“Yesterday, the President said that Congress should pass this proposal to ease the crisis on Wall Street without significant changes or improvements,” the Illinois senator told reporters, arguing that everyone has a stake in solving the crisis to protect the jobs and the life savings of millions. “Given that fact, the President’s stubborn inflexibility is both unacceptable and disturbingly familiar. This is not the time for my-way-or-the-highway intransigence from anybody involved.”
In a roughly 20-minute press conference here Tuesday at the hotel where he is set to spend the rest of the week preparing for Friday’s debate, the Democratic nominee said power over $700 billion in taxpayer money should not be placed in the hands of one person without adequate oversight. Obama suggested an independent, bipartisan board be set up to “provide oversight and accountability at every step of the way”. And he noted he was pleased that in testimony on Capitol Hill this morning Treasury Sec. Henry Paulson appeared to be softening his position on the oversight matter.
Obama said the country was being “tested by a very serious crisis” and he committed to returning to the Senate to vote on the bill if it appears that the vote will be close. He repeated and expanded on some of the other principles he has said must be part of the legislation, including providing a mechanism for taxpayers to benefit from any future profits as Wall Street recovers - -for instance through a Financial Stability Fee on the entire financial services industry that would repay any losses to the American people; help for families that are struggling to stay in their homes and protections against rewarding the “bad behavior” of Wall Street CEOs.
“There’s been talk that some CEOs may refuse to cooperate with this plan if they have to forgo multi-million-dollar salaries,” he said sternly. “I cannot imagine a position that’s more selfish and more greedy at a time of national crisis.”
He said he wanted to deliver a message directly to those CEOs: “Do not make that mistake,” he said. “You are stewards not only of your companies, but of workers and communities all across the country who have put their trust in you. With the enormous rewards that you’ve reaped come responsibilities and we expect and demand that you to live up to those responsibilities. This plan cannot be a welfare program for Wall Street executives.”
The tough talk is in line with the Obama campaign’s efforts over the past several weeks to cast the Democratic nominee as a champion of working and middle class Americans and to portray his rival as a caretaker of big business and the wealthy.
The senator said negotiations over the next few days would be difficult but did not answer directly whether he would vote against the bill if it did not contain the measures he had laid out, at first saying only that it was important to deal with this emergency situation in the right way to avoid future problems. Later, he added, “If the plan that emerges does not address the principles that I’ve discussed then I will strongly recommend to Sec. Paulson that he go back the drawing board and find an approach that does address them.”
Obama also reiterated his plans to go forward with his agenda for middle class tax cuts, universal healthcare, investments in renewable energy and other areas despite the tax burden of the bailout, arguing they were necessary to strengthen the economy. He again urged Bush and McCain to join him in supporting an economic stimulus plan to help working families, though he made it clear that he was not insisting this package be included in the bailout legislation.
He said he was open to the idea of the government buying other bad non-housing related loans, like car, college and credit card loans, if the Federal Reserve and the Treasury deemed that necessary to stabilize credit markets.
*Several days in Tampa
The senator plans to be in the Tampa area until he departs for the foreign policy debate in Oxford, MS on Friday. Prominent lawyer and foreign policy specialist Greg Craig will be standing-in for his Republican rival during these practice sessions.
It’s no accident Obama chose Florida to spend this time. Polls show a close race in this state, one that has been called a must-win for McCain and that the Democrat hopes to snatch away with the help of extensive campaigning, voter registration, and get out the vote efforts. He leads the Arizona senator in the Tampa Bay area by a six-point margin, according to the latest TODAY Show/NBC/Mason-Dixon poll.
This was Obama’s second press conference in the state this week. His last meeting with reporters was Friday in Coral Gables, FL.
Soon after landing in nearby St. Petersburg earlier in the day, the senator spent a while talking with locals at a Clearwater pub, including a pair of men in the real estate industry, a real estate lawyer and a contractor, who asked about the bailout discussions in Washington.