Obama reacts to shore up financial confidence

Reacting to more bad U.S. economic news, President-elect Obama held his first press conference Friday to, in part, assure Americans and the world that he was already engaged – even though he has 74 more days to go before he officially takes the economic reins.

Such an immediate response is welcome, and needed, as the nation keeps reeling from mounting financial woes. On Friday, the Labor Department said the nation's employers cut 240,000 jobs in October, hurtling the U.S. unemployment rate to a 14-year high of 6.5 percent. Employers were expected to cut 200,000 jobs, boosting the unemployment rate to 6.3 percent.

Additionally, Ford Motor Co. reported a $129 million third-quarter loss and announced plans to cut more than 2,000 additional white-collar jobs. General Motors said it lost $2.5 billion in the quarter and warned that it could run out of cash in 2009.

Obama called the news “more sobering” at a time when the country is facing its greatest economic challenge in a lifetime. Then in calm and measured tones, he said: “We're going to have to act swiftly to resolve it.” He called on Congress to pass a new stimulus package “sooner rather than later” but said he would push it through soon after he took office if nothing got done before. He also said unemployment benefits need to be extended.

He called for assistance to state and local governments so they won't have to lay off people. He also called for retooling the assistance given to the auto industry to help it stay on track on developing more fuel efficient cars. He said he would be reviewing the implementation of the bailout plan to ensure that it did not unduly reward those who helped create the financial problem while not providing consumers the help they need.

Obama sounded confident and focused, stressing the need to “put aside partisanship and politics” to get things done. We hope he will. He also took care to note that there is “only one president at a time” and George Bush was that president now. But he wanted to do what he could to “restore confidence” as the transition took place.

This is the kind of engagement the public needs from a president. We urge Obama to make such press conferences a more regular part of his administration than President Bush has. The public needs to be as well-informed as possible to help in tackling these big challenges.