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Obama calls for a responsible budget

From NBC's Athena Jones
CHICAGO -- In his second press conference in as many days, President-elect Obama stressed the importance of crafting an efficient and responsible budget, while arguing that middle-class tax cuts must be put in place quickly to help stimulate the flagging economy.

"During my campaign, I talked about the need to provide a tax cut to 95% of workers," he said. "Now, for us to get that tax cut in place, that is going to put money into the pockets of the middle class and will help them in spending for their basic needs. That can help the economy. The sooner we do that, the better."

Video: President-elect Barack Obama announces two members of his budget office, and discusses his plans to build a "smarter government" by eliminating unneeded programs, and running the remainder in a cost-effective way.

Obama took questions from reporters after announcing two more members of his economic team. He named Peter Orszag as director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Rob Nabors as Orszag's deputy. On Monday, Obama officially announced four other members, including New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers as head of the National Economic Council.

Returning to a theme he mentioned often on the campaign trail, Obama said Orszag and Nabors would be charged with going through the federal budget "page by page, line by line" to develop a budget that would eliminate waste and increase government efficiency.

"If we are going to make the investments we need, we also have to be willing to shed the spending that we don't need," he said. "In these challenging times, when we're facing both rising deficits and a shrinking economy, budget reform is not an option. It's a necessity."

Obama stressed the need to set up a long-term plan to reduce what he called the nation's structural deficit once an economic recovery was "well under way" to avoid leaving "a mountain of debt for the next generation." Still, as was the case during the campaign, Obama offered few examples, citing the need to reduce health-care costs and end wasteful government subsidies in industries like agriculture.

With Inauguration Day still two months away, the president-elect has made a point of saying there is just one president at a time. He declined to attend a summit President Bush hosted earlier this month with G-20 leaders to discuss how to manage the global financial crisis, and has not criticized the current Administration's handling of a multi-billion-dollar bailout of the financial system. Today, in his third press conference since the election, he talked about why he was spending so much time talking about the economy.

"Given the extraordinary circumstances that we find ourselves in, however, I think it is very important for the American people to understand that we are putting together a first-class team, and for them to have clarity that we don't intend to stumble into the next Administration," he said. "We are going to hit the ground running. We're going to have clear plans of action."

Obama said his decisive win on November 4th showed the American people wanted a new direction, but he repeated his frequent remarks about the importance of bipartisanship, adding that he was pleased about the "bipartisan accolades" the budget team he had put together was receiving.

Obama repeated his intention to help states and local governments by fast-tracking infrastructure projects so that governments have the funds to carry out plans that would help create or save jobs, and he said his economic recovery plan would require the participation of governors and mayors -- in fact, he plans to meet with the nation's governors in Philadelphia on Tuesday. In what some interpreted as a message to Illinois politicos, Obama said his budget team would base funding decisions on national priorities and not personal relationships.

"Friendship doesn't come into this. That's part of the old way of doing business," he assured a local reporter. "The new way of doing business is -- let's figure out what projects, what investments are going to give the American economy the most bang for the buck, how can we protect taxpayer dollars so that this money is not wasted, restore a sense of confidence among taxpayers that, when we spend our money, it's on things that are actually going to improve their quality of life, create the jobs that are so desperately needed, help to spur on economic growth and business creation in the private sector."

The transition team's press operation repeated an exercise that sparked laughs and some consternation from at least one baseball fan at yesterday's press conference, dividing reporters into two sections. The north side of the room was designated the "Cubs" section and the south side of the room was called the "White Sox" section. Obama is an avid White Sox fan.