Obama, McCain campaign on economy
September 7, 2008
WASHINGTON ” Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama ridiculed Republican rival John McCain and his running mate for claiming they would bring about the changes needed to get the country back on the right track.
Obama’s comments Saturday came as both campaigns scrambled to react to the implications for taxpayers and the economy of a historic government takeover of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which could come as soon as this weekend.
On Friday, the government reported that the U.S. jobless rate hit a surprising 6.1 percent in August.
The latest economic setbacks only underscored how large a factor the troubled U.S. economy has become in the presidential campaign, mostly eclipsing the Iraq war as voters worry about losing their jobs, homes and health insurance coverage.
Speaking to 800 people in a barn at a Terre Haute, Indiana, fairgrounds, Obama said people should not believe the claims by McCain and his vice presidential pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, that they were the agents of change ready to shake up business as usual.
“Don’t be fooled,” Obama said of the campaign’s comments at the Republican National Convention last week. “John McCain’s party, with the help of John McCain, has been in charge” for nearly eight years.
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Obama and McCain said they were both briefed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on the mortgage crisis and the Bush administration’s steps toward a government takeover of the two financial companies which together hold or back half of U.S. mortgage debt.
News of the likely government takeover Friday followed a report by the Mortgage Bankers Association that more than 4 million American homeowners with a mortgage, a record 9 percent, were either behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of June.
“Any action we take must be focused not on the whims of lobbyists and special interests worried about their bonuses and hourly fees, but on whether it will strengthen our economy and help struggling homeowners,” Obama told reporters after a campaign stop in Indiana.
He stopped short of making detailed proposals, saying “we need to carefully address” the possible impact on community and regional banks.
A government bailout could cost taxpayers around $25 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
McCain and Palin addressed the crisis briefly at a rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
McCain cited the problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as another example of the nation’s economic woes. “Today, we’re looking at a federal bailout of our home loan agencies,” he said.
At the same rally, Palin said the two financial companies have “gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers.”
“The McCain-Palin administration will make them smaller and smarter and more effective for homeowners who need help,” said Palin, who is seeking to become the first female vice president. She did not elaborate.
McCain said in an interview for CBS television’s “Face The Nation” to be aired Sunday that the mortgage giants need to be restructured, saying they are “the classic example of why we need change in Washington” and reflect “the kind of cronyism, corruption, that’s made people so justifiably angry.”
McCain and Palin attracted thousands to the rally in Colorado Springs, a city that is home to many Christian conservatives and military families. They were to head later to New Mexico, trying to blunt Obama from making gains in Western states that went Republican in the 2004 election.
The McCain campaign was planning to keep the little known, 44-year-old Palin with McCain for several more days, rather than dispatch her to campaign by herself, keeping her out of the reach of reporters who might subject her to tough questions about her record as governor in Alaska, including an ongoing ethics investigation into her firing of the state’s public safety commissioner.
At the convention, McCain, who has served 22 years in the Senate, tried to frame himself as a political outsider and maverick, borrowing the same message of change that Obama has made the centerpiece of his run for the White House.
McCain had to walk a delicate line, distinguishing himself from the unpopular presidency of George W. Bush, while not alienating the party’s conservative base, which remains loyal to the president and has been skeptical of McCain.
On Saturday, he pledged to appoint Democrats to his Cabinet, part of his promise to try to end partisan “rancor.”
“I don’t know how many, but I can tell you, with all due respect to previous administrations, it is not going to be a single … ‘Well we have a Democrat now.’ It’s going to be the best people in America,” he told “Face the Nation.”
At the Indiana rally, Obama delivered some of his most withering criticisms yet of McCain, although he did so with chuckles and an air of mock disbelief. McCain has acknowledged voting with Bush 90 percent of the time in Congress, Obama said.
“And suddenly he’s the change agent? Ha,” he said.
“I mean, come on, they must think you’re stupid,” Obama said as the crowd laughed.
Indiana, which neighbors Obama’s home state of Illinois, has voted Republican in recent presidential elections, but polls show Obama running neck-and-neck with McCain there.
Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, noted that despite McCain’s promise to reduce the partisan rancor in Washington, the speakers at this week’s Republican convention frequently targeted his character.
Both campaigns did agree to put aside partisan politics on Thursday to mark the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. They announced that they would make a joint appearance at ground zero in New York and suspend television advertising critical of each other for the day.