Obama Intensifies Focus on Economy

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WASHINGTON -- With the economy in free fall, President-elect Barack Obama is stepping up efforts to let Americans know what he has planned to stabilize the nation's financial system and calm the markets.

He announced a plan this weekend to save or create 2.5 million jobs by January 2011 and his transition team confirmed he will announce the leaders of his economic team Monday, naming Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary and Lawrence Summers to direct the National Economic Council.

The word Friday that Geithner was the likely choice to head treasury sent the stock market soaring almost 500 points.

On Sunday, Obama's top strategist said it's gratifying to see the stock market's positive reaction to Obama's choice.

Obama adviser David Axelrod said the 47-year-old Geithner is the right person to help deal with the severe economic crisis. Obama plans to announce his economic team on Monday.

So much bad news is dragging down the markets these days in the way of weak earning reports and looming bankruptcies for major companies like automakers, that traders -- and the public -- are desperate for any reassurance that the problems will be dealt with at some point.

In Peru this weekend, President Bush tried to turn the depressing financial crisis into an opportunity, describing it as a chance for world unity and prosperity. He backed up that idea not with specifics but with broad principles, promoting the power of open markets and free people.

Previous efforts by Bush to encourage investors that the markets will stabilize, have not calmed the economy's fall. And criticism of the $700 billion economic bailout plan has been growing, with some of the loudest protests from members of Congress unhappy with the rapidly changing goals of the Bush administration.

While news of Obama's probable treasury secretary rallied markets on Friday, the Dow had lost a staggering 873 points, more than 10 percent of its value, and the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index had sunk to its lowest level since 1997 in the previous two days.

On Saturday, Obama announced his plan to save or create 2.5 million jobs by investing billions of dollars to rebuild roads and bridges, modernize schools and develop alternative energy sources and efficient cars.

"These aren't just steps to pull ourselves out of this immediate crisis. These are the long-term investments in our economic future that have been ignored for far too long," Obama said in the weekly Democratic radio address. A video was available on Obama's transition Web site.

Obama hopes to get the ambitious plan quickly through Congress, with help from both parties, after he takes office Jan. 20.

On the heels of his jobs announcement, transition staffers confirmed later Saturday on the names of two of his top economic advisers -- Geithner and Summers.

The 47-year-old Geithner (pronounced GITE-ner) would have chief responsibility for tackling the economic slowdown and credit crunch. In his current post as president of the New York Federal Reserve, he has played a key role in the government's response to the financial crisis and has worked closely with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Summers, 53, a former treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton and one-time president of Harvard University, will advise Obama from the White House. Summers would help coordinate federal response, including the jobs plan announced Saturday.

As the picture takes shape of Obama's proposals and economic team, he hopes to rally public confidence with his pledge that "it is time to act" and his assurance that after he becomes president Jan. 20 "we will."