WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said Tuesday night his attempts to lead the nation out of economic turmoil are beginning to yield results, and toned down his criticism of bonuses to executives at bailed-out AIG.
At the second prime-time news conference of his presidency, Obama also cast his budget - now under review in Congress - as essential if the economy is to recover. The tax and spending plan 'is inseparable from this recovery because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity,' he said.
Briefly reviewing the steps his administration has taken to date, he said teachers and others have jobs today because of the economic stimulus measure that Congress passed, and the nation is 'beginning to see signs of increased sales and stabilized housing prices for the first time in a long time.'
At the same time, he said full-fledged recovery is months away, and he added, 'It will take patience.'
The news conference came at a pivotal, early moment in Obama's young presidency, with Democrats in Congress readying budget proposals that will largely determine how much of his first-term agenda will be passed, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner churning out near-daily proposals to solve the nation's economic crisis and the administration struggling with public and congressional outrage over bonuses paid to executives of bailed-out AIG. Additionally, Obama departs next week for his first European trip as commander in chief, with the global economy a major focus.
Speaking in the East Room of the White House, Obama put in a plug for the request Geithner made to Congress earlier in the day for extraordinary authority to take over failing companies like American International Group Inc., much as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. now does for banks.
'It is precisely because of the lack of this authority' that AIG's problems threatened to bring down the entire U.S. economy, he said. Top Democrats in Congress reacted positively to the proposal, although it is not clear when legislation might be considered.
Obama has been vocal in his unhappiness over the $165 million in retention bonuses paid to executives at AIG, although his favorable reference to business men and women seeking profits was a new twist.
'Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enriching themselves on the taxpayers' dime is inexcusable, that the days of outsized rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over,' he said.
'At the same time, the rest of us can't afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit. That drive is what has always fueled our prosperity, and it is what will ultimately get these banks lending and our economy moving once more,' he said.
The president opened the news conference with a lengthy prepared statement read from a teleprompter.
He said his administration was taking steps to make sure banks have money to lend 'even if the economy gets worse.'