Obama feels backlash on 'Main Street' over bailout

Scramble to aid small businesses that employ 70 per cent of workers

Amid the first signs of unease at his handling of the economic crisis, President Barack Obama is channelling fresh aid to America's critically important small businesses, and remobilising the army of internet supporters that helped carry him to electoral victory last November. At a hastily arranged meeting at the White House yesterday, Mr Obama and Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, announced almost $1bn (£710m) of direct aid to small businesses, coupled with moves to unlock up to $20bn of bank credit for the sector, which employs 70 per cent of US workers.

The purpose of the steps is as much political as economic: to show the administration's focus is firmly on "Main Street" – the ordinary everyday economy – rather than on Wall Street and the financial industry, against which public anger continues to increase. That rose to new heights with the revelation that AIG, the insurance group whose reckless behaviour has required $170bn of government bailout funds, is paying $165m in bonuses to its employees for 2008, including some traders involved in the derivatives business that brought AIG to ruin.

The White House is now scrambling to make sure it does not in turn become the target of populist fury, at a crucial moment for its massively ambitious plans to overhaul the national economy, starting with the $3.55trn budget sent to Congress last month.

"This isn't just a matter of dollars and cents, it's about our fundamental values," the President said yesterday, in a blistering attack on the AIG bonuses. "How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?"

Larry Summers, Mr Obama's top White House economic adviser, described the bonuses as "outrageous", and the Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said in a rare TV interview that he "slammed the phone more than a few times", when dealing with the consequences of the insurance giant's collapse. "Of all the events in the past 18 months, the single one that makes me the angriest... is the intervention with AIG," Mr Bernanke told the CBS 60 Minutes programme. But, Mr Summers and Mr Geithner maintain, little can be done to rescind the bonuses, previously agreed and contractually binding.

Thus far, Mr Obama's approval rating remains at over 60 per cent. But his advisers are well aware that without improvement, the crisis he inherited will sooner or later be seen as an "Obama crisis", with inevitable repercussions on his popularity and authority. To head off that danger, the White House is reactivating the machinery of the election campaign, but this time to drum up support for the budget, through the email lists of the names of 13 million grassroots supporters.

They will try to ignite a public campaign to force Congress to move quickly on the budget, and its sweeping proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy, make massive downpayments on the President's plans to overhaul health care, and promote green energy.

But it will be an uphill battle. After opposing (with but three exceptions) the $787bn stimulus package, House and Senate Republicans are serving notice they will give the same treatment to the budget, in their view a "recipe for socialism". Some conservative Democrats also have misgivings, especially about the $1.75trn deficit envisaged for the fiscal year 2010, a sum equal to 12 per cent of US GDP, and the highest such proportion since the Second World War.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview