Obama Begins to Outline Stimulus Plan

Richardson withdrawal seen as stumble.

Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama conferred with congressional leaders Monday on his economic stimulus package amid the fallout from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s withdrawal for consideration as commerce secretary.

This story first appeared in the January 6, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Obama met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other key Democratic and Republican lawmakers to make the case for a recovery plan that could cost an estimated $775 billion over two years.

“We think it is very important to have a balanced recovery and reinvestment package,” Obama said. “Part of it is going to be addressing consumers and making sure they have money in their pockets. Part of it is to provide incentives to businesses so they start investing in equipment that ultimately leads to jobs. Part of it is going to be investment in the kind of job-creating, growth industries…whether it’s health, IT or energy, that assure economic competitiveness over the long term.”

Obama’s transition team has begun to release details of proposals intended to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and create three million new jobs. He is considering $300 billion in tax cuts for workers and businesses over two years, representing about 40 percent of the overall package, a transition aide said.

The plan will include a $500 tax credit for individuals and $1,000 for families. Instead of giving people more money through rebate checks to jump-start the economy, which the Bush administration opted for in a smaller package enacted in the summer, Obama would withhold less from workers’ paychecks. Businesses might get an estimated $100 billion in tax incentives over the next two years.

Democratic leaders said Sunday they probably won’t complete the legislative process for the stimulus package by Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, which was initially a target date for the bill’s passage. They hope to get it through the House and Senate soon after Obama is sworn in as the 44th president.

In addition to his session with lawmakers, Obama convened a meeting of top economic advisers at his transition office here. Timothy Geithner, treasury secretary-designate; Peter Orszag, director-designate of the Office of Management and Budget, and Lawrence Summers, director-designate of the National Economic Council, were among those set to attend.

Notably absent from the group was Richardson, who said Sunday he was withdrawing from the new administration because of a federal investigation into whether his office urged a state agency to award a government contract to a California firm that had donated money to Richardson’s political action committees. Richardson has denied wrongdoing.

Industry lobbyists said Richardson’s decision spared Obama a lengthy and contentious Senate confirmation process, but it left a gap in a key position as the incoming president grapples with the recession.

“Richardson did the right thing to not slow down the nomination for the Commerce Department,” said Julia Hughes, senior vice president of international trade for the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles & Apparel. “Particularly in these economic times, who is secretary of commerce is going to be a very important element in the economic recovery package.”

Auggie Tantillo, executive director of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, said Richardson’s withdrawal will delay the appointment of the deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel, who chairs the Committee for the Implementation of Textile Agreements, an interagency group responsible for factors that impact textile trade policy and for overseeing the implementation of textile trade agreements.