.