Vice President-elect Joe Biden in October predicted an international crisis during Barack Obama's first six months in office to test his mettle. It seems more likely now that he will face the economic crisis with rising levels of unemployment as his most immediate challenge.
While the first family-elect relaxes in Hawaii, Obama's economic team wrestles with the outlines of a stimulus package, now called "recovery package," whose price tag keeps rising as the economic indicators fall. The goal is now to create or save 3 million jobs in two years, up from 2.5 million jobs. The estimated price tag is $775 billion, up from $675 billion, and reportedly headed toward a trillion.
Obama aides say their task is exacerbated by the failure of Bush's $700 billion bailout to achieve its goals. Critics say Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has used the money to help ailing banks, but has done nothing to refinance the home mortgages that are the basic "troubled assets."
Before leaving for Hawaii, Obama told his economic crew to be "bolder," meaning, don't worry about deficits. And bold is what the team is being as it charts a program including not only construction projects on roads and bridges, but health and education programs, early-childhood teaching and installation of computerized record-keeping in medical facilities.
It also includes energy conservation projects and support for the poor and unemployed.
The program is being drafted with Democratic leaders in Congress. A concern is to keep legislators from seizing on this big-ticket bill to append their own earmarked pork barrel projects.
Where congressional Republicans figure in this is not clear. And it probably won't be until Congress returns after the new year. Obama's goal is to have a bill that he can sign almost immediately after being inaugurated. A hope, but far from a sure thing.