WASHINGTON — Barack Obama rode a wave of economic discontent to the White House and now faces the daunting task of turning the weakening economy around. Obama’s victory makes a new economic stimulus package — perhaps as large as $150 billion — more likely, economists said. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday called on the current Congress to approve a stimulus measure this year. "We have to get the economy back on track,” said John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, in a television interview. Concerns about the budget deficit, which could approach $1 trillion in the budget year that began Oct. 1, will likely take a back seat in the short term, economists said. "It’s going to be ‘damn the deficit and full speed ahead on the stimulus,’”said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. The Illinois senator has pledged to offset some expenditures by raising income taxes on families making more than $250,000. Obama supported a $50 billion stimulus during the campaign that included funds for infrastructure spending and grants to state and local governments to prevent cuts to health, education and other services.
Permanent tax cuts?Hoffman said the stimulus will likely include an extension for unemployment benefits and potentially even permanent tax cuts for middle and lower-income families. The economy, which many analysts believe is already in a recession, was foremost on most voters’ minds Tuesday. Six in 10 voters said it was the most important issue. The country’s gross domestic product — a measure of the overall economy — shrank by 0.3 percent in the July-September quarter, the government said last week. More bad economic news is likely this week. Wall Street economists expect the Labor Department to report Friday that companies cut 200,000 jobs in October, as the financial meltdown worsened, sending the unemployment rate to 6.3 percent. Unemployment stood at 4.9 percent at the beginning of this year. The stock markets, after rallying on Election Day, fell in early trading Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 140 points, or 1.5 percent, to 9,485, while the broader S&P 500 fell more than 1 percent. Obama is expected to move quickly to put his stamp on the huge $700 billion financial bailout Congress approved last month, analysts said. Anil Kashyap, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, said Tuesday that naming the next Treasury Secretary and his top deputies should be the new president’s economic priority.