WASHINGTON – President Bush's new picks for his economic team will help move the United States into a better financial era, the president said Saturday, but Congress, too, has to do its part to put the nation on an economic road to recovery.
"These leaders will assume their duties at an important moment for our economy," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "There are many good signs … yet we also face specific challenges that could slow the recovery and limit future growth."
Bush this week picked Goldman Sachs chief Stephen Friedman as the new director of the National Economic Council. Friedman, 64, a lawyer by training, is set to replace Larry Lindsey, who was caught up in the past month's housecleaning at the White House.
Bush also submitted John Snow's name for Secretary of the Treasury. Snow, a railroad executive, would replace outgoing Secretary Paul O'Neill. The president also this week tapped William Donaldson, co-founder of investment banking firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, as the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Donaldson would replace former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt.
Snow and Donaldson will need to be confirmed by the Senate. Friedman will not.
Bush said Saturday that many Americans are struggling with debt and trying to save for retirement. Investor confidence needs to be strengthened, he said, and unemployment needs to be lowered.
"We will not rest until every person in America who wants to work can find a job," Bush said.
The nation's unemployment rate jumped to 6 percent in November matching April's figure, which was the highest rate in eight years.
The number of Americans who signed up last week for state unemployment benefits rose to its highest level since April, the Labor Department said Thursday. First-time jobless claims rose by 83,000 to a seasonally adjusted 441,000 for the week ended Dec. 7.
The seesawing economic growth -- a below-par 1.3 percent pace in the second quarter, rising to a brisk 4 percent rate in the third quarter -- troubles the Bush administration, Fed policy-makers, Wall Street and Main Street.
But when Congress reconvenes next month, lawmakers better get a move on with the president's economic priorities, Bush said. Many economic bills, such as one extending unemployment benefits, were left languishing on the Hill this year. These benefits for about 750,000 Americans will expire on Dec. 28.
"They need our assistance in these difficult times, and we cannot let them down," Bush said. "I have shared these concerns with the leaders of the House and the Senate and they understand the need for early action."
Bush wants lawmakers to make the extension of unemployment benefits their first order of business when they return to Washington in January. He wants the benefits to be retroactive so the jobless can get paid for December in full. Bush also directed the Labor Department to work with states to lessen any delay that may occur trying to get the benefits to citizens.
"We must help our fellow citizens who have lost their jobs," Bush said. "And we must create an environment in which businesses, especially small businesses, can grow and generate the new jobs our country needs."