WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama said Wednesday that reforming massive government entitlement programs — such as Social Security and Medicare — would be "a central part" of his effort to control federal spending.
Obama made the pledge but provided few details as he named Nancy Killefer as his administration's chief performance officer, creating a new White House position aimed at eliminating government waste and improving efficiency.
Noting that the Congressional Budget Office had just estimated he would inherit a $1.2 trillion federal deficit for fiscal 2009, Obama promised to cut unnecessary spending.
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"We expect that discussion around entitlements will be a part, a central part of those plans," Obama said. "And I would expect that by February in line with the announcement of at least a rough budget outline we will have more to say about how we're going to approach entitlement spending."
For the first time, Obama gave a ballpark price tag for his massive economic plan aimed at generating jobs and jolting the country out of recession. Aides have said it could cost as much as $775 billion over two years. Outside economists have suggested as much as $1.2 trillion would be needed.
"We expect that it will be on the high end of our estimates but will not be as high as some economists have recommended because of the constraint and concerns we have about the existing deficit," Obama said.
At the brief news conference, Obama also deferred to President George W. Bush on the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Even as he's delved into domestic issues, Obama has refrained from commenting on the conflict and has insisted that he would allow the current chief executive to deal with foreign policy matters until the Jan. 20 inauguration.
"We can't have two administrations running foreign policy at the same time. We simply can't do it," Obama said. "The silence is not as a consequence of a lack of concern. In fact, it's not silence. ... I've explained very clearly what institutional constraints I'm under when it comes to this issue."
Still, Obama said he was "deeply concerned" about the conflict. He also offered assurances that he was being briefed consistently on the issue and his national security team was "up to speed."
As he named Killefer, Obama promised to scour the federal budget to eliminate what doesn't work and improve what does to "put government on the side of taxpayers." He said: "We can no longer afford to sustain the old ways when we know there are new and more efficient ways to getting the job done."
Killefer, a director of a management consulting firm who previously served as an assistant secretary of the treasury under President Bill Clinton, will work with federal agencies to set performance standards and hold agency managers accountable for progress.
Obama pledged during the campaign to form a White House SWAT team of sorts — led by a chief performance officer who would report directly to him — to work with agency leaders and the White House budget office to improve federal programs and services.
Yet, even as he announced the post that's also aimed at spending taxpayer money more efficiently, Obama was spending his first week in Washington promoting his mammoth economic stimulus plan — much of which will be new spending aimed at creating jobs and stoking the troubled economy.