WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama decried as “inexcusable and irresponsible” the delay of his economic recovery legislation in Congress with an estimated 3.6 million Americans losing their jobs since the recession began.
Obama’s remarks were some of his most direct and pointed in support of the massive economic package that the Senate considered today and tried to pare down. Obama acknowledged the $900-billion-plus plan was not perfect and pledged to work with lawmakers to refine the measure, which he called “absolutely necessary.”
“But broadly speaking, it is the right size,” Obama said in prepared remarks. “It is the right scope. … It will take months — even years — to renew our economy. But every day that Washington fails to act, that recovery is delayed.”
The president named an outside economic team of advisers as the nation dealt with more bad news in the unemployment report for January. Employers slashed payrolls by 598,000, the most since the end of 1974, catapulting the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent. The rate is the highest since September 1992.
“These numbers demand action. It is inexcusable and irresponsible to get bogged down in distraction and delay while millions of Americans are being put out of work. It is time for Congress to act,” Obama said bluntly.
“That’s 3.6 million Americans who wake up every day wondering how they are going to pay their bills, stay in their homes, and provide for their children. That’s 3.6 million Americans who need our help,” he said.
Borrowing themes from an address the night before to fellow Democrats on retreat in Williamsburg, Va., Obama reminded lawmakers that the Democratic Party won the White House and control of Congress.
“The American people did not choose more of the same,” Obama said. “They did not send us to Washington to get stuck in partisan posturing, or to turn back to the same tried and failed approaches that were rejected in the last election. They sent us here with a mandate for change, and the expectation that we would act.”
Obama’s feisty speeches, delivered back-to-back, were a reminder of the aggressive campaigner who helped his party boot Republicans from office. It was also a sign he and his advisers were increasingly worried about losing their first major legislative priority so soon after taking office.
“These Americans are counting on us,” he said. “All of us in Washington must remember that we’re here to work for the American people. And if we drag our feet and fail to act, this crisis will turn into a catastrophe. We’ll continue to get devastating job reports like today’s — month after month, year after year.”
Obama signed an executive order to create an outside panel of experts to help steer the economy out of a tailspin.
Obama had already tapped Paul Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman and a top Obama adviser, as the leader of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Members will include former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson, TIAA-CREF President-CEO Roger Ferguson and Harvard University professor Martin Feldstein, who wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece last year titled “John McCain Has a Tax Plan To Create Jobs.”
Obama friend and campaign finance chairwoman Penny Pritzker also is on the board, as is Caterpillar Inc. Chairman-CEO Jim Owens and General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt. Two labor officials — Anna Burger of Change to Win and Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO — also were named to the 15-member board designed to offer Obama advice as he seeks a way to weather the crisis and rebuild the economy.
The new council is intended to be an economic sounding board for Obama — an outside-the-Beltway group that will report to the president directly. It will meet regularly with Obama, perhaps once a month. Its mission will include responding to requests from Obama — such as delving into a particular subject — without competing with the National Economic Council or day-to-day decision-making at the White House.
The Labor Department on Thursday reported that the number of newly unemployed workers seeking jobless benefits hit the highest level since 1982.