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Obama: Economic Stimulus Plan Crucial

President-elect Barack Obama seized on more gloomy economic news Tuesday to prod Congress into passing an economic stimulus plan early in the New Year.

Mr. Obama was in Chicago introducing his choice for Secretary of Education when he was asked about the U.S. economy.

New figures show a record drop in consumer prices and a record decline in the number of new housing starts last month, adding further gloom to an already dim economic picture.

Mr. Obama said the latest economic figures make it even more vital that Congress pass an economic stimulus and jobs plan once he takes office in January.

"We are running out of the traditional ammunition that is used in a recession, which is to lower interest rates," he said. "They are getting to be about as low as they can go. And although the Fed is still going to have more tools available to it, it is critical that the other branches of government step up, and that is why the economic recovery plan is so absolutely critical."

The president-elect has proposed a massive spending plan that he says would create 2.5 million jobs and would revitalize the economy.

But Mr. Obama cautioned that even if Congress quickly approves a stimulus plan early next year, turning the economy around will take some time and will require patience on the part of the American people.

"We are going through the toughest time economically since the Great Depression, and it's going to be tough and we are going to have to work through a lot of these difficulties, these structural difficulties, that built up over many decades," he said.

Mr. Obama announced that he is nominating Chicago school system chief Arne Duncan to be his Secretary of Education.

Mr. Obama said Duncan has hands-on experience with school reform and is not beholden to one political ideology as he goes about the complicated task of improving schools and student performance around the country.

Duncan said no issue is more pressing than education, which he called the civil rights issue of this generation.

"Our children have just one chance to get a quality education, and they need and deserve the absolute best," he said. "While there are no simple answers, I know from experience that when you focus on basics like reading and math, and when you embrace innovative new approaches and when you create a professional climate to attract great teachers, you can create great schools."

The current Education secretary, Margaret Spellings, has praised Duncan as a visionary leader and a great choice to run the department.

Mr. Obama has filled most of his cabinet positions and expects to announce more appointments before he goes on vacation to Hawaii over the Christmas holiday.