Clinton Jokes About Putin at Davos

By Bradley S. Klapper / AP

DAVOS, Switzerland — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton must have thought he'd heard it all.

But in a new era of billion-dollar bailouts, state control of the economy and bank nationalization, he discovered an unexpected champion of liberal markets: Vladimir Putin.

"This is the first I've heard of Prime Minister Putin coming out for free enterprise," Clinton told an audience at the World Economic Forum on Thursday, a day after the Russian leader warned that too much government involvement in the economy could be "dangerous" and cautioned against "blind faith in the state's omnipotence."

Putin has often been criticized for exerting state control over Russia's key industries such as oil and gas.

Clinton joked: "I hope it works for him."

After chuckles from the crowd, the philanthropist and husband of new U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took a more serious tone and described the challenges of a world he said was "in so much trouble."

He praised President Barack Obama's efforts to push through an $819 billion stimulus package that passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday, and said Republicans should get on board.

Referring to the difficult start of his own presidency in 1993, Clinton recalled how Republicans challenged his fiscal strategy at every turn but predicted that this time, some in the minority party of Congress would support Obama.

"Some of them will have to come along," he said. "If they don't they will have to pay a big price. Some of them are just standing in the way."

Clinton predicted that the United States could in "a year, 15 months if we're lucky," emerge from the current crisis. But he added that such a recovery depends on "good support from Congress" for the plans being drawn up by Obama and his economic team.

Clinton said the U.S. needed to assume global responsibility for the crisis, and for spurring international recovery, as called for Wednesday at the forum by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

"The Chinese premier was right: It all started in the United States," Clinton said. "America has to lead the way."