Obama downplays stimulus expectations

President Obama’s senior advisers hit the Sunday talk shows to tout the recently passed stimulus bill while maintaining it will be a long time before the economy starts to rebound.

Top advisers David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs touted Congress’ passage of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan, which had been Obama’s top priority. Axelrod said that the bill will slow down the recession but cautioned that the country’s economy is still likely to worsen in the near future.

“The president has said it is likely to get worse before it gets better,” Axelrod said on “Fox News Sunday.” In particular, Axelrod said the bill will help states avoid laying off service personnel and fund the beginning of infrastructure projects that will create jobs.

“It is true,” he said, “that without this program, [the economy] could be much worse,” he said. It will take some time before the stimulus has its total effect on the economy, but he does “expect the rise in unemployment to be retarded by the things that we’ve done this week.”

Axelrod refused to give a specific timetable on when it would be fair to measure how much the stimulus -- which the president is planning to sign on Tuesday in Denver -- has boosted the economy.

Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that "it's safe to say" the economy will worsen, but asserted that the stimulus legislation will help by creating jobs.

Axelrod tackled the criticism that Obama’s efforts to court Republicans for the stimulus bill failed. “We learned,” Axelrod said on Fox, “old habits die hard.”

Obama will continue his efforts to reach out to Republicans, Axelrod said, asserting bipartisanship isn’t measured in vote counts.

“I think that over time, there will be a positive effect of just having dialogue, of just talking, which has not happened for a long time in this town,” he said. “Our goal was not about a number of votes on the bill, our goal was to move this package forward.”

Axelrod also defended Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s new Troubled Asset Relief Program proposal, announced Tuesday as the stock market tumbled in response to the plan's lack of details.

Axelrod said the Wall Street would have preferred Geithner to “walk into that room on Tuesday with a wheel barrow full of money” to solve the problem but “that’s not realistic.”

“The one thing we don’t want to do is make the mistake that was made on the first half of the TARP by the last administration,” Axelrod said, “where there was a lot of starts and stops, changes of strategy, that left everyone unsatisfied.”

The president's senior political adviser said Sen. Judd Gregg's (R-N.H.) decision to take himself out of the running for Commerce Secretary reflected more on Gregg than on the White House.

Axelrod hinted the next Commerce nominee could be on the way soon. “We’ll be having an announcement shortly,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
            
Finding a leader for the Commerce Department has emerged as one of Obama’s toughest political challenges. His first choice, Penny Pritzker, reportedly withdrew her name from consideration because of her business interests.

Obama's next choice, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), withdrew amid a grand jury investigation. Then Gregg, who had been held up as an example of bipartisan outreach, withdrew because of policy differences with the president.

Even Obama has joked about his problems with finding a Commerce secretary, comparing it to finding a dog for his daughters.

Axelrod did not hint at who the new pick might be. And he wouldn’t be pinned down on how soon “shortly” might be. “I’m not going to say ‘this week.’ We have a busy week,” Axelrod said, noting that Obama is scheduled to fly to Canada, Denver and Phoenix.