Economic and business leaders advise Obama

Times Staff Writers

Back from a nine-day overseas trip, Sen. Barack Obama made a point of turning quickly to domestic concerns, calling a meeting Monday to solicit advice on reviving the economy and lifting wages.

Obama, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, met with a bipartisan group of economic experts and business leaders, who agreed that a second stimulus package was needed to spur consumer spending.

While the Illinois senator presided over the 2 1/2 -hour meeting at a Washington hotel, his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, made a stop at a California oil field, where he reiterated his support for expanded drilling.

The Arizona senator renewed his criticism of Obama as the “Dr. No of America’s energy future” -- a reference to Obama’s opposition to expanded drilling and to a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax.


The two candidates also grappled with personal health issues. McCain, standing in front of a bobbing oil derrick in Bakersfield and wearing a cap that shaded his fair complexion, told reporters that a spot of skin had been removed from his cheek earlier in the day during a routine checkup with his dermatologist in Arizona.

The Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., issued a statement later saying that a biopsy had been ordered as part of the “routine minor procedure.”

“She said that I was doing fine,” McCain said, quoting his doctor. “She took a small nick from my cheek, as she does regularly, and that will be biopsied just to make sure everything is fine.”

Since 1993, McCain has had three minor melanomas removed, from his left shoulder, left arm and the left side of his nose. A fourth melanoma, which proved more invasive, was removed from his left lower temple in 2000.


In an interview with CNN’s Larry King, broadcast Monday night, the 71-year-old McCain said voters needn’t worry about his health. “Melanoma, if you look at it and be careful, it’s fine,” McCain said. “I had one serious bout with it, and that was frankly due to my own neglect. I let it go and go and go. . . . I’m not making that mistake again.”

The Obama campaign said the Democratic nominee-in-waiting saw a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical Center on Sunday night for a sore hip.

“His hip has been sore from basketball for a few weeks, so he’s going to see an orthopedic doctor,” Obama communications director Robert Gibbs said.

Obama regularly plays pick-up basketball, squeezing in games during stops on the campaign trail.

Obama’s economic forum, which was closed to the media, came on a day when the Bush administration announced that the next president would face a record budget deficit of $482 billion.

The group that met with Obama included some of the top economic policymakers of recent Democratic and Republican administrations. Among them were Robert E. Rubin and Paul H. O’Neill, Treasury secretaries in the administrations of Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett took part by phone.

“When I get asked by a presidential candidate to give advice, I’m in the business of telling the truth, so I did,” O’Neill told reporters as he left the meeting.

O’Neill was forced out of his job as Treasury secretary in 2002, and later made headlines when he said his former boss had been plotting the Iraq war virtually from the moment he took office.


Participants in the meeting said Obama spent most of the time listening. The group agreed with Obama’s call for a second stimulus plan, though there was some debate about the size.

Obama wants to inject an additional $50 billion into the economy. Laura D’Andrea Tyson, who chaired Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors, said in an interview: “There were people in the room who felt it should be more.”

Obama has unveiled an economic program that calls for middle-class tax cuts and $130 billion in new spending. He has said he would pay for his programs by ending the Iraq war and closing tax loopholes, among other measures.

Those who attended said they were confident that Obama’s proposals could be enacted if he won the election, despite the deficit projection.

When he ran for president in 1992, Clinton also laid out an ambitious economic program that included increased spending on social programs. But he would later yield to those in his administration who argued that his first priority had to be cutting the deficit. One person making that argument was Rubin.

Rubin had agreed to talk to reporters, but he left without giving any comments.

In interviews, participants in the meeting said that the large budget deficit would not compel Obama, if he were elected, to scrap his program. “History doesn’t ever repeat itself exactly,” said Lawrence Summers, also a Treasury secretary under Clinton.

In his campaign stop Monday, McCain vowed to continue pressing the energy issue, which Republicans consider a winner in this summer of motorist discontent.


The oil field visit made up for a trip McCain had planned last week to a drilling rig off the coast of Louisiana. Hurricane Dolly forced a cancellation of that tour.



Nicholas reported from Washington and Barabak from San Francisco.