(Adds comment from Trenton mayor, more details)
By Caren Bohan and Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON Feb 20 U.S. President Barack Obama
vowed strict oversight on Friday of his $787 billion stimulus
plan, pushing back against Republicans who have labeled the
centerpiece of his economic agenda fiscally irresponsible.
Obama said he would name a team of managers to ensure that
billions of dollars slated for infrastructure projects would be
"The American people are watching. They need this plan to
work," Obama said at a gathering at the White House with dozens
of the nation's mayors.
"And they expect to see the money they worked so hard to
earn spent in its intended purpose without waste, inefficiency,
After taking office last month amid a deepening recession,
Obama made his top priority the passage of the stimulus plan.
He said the measure was crucial to jump-start growth and
prevent the unemployment rate from surging into double digits.
The signing this week of the bill -- the most expensive in
history -- marked a big victory for Obama and his Democratic
allies in Congress.
But Republicans, most of whom refused to support the
stimulus plan, criticized the bill as laden with wasteful
spending and said it would do little to revive the economy.
Obama and other Democrats have bristled at Republican
attempts to characterize their plans as fiscally irresponsible.
They note the federal budget shifted from surplus to huge
deficits during Republican President George W. Bush's
Republicans controlled Congress during much of the Bush
In addition to the infrastructure spending, the bill
includes tax cuts and spending to bolster social safety net
programs like unemployment insurance.
At the event with the mayors, Obama said the stimulus plan
would not only create jobs but put the economy on a sounder
footing in the long term through spending on infrastructure
such as roads and bridges, mass transit and the expansion of
He also emphasized his intent to prevent any wasteful uses
of the money.
"If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste
that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it, and put
a stop to it," Obama said.
"I want everyone here to be on notice that if a local
government does the same, I will call them out on it as well,
and use the full power of my office and our administration to
stop it," he added.
After asking for economic help from the federal government
for more than a year, mayors of both political parties are
among the strongest supporters of Obama's stimulus package.
Several mayors who attended the event told reporters later
they supported Obama's call for accountability, not only for
the federal government but for cities as well.
"We don't mind getting called out. ... We welcome that kind
of accountability. We're going to help get the job done," said
Trenton, New Jersey, Mayor Douglas Palmer.
Obama's pledge to spend the stimulus money efficiently came
before events planned next week in which he and his aides will
emphasize their commitment to rein in the budget deficit, which
private economists say will likely balloon to about $1.5
trillion this year. That figure includes the $700 billion from
the bank rescue plan but not the stimulus plan signed by
The deficit in the previous fiscal year was a record-high
On Monday, Obama is hosting lawmakers, economists and
representatives of business and labor groups at the White House
for a "Fiscal Responsibility Summit."
The White House is expected to unveil its budget proposal
Some fiscal issues will also likely be highlighted in an
address Obama will deliver to Congress on Tuesday night.
At the fiscal summit, which will be attended by top
Democrats as well as leading Republicans, Obama is expected to
underscore his commitment to tackle long-term budget
challenges, such as the cost of health and retirement
"The president felt that we have to start doing this now.
For too long, there has been an irresponsibility among people
in the Beltway who were unwilling to make the tough choices,"
said Kenneth Baer, a spokesman for the White House budget
"This will be the beginning of that process," Baer said.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Peter