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Obama urges passage of stimulus

From NBC's Athena Jones

At an event today to announce the members of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, President Obama highlighted the latest jobs numbers and kept up his campaign-style rhetoric Friday, urging quick passage of the stimulus bill.

Echoing a statement his team put out this morning after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported some 598,000 jobs were lost in January and unemployment rose to 7.6%, Obama said that the data demonstrated the urgency of the situation, and that it was inexcusable and irresponsible for Congress to get bogged down in distraction, delay, or politics as usual at this time.

"The American people did not choose more of the same," he said. "They did not send us to Washington to get stuck in partisan posturing, to try to score political points or to turn back to the same tried and failed approaches that were rejected because we saw the results. They sent us here to make change and the expectation that we would act."

He said that while the bill before Congress was not perfect, it was "absolutely necessary" and would continue to be refined and improved.

The purpose of the advisory board, which Obama announced plans for during his transition, is to offer the president independent advice about how to ensure a strong economic recovery from outside of what the president called the "Washington echo chamber." It will initially have a two-year term.

Paul Volcker will serve as chairman of the board and Austan Goolsbee is its staff director and chief economist. Among the board's members: former SEC Chairman William H. Donaldson; TIAA-CREF President Roger W. Ferguson, Jr.; UBS CEO Robert Wolf; David F. Swensen the CIO of Yale University; Pritzker Realty's Penny Pritzker, who is a close Obama friend from Chicago; General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt; Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens; La Opinion Publisher Monica Lozano; Change to Win's Anna Burger; and Laura D'Andrea Tyson, dean of the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

Harvard professor Martin Feldstein, an adviser to President Reagan and proponent of supply-side economics, is also on the board. Feldstein wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post last week that was pro-stimulus, but that also criticized the form of the tax cuts in the package. Feldstein said the spending in it would not do enough to boost employment.

"The problem with the current stimulus plan is not that it is too big but that it delivers too little extra employment and income for such a large fiscal deficit. It is worth taking the time to get it right," he wrote.

Feldstein could be seen as a representative of the "failed theories" of the past that Obama railed against on the campaign trail and in his increasingly tough language this week -- proof that the president wants different voices at the table.

"I'm not interested in groupthink, which is why the board reflects a broad cross-section of experience, expertise, and ideology," the president said, adding that the group included Republicans and Democrats, people from government as well as the private sector and advocates of business and labor.

"Not everyone is going to agree with each other, and not all of them are going to agree with me -- and that's precisely the point. Because we want to ensure that our policies have the benefit of independent thought and vigorous debate."