Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama News Conference Transcript (3-24-09)

Read the complete transcript. Excerpt below:

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Your Treasury secretary and the Fed chair have been -- were on Capitol Hill today, asking for this new authority that you want to regulate big, complex financial institutions. But given the problems that the financial bailout program has had so far -- banks not wanting to talk about how they’re spending the money, the AIG bonuses that you mentioned -- why do you think the public should sign on for another new, sweeping authority for the government to take over companies, essentially?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that it is precisely because of the lack of this authority that the AIG situation has gotten worse. Now, understand that AIG’s not a bank, it’s an insurance company. If it were a bank and it had effectively collapsed, then the FDIC could step in, as it does with a whole host of banks -- as it did with IndyMac -- and in a structured way renegotiate contracts, get rid of bad assets, strengthen capital requirements, resell it on the private marketplace.

So we’ve got a regular mechanism whereby we deal with FDIC-insured banks. We don’t have that same capacity with an institution like AIG, and that’s part of the reason why it has proved so problematic. I think a lot of people understandably say: Well, if we’re putting all this money in there, and if it’s such a big systemic risk to allow AIG to liquidate, why is it that we can’t restructure some of these contracts? Why can’t we do some of the things that need to be done in a more orderly way? And the reason is -- is because we have not obtained this authority.

We should have obtained it much earlier, so that any institution that poses a systemic risk that could bring down the financial system we can handle, and we can do it in an orderly fashion that quarantines it from other institutions. We don’t have that power right now. That’s what Secretary Geithner was talking about.

And I think that there’s going to be strong support from the American people and from Congress to provide that authority so that we don’t find ourselves in a situation where we’ve got to choose between either allowing an enormous institution like AIG, which is not just insuring other banks but is also insuring pension funds and potentially putting people’s 401(k)s at risk if it goes under -- that’s one choice -- and then the other choice is just to allow them to take taxpayer money without the kind of conditions that we’d like to see on it. So that’s why I think the authority’s so important. QUESTION: But why should the public trust the government to handle that authority well?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, as I said before, if you look at how the FDIC has handled a situation like IndyBank, for example, it actually does these kinds of resolutions effectively when it’s got the tools to do it.

We don’t have the tools right now.

[...]QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Some have compared this financial crisis to a war, and in times of war, past presidents have called for some form of sacrifice. Some of your programs, whether for Main Street or Wall Street, have actually cushioned the blow for those that were irresponsible during this -- during this economic period of prosperity or supposed prosperity that you were talking about.

Why, given this new era of responsibility that you’re asking for, why haven’t you asked for something specific that the public should be sacrificing to participate in this economic recovery?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me -- let me take that question in a couple -- couple of phases. First of all, it’s not true that we have not asked sacrifice from people who are getting taxpayer money. We have imposed some very stiff conditions. The only problem that we’ve had so far are contracts that were put in place before we took over.

But moving forward, anybody -- any bank, for example, that is receiving capital from the taxpayers is going to have to have some very strict conditions in terms of how it pays out its executives, how it pays out dividend, how it’s reporting its lending practices. So we want to make sure that there’s some stiff conditions in place.

With respect to the American people, I think folks are sacrificing left and right. They -- you’ve got a lot of parents who are cutting back on everything to make sure that their kids can still go to college. You’ve got workers who are deciding to cut an entire day and entire day’s worth of pay so that their fellow co-workers aren’t laid off. I think that across the board people are making adjustments, large and small, to accommodate the fact that we’re in very difficult times right now.

What I’ve said here in Washington is that we’ve got to make some tough choices. We got to make some tough budgetary choices. What we can’t do, though, is sacrifice long-term growth investments that are critical to the future. And that’s why my budget focuses on health care, energy, education -- the kinds of things that can build a foundation for long-term economic growth as opposed to the fleeting prosperity that we’ve seen over the last several years. I mean, when you have an economy in which the majority of growth is coming from the financial sector -- when AIG selling a derivative is counted as an increase in the gross domestic -- domestic product, then that’s not a model for sustainable economic growth.

And what we have to do is invest in those things that will allow the American people’s capacity for ingenuity and innovation, their ability to take risks but make sure that those risks are grounded in good products and good services that they believe they can market to the rest of the country, that those models of economic growth are what we’re promoting, and that’s what I think our budget does.

Poll: 61% Approve of President Obama's Handling of the Economy

The Republicans must be in a panic. The economy is not tanking and the public still supports the President.

For the first time since he became president, a significant number of Americans are expressing disapproval of Barack Obama’s actions in a specific area: His handling of the AIG bonus situation.

Despite the middling reviews for his handling of the bonuses, however, the president continues to get high marks overall for his job performance and his handling of the economy.

Forty-two percent of those surveyed disapprove of the president’s handling of the AIG bonuses, while roughly the same percentage - 41 percent - approve. Another 17 percent don’t know or aren’t sure.

Yet President Obama’s overall job performance rating appears unaffected by the AIG fallout. Sixty-four percent approve of the president’s performance, roughly the same as last week.

And ratings for the president’s handling of the overall economy are actually up slightly: Sixty-one percent now approve, up from 56 percent last week.

The poll numbers can be explained in part by the fact that most Americans do not think there was much the Obama administration could have done about the bonuses. Only 12 percent think the administration had a lot of control over the payouts, while more than half say the administration had little or no control.
The public is right. President Obama could have done a better job dealing with the AIG mess:
Even so, 56 percent of Americans say the administration ought to have found some way to stop the bonuses from being paid out. Thirty-four percent said it should not have.

And we don't think that Geithner is the problem:
While Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has been much-criticized in Washington for his handling of the bonus situation, that criticism is not shared by most Americans. About half express confidence in Geithner’s overall ability to deal with the nation’s economic crisis, though only 13 percent have a lot of confidence in him right now.

The President not spending enough time on the economy? It is the Congress that needs to spend more time on the crisis. And the media should stop hyping the AIG mess:
Nearly half of Americans say President Obama is spending the right amount of time dealing with the bonuses, and the rest are split on whether he is paying too much attention (24 percent) or too little attention (21 percent) to the issue.

Meanwhile, a majority of Americans - 53 percent - think Congress is spending too little time trying to solve the nation’s broader economic problems. And 40 percent believe the media is too focused on AIG and that they should be spending more time focused on other issues.

More bad news for the Republicans:
U.S. home prices rose 1.7% in January compared with December, the Federal Housing Finance Agency reported Tuesday. It was the first monthly increase in a year.

Home prices are down 6.3% in the past year and are down 9.6% from the peak in April 2006, the agency said. In December, the year-over-year decline was 8.8%.

Falling home values have helped to plunge the global financial system into chaos because of mortgage-backed securities. Homeowners have lost trillions of dollars of wealth.
The "unexpected rise" in January was partially due to stronger sales in some markets, FHFA said. The FHFA index attempts to control for such changes in sales patterns, but the adjustment is not perfect, the agency said. The agency warned that its estimate was uncertain and subject to large revisions.
December's index, originally reported as a 0.1% increase, was revised down to a 0.2% decline.
"While this is certainly good news, in our view it is too soon to call a turnaround in the cycle," wrote Charmaine Buskas, a senior economist for TD Securities. "We will have to see several consecutive months of improved prices before a true turnaround can be called, and a significant inventory overhang remains."
Prices rose or were flat in eight of nine regions in January; only the Pacific states registered a decline, down 0.9%. Prices rose 3.9% in the East North Central region, which includes most of the Great Lakes states. Prices rose 3.6% in the South Atlantic region (from Delaware to Florida).

In the past year, prices are down in all nine regions, led by the Pacific with a 21.1% decline. The smallest price decline has been the 0.4% drop in the West South Central (which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana).

Rush must be dejected:
Sales of existing homes jumped 15.6 percent in the Northeast last month, according to a new report from the National Association of Realtors.

On a national level, existing home sales were up 5.1 percent in February, the report found.