President-elect Barack Obama pledged on Wednesday to have an economic plan ready for action on the nation's financial crisis on his first day in office. "Help is on the way," he declared.
He also said his Cabinet would "combine experience with fresh thinking" and pushed back against criticism that he was recycling former Clinton administration officials as he builds his new economic team.
In his third news conference on the economy in as many days, Obama announced he had chosen former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to head a new White House panel to help create jobs and bring stability to the ailing financial system.
Volcker, 81, will head the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. The board's top staff official will be Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist.
Volcker is a legendary central banker who raised interest rates and restricted the money supply to tame raging inflation in the 1980s. It was a painful prescription that helped send the economy into one of the nation's worst recessions.
"What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking."
"He pulls no punches," Obama said of Volcker. "He seems to be fairly opinionated."
Fifty-five days before his inauguration, Obama defended his selection of former Clinton officials to help run his administration.
"The American people would be troubled if I selected a treasury secretary or a chairman of the National Economic Council at one of the most critical economic times in our history, who had no experience in government whatsoever," Obama said.
"What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking," he said. "But understand where the vision for change comes from. First and foremost, it comes from me. That's my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure then that my team is implementing."
As he spoke, there was unrelenting bad news on the economy's current state.
The government reported that jobless claims remained at recessionary levels, consumers had cut back on their spending by the largest amount since the 2001 terrorist attacks, orders to U.S. factories had plunged anew and home sales had fallen to the lowest level in nearly 18 years.
Obama said he will announce the remaining members of his new economic panel in the coming weeks. He already has named Congressional Budget Office Director Peter Orszag as his candidate to run the White House Office of Management and Budget and New York Federal Reserve President Tim Geithner as his treasury secretary.
Geithner was a Treasury Department official during the Clinton administration, and Lawrence Summers, who will head Obama's National Economic Council, was Clinton's treasury secretary. Other Clinton administration names include Eric Holder, who will be Obama's attorney general, and Rahm Emanuel, the president-elect's chief of staff.
Obama said he wants the new economic panel to provide outside voices for his administration.
"The walls of the echo chamber can sometimes keep out fresh voices and new ways of thinking," Obama said. "You start engaging in group-think."
His economic team largely complete, Obama is expected to introduce national security officials next week, including Hillary Rodham Clinton as his secretary of state. He is expected to announce he has asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to remain at the Pentagon for a year. James Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant and NATO commander, is Obama's pick to be national security adviser.
Obama said his new economic panel will include people from business, labor and academia, "who will bring to bear their wisdom and expertise on the formulation, implementation and evaluation of my administration's economic recovery plan."
"I hope that everybody understands that we are going to be able to get through these difficult times, but we're just going to have to make some good choices," Obama said. "I was elected with the charge of getting this economy back in shape but also making sure that it's working on behalf of middle-class families."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)