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Obama Delivers Economic Progress Report

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is on assignment. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

You can expect President Obama to use this tax day, April 15th, to highlight some tax cuts in his economic stimulus plan. It's just about as likely that Republicans will highlight tax increases that they say are coming. This week the president is also offering a wider look at his economic plans. He delivered a lengthy speech about how the United States got into this recession, where the economy is now, and his plans for the future. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: It has been 12 weeks since President Obama took office, and during that time he has been in nearly constant motion, cajoling lawmakers, scolding bankers, and consoling workers who've lost their jobs. Yesterday the president paused for about 45 minutes, just long enough to deliver a progress report on his economic agenda.

President BARACK OBAMA: I want to talk about what we've done, why we've done it, and what we've left to do.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama began by reminding listeners about the roots of the recession - an overheated housing market and unsupervised financial bubble. Once home prices started falling and foreclosures started rising, he said, banks stopped lending and employers started laying off workers.

Pres. OBAMA: And since the problems we face are all working off each other to feed a vicious economic downturn, we had no choice but to attack all fronts of our economic crisis simultaneously.

HORSLEY: The president said some of his efforts have begun to pay off. The tax cuts in the stimulus package are now showing up in workers' pay checks and mortgage rates have fallen, so many home owners can save money by refinancing. But Mr. Obama said many families and businesses still find it hard to borrow the money they need, and the nation is still hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of jobs every month. Mr. Obama has tried repeatedly to highlight some hopeful signs while still acknowledging the serious challenges ahead. Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker says it's a fine line the president has to walk.

Professor ROSS BAKER (Rutgers University): Everything he says now has to achieve a proper balance between candor, realism and hopefulness. And it's an interesting set of ingredients.

HORSLEY: But yesterday's speech was less Psychology 101 than Economics 101. The president methodically work through his arguments of why the government has taken the steps it has, even when those steps are unpopular, such as propping up the banking industry.

Pres. OBAMA: And one of my most frequent questions in the letters that I get from constituents is - where is my bailout? And I understand the sentiment. It makes sense. Intuitively and morally it makes sense. But the truth is that a dollar of capital in a bank can actually result in eight or $10 of loans to families and businesses. So that's a multiplier effect that can ultimately lead to a faster pace of economic growth. That's why we have to fix the banks.

HORSLEY: The speech reminded Baker of the fireside chats that Franklin Roosevelt gave during the Great Depression to explain his economic proposals. Of course Roosevelt didn't have to contend with the rapid-fire pacing of a 24 hours news cycle. Even in our era, when political debate is often reduced to bumper sticker brevity, Mr. Obama has put his faith in the persuasive power of a detailed paragraph, and Baker thinks it's working for him.

Prof. BAKER: Not only does he get it, he has the ability to break it down into common parlance and get people to understand where we've been, where we are now and where we need to go.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama said where we need to go is a new economy, one that's less dependent on an over-leveraged financial system and one in which wealth is more evenly shared.

Pres. OBAMA: We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity, a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama renewed his call for investments in health care, education and clean energy, programs that will be debated long after his first three months in office.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.