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Barack Obama's new focus recalls an old Clinton mantra: 'The economy, stupid'

July 27, 2008 |  9:40 am

With 100 days left until the general election on Nov. 4, Barack Obama is turning from foreign policy -- his focus for the last week as he visited Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Jordan and several European capitals -- to the state of the U.S. economy.

Barack Obama will be meeting on Monday with his top economic advisors. In an interview with Tom Brokaw on NBC's "Meet the Press" (taped Saturday in London and broadcast Sunday) and again in an interview with Bloomberg News as he flew home to Chicago, the Democrats' nominee-in-waiting said he was meeting on Monday with his top economic advisors

They include former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, former Treasury Secretaries Lawrence Summers and Robert Rubin (one of Hillary Clinton's campaign advisors), Google CEO Eric Schmidt and the "Sage of Omaha," billionaire investor Warren Buffett. (Some -- Rubin and Buffett among them -- will participate by phone in the meeting at Washington's Omni Shoreham Hotel.)

The purpose of the meeting, the Illinois senator told Bloomberg, is to "really work through in detail some of the immediate steps that may need to be taken both between now and the end of the year and after inauguration'' to strengthen the housing and financial markets and to talk more about long-term economic strategies.

"I expect some further fine-tuning of our short-term policies based on what's happened over the last several months," Obama said, "and I want to get their read as well as to where they think the economy is going in the short term and medium term."

On "Meet the Press," Brokaw asked whether $4-a-gallon gasoline might actually be "a good thing, in a way" because it forced the country to confront the energy crisis. 

"I do not think that high gas prices are a good thing for American families," Obama replied. "... Ordinary families are under extraordinary stress as a consequence of these high gas prices, so we need to do what we can to bring these prices down.... We should have, over the last 20 years, been planning for this day."

Obama recalled President John F. Kennedy's 1961 address in which he made it a national goal to "put a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth" by the end of that decade and called for a similar focus on energy:

"We should be saying. 'In 10 years' time, we're going to be cutting our oil consumption drastically.' " He noted that he wanted to put $150 billion -- $15 billion a year over 10 years -- into research and development of new energy-related technologies.

"What is driving people all across the country right now," he said, "is worries and concerns about inability to pay the gas bill, inability to buy food because prices have gone up so high.... We've got to fundamentally shift how we approach economic policy."

-- Leslie Hoffecker

Photo credit: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images for "Meet the Press"