WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama claimed early progress Tuesday night in his dogged campaign to lead the nation out of economic chaos and declared that despite obstacles ahead, "we're moving in the right direction."
At the second prime-time news conference of his presidency, Obama also toned down his criticism of bonuses to executives at bailed-out AIG, and shot back at Republican critics of his budget.
In office for 64 tumultuous days, Obama cast his budget - now under review in Congress - as essential if the economy is to recover. The tax and spending plan "is inseparable from this recovery because it is what lays the foundation for a secure and lasting prosperity," he said.
The news conference, lasting a bit under an hour, came at a pivotal, early moment in Obama's young presidency. Democrats in Congress are readying budget proposals that will largely determine how much of his first-term agenda will be passed, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is churning out near-daily proposals to solve the nation's economic crisis and the administration is struggling with public and congressional outrage over bonuses paid to executives of bailed-out AIG. Additionally, Obama departs next week for his first European trip as commander in chief, with the global economy a major focus.
Flexible on some points, Obama was unyielding on others. Pressed on why he seemed to delay before condemning the AIG bonuses, Obama said, "It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak."
The news conference was dominated by questions about the economy. Obama defended the steps his administration has taken to counter the recession and an unprecedented credit crisis. He said teachers and others have jobs today because of the economic stimulus measure that Congress passed, and the nation is "beginning to see signs of increased sales and stabilized housing prices for the first time in a long time."
He said full-fledged recovery is months away, and he added, "It will take patience."
At the same time, he said, "we're in a better place because of the decisions that we made."
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