Washington — President-elect Barack Obama implored Congress on Thursday to “act boldly and act now” to fix an economy growing perilously weaker. Democratic and Republican lawmakers complained about his tax policies, letting Obama know they intend to place their own stamp on the economic recovery effort.
Leading lawmakers set an informal goal of mid-February for enacting tax cuts and government spending that could cost as much as $1 trillion.
A call for a $3,000 tax break for job creation drew particular criticism in a private meeting, and numerous lawmakers said Obama had not ticketed enough of his tax proposal for energy projects. The second-guessing game from the left and the right: While some Democrats said the incoming administration’s proposed tax cuts were too small, Republicans warned against excessive new spending.
But there was little or no dispute about the need for action, and Obama’s remarks coincided with a pair of government reports showing fresh weakness in an economy already in crisis. An updated reading on unemployment was expected to bring even more bad news today.
“If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years,” with unemployment reaching double digits, Obama said in a speech at George Mason University in suburban Virginia. “A bad situation could become dramatically worse.”
Less than two weeks from taking office as the 44th president, Obama has become increasingly vocal in recent days about the need for steps to revitalize the economy, even though he has continued to defer to President George W. Bush on matters of foreign policy.
Obama’s aides and congressional Democrats have worked for weeks on legislation to create jobs, help the unemployed, cut taxes and aid cash-strapped states. Obama sent his chief political strategist, David Axelrod, and incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, as well as other aides to the Capitol for a series of meetings with lawmakers.
The measure probably will include a bewildering array of provisions — from subsidies to help the newly unemployed afford their health care to a massive new effort to improve the energy efficiency of federal buildings.
Obama said this week he hoped to be able to sign legislation by early to mid-February. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promised lawmakers she would cancel next month’s planned Presidents’ Day vacation if necessary.
“We are not going home without an economic recovery package,” she said at a news conference. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, at a difference appearance, agreed that allowed enough time to get the job done.
“But we ... don’t want to make big mistakes that exacerbate the — the problem we already have, which is a dramatic, eye-popping deficit,” he added.