Political Notebook

Buffett warns that economy 'has fallen off a cliff'

March 10, 2009
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Another high-profile backer of President Obama added his voice yesterday to those fretting publicly that the administration is not doing or focusing enough to shore up the financial system and turn around the economy.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said on CNBC that the economy "has fallen off a cliff" and that Obama's team is sending some mixed signals about its approach, hurting confidence.

"The message has to be very, very clear as to what government will be doing," said Buffett, an informal adviser to the White House. "And I think we've had - and it's the nature of the political process somewhat - but we've had muddled messages and the American public does not know. They feel they don't know what's going on, and their reaction then is to absolutely pull back."

Buffett also admonished Republicans for beating up on Obama, saying they "have an obligation to regard this as an economic war and realize you need one leader."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs asserted that Buffett was criticizing Washington as a whole, not Obama in particular. He emphasized instead Buffett's call for Democrats and Republicans to cooperate for the good of the country. "I think Mr. Buffett would agree . . . that this problem isn't going to be fixed overnight," Gibbs said.


Trade nominee says US will focus on enforcing rules
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration's trade policy will focus first on making sure countries play by the rules and only second on negotiating new trade deals, US Trade Representative-designee Ron Kirk said yesterday.

"I do not come to this job with what I have called in some of our meetings 'deal fever,' " Kirk said in testimony prepared for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. "The first order of business for the administration on trade is to ensure strong enforcement of the rules."

Kirk also said the United States will use all its resources, including through the World Trade Organization, to push China toward less reliance on exports and more on boosting its domestic demand. And he told lawmakers a pending trade agreement with South Korea "just simply isn't fair" and "we want to make sure we get that right."

The former Dallas mayor and friend of President Obama is expected to win Senate confirmation, even though the vetting process revealed a number of errors in his tax returns that will require him to pay about $10,000 in back taxes.

Senator Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Finance Committee, called the tax issue a "regrettable but, I believe, honest mistake."


Vilsack voices support for boosting ethanol blend
WASHINGTON - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said yesterday that the government should move quickly to increase the amount of ethanol allowed in gasoline.

Ethanol producers asked the Environmental Protection Agency last week to increase the amount of ethanol that refiners can blend with gasoline from a maximum of 10 percent to 15 percent, which could boost the demand for the renewable fuel additive by as much as 6 billion gallons a year. However, automobile and small-engine manufacturers have said there's no certainty yet that such an increase will not harm engines and fuel lines.

"We can, we believe, move fairly quickly to move the blend rate to 12 or 13 percent in the interim," Vilsack told a friendly audience of farmers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she also supports raising the cap after a separate speech to the National Farmers Union annual convention in Arlington, Va.

"It seems to me we should be able to do that," she said.

It is up to the EPA to lift the cap.


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