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Associated Press

Democrats Want a More Assertive Obama

Jim Kuhnhenn

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama pauses as he speaks with the media at a food bank in Chicago, November 26, 2008. Obama has sidestepped some policy questions by saying there is only one president at a time. But the dodge is wearing thin. (REUTERS/John Gress)

WASHINGTON (AP) - Democrats are growing
impatient with President-elect Barack Obama's refusal to inject himself
in the major economic crises confronting the country.

Obama has sidestepped some policy questions by saying there is only one president at a time. But the dodge is wearing thin.

"He's going to have to be more assertive than he's been," House
Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., told
consumer advocates Thursday.

Frank, who has been dealing with
both the bailout of the financial industry and a proposed rescue of
Detroit automakers, said Obama needs to play a more significant role on
economic issues.

"At a time of great crisis with mortgage
foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time,"
Frank said. "I'm afraid that overstates the number of presidents we
have. He's got to remedy that situation."

Obama has maintained
one of the most public images of any president-elect. He has held half
a dozen press conferences, where he has entertained question after
question about the economy, the mortgage crisis, and the flailing auto
industry. He called for passage of extended unemployment benefits-which
has passed-and even a stimulus package if possible before Jan. 20. But
he has stayed away from trying to dictate remedies for the toughest
problems Congress is confronting: the auto industry's troubles and how
to spend the $700 billion bailout.

Frank's remarks came as the Bush administration
considers whether it needs the second half of the $700 billion of the
Troubled Asset Relief Program aimed at helping the financial sector
before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

An Obama official said
the Bush administration reached out to the transition team about
tapping into the money. The official, speaking on the condition of
anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said Obama's
transition team urged the administration to talk to bipartisan
congressional leaders and assemble a meeting between the White House
and Congress. The official said the Obama team offered to participate
in a bipartisan meeting if it would be helpful.

Earlier this
week, Obama was asked whether he worried that Treasury Secretary Henry
Paulson might begin spending the next installment of the money before
he assumes the presidency. Obama demurred.

"Until Secretary
Paulson indicates publicly that he's drawing down the second tranche,
the second half of the TARP money, it would be speculation on my part
to suggest that that money's going to be used up," he told reporters at
a Chicago news conference Wednesday.

Obama did stress that a
significant component of the fund should be used to reduce the number
of foreclosures. But he did not specify a particular remedy.

He also declined to take a stand in a debate over the source of money
for an auto loan package. The dispute has divided Democrats and
hindered progress on assistance for the industry. At issue is whether
to take money from the $700 billion designated for the financial sector
or to take it from a previously approved loan aimed at manufacturing
more energy efficient cars.

"I think it's premature to get into that issue," Obama said at the conference.

Presidents-elect typically spend the transition period assembling their
cabinets, their White House staff and preparing to take the reins of
power. But this transition is occurring at an extraordinary time, with
bad economic news mounting by the day and with one of the country's
major industries begging for a hand to keep from collapsing.

Two Democratic senators involved in trying to salvage the auto
companies have said Obama could help move the process along and should
become more engaged.

"The Obama team has to step up," Sen. Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee
and one of the lead negotiators, said Nov. 21 in Hartford, Conn. "In
the minds of the people, this is the Obama administration. I don't
think we can wait until January 20."

Two days later, Sen. Carl Levin
of Michigan, a point man in helping his state's main industry, called
on Obama to help resolve the dispute over money for the auto loan

"It would be very helpful if the president-elect
would become more involved in resolving the issue over the source of
the funds," he said. "I want him to offer his assistance. He is a
person who can really bring people together."

Frank, shrewd
and quick-witted, also poked fun at Obama's calls for a "post-partisan"
governing environment in Washington. Frank predicted that regulatory
legislation aimed at preventing abuses related to subprime mortgages
and credit cards stood a much better chance next year, when Democrats
have greater majorities in the House and Senate.

"It is a
grave mistake to assume that parties are irrelevant to this process,"
he said. "My one difference with the president-elect, about whom I am
very enthusiastic, is when he talks about being post-partisan.

"Having lived with this very right wing Republican group that runs the
House most of the time, the notion of trying to deal with them as if we
could be post-partisan gives me post-partisan depression," Frank said.

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