WASHINGTON - Democrats are growing impatient with President-elect Barack Obama's refusal to inject himself in the major economic crises confronting the country.

Obama has sidestepped some policy questions by saying that there is only one president at a time. But the dodge is wearing thin.

"He's going to have to be more assertive than he's been," House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., told consumer advocates yesterday.

Frank, who has been dealing with both the bailout of the financial industry and a proposed rescue of Detroit automakers, said Obama needs to play a more significant role on economic issues.

"At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time," Frank said. "I'm afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He's got to remedy that situation."

Obama has maintained one of the most public images of any president-elect. He has held half a dozen news conferences, at which he has entertained question after question about the economy, the mortgage crisis, and the flailing auto industry. He called for passage of extended unemployment benefits - which has passed - and even a stimulus package if possible before Jan. 20. But he has stayed away from trying to dictate remedies for the toughest problems Congress is confronting: the auto industry's troubles and how to spend the $700 billion earmarked for the bailout.

Frank's remarks came as the Bush administration considers whether it needs the second half of the $700 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program aimed at helping the financial sector before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

Earlier this week, Obama was asked whether he was worried that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson might begin spending the next installment of the money before he assumes the presidency. Obama demurred.

"Until Secretary Paulson indicates publicly that he's drawing down the second tranche, the second half of the TARP money, it would be speculation on my part to suggest that that money's going to be used up," he told reporters at a Chicago news conference Wednesday.

Obama did stress that a significant component of the fund should be used to reduce the number of foreclosures. But he did not specify a particular remedy.

He also declined to take a stand in a debate over the source of money for an auto-loan package. *