CEOs urge $500B stimulus from Obama

WASHINGTON – A group of business executives on Tuesday urged President-elect Barack Obama to “quickly implement” a large stimulus package soon after taking office.

The stimulus should be in the range of $500 billion, said Roger Ferguson, chief executive of asset management company TIAA-CREF, an amount much larger than has been mentioned by Democrats in Congress.

“This really was far and away” the top priority for the group, Ferguson said. “Everything else paled by comparison.”

The recommendation came from a group of executives meeting at a conference sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. The group included Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Jeffrey Bewkes, CEO of Time Warner Inc., and Wachovia Corp. CEO Robert Steel. About 100 CEOs at the conference divided into four groups to formulate recommendations for Obama in different areas, including energy, health care, the international economy and the U.S. economy.

The recommendation on the stimulus echoes comments made by a top Obama adviser late Monday. In a speech to the conference, Larry Summers cited a report by Goldman Sachs that suggested the stimulus should be in the range of $500 billion to $700 billion.

Summers, a former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton, is widely considered a top candidate for the same job in the Obama administration.

Days after winning the election, Obama said if a second stimulus package does not get done in the current lame-duck session of Congress, “it will be the first thing I get done as president of the United States.” President George W. Bush in February signed bipartisan legislation enacting a $168 billion economic recovery package that sent rebate checks of $600 to $1,200 to most individuals and couples, and awarded tax breaks to businesses investing in new plants and equipment.

A second stimulus package should “emphasize investment in infrastructure,” such as roads, bridges and other construction, as well as alternative energy projects, the CEOs said.

The stimulus also should include permanent tax cuts rather than one-time tax rebates, Ferguson said, because permanent cuts are more likely to be spent and to boost the economy.

Steel also urged Obama to quickly name the top officials of his economic team and to lay out a vision to boost market confidence about the impending change in administrations.

“Let’s get the economic leaders working together, outlining the issues and … laying out the plans they’ll hit the ground running with,” Steel said.