President Obama said Monday that "only government" can shake the country out of recession, as he tried to settle doubts about his administration's costly economic recovery package during a prime-time press conference.
Obama painted a bleak picture of the state of the economy as he described scenes "across America" in which job-seekers are standing in long lines for scarce opportunities at employment.
He pointed to such scenes as proof the country is in a "full-blown crisis" and needs a drastic government response. The president warned that a failure to act could "turn a crisis into a catastrophe," and urged lawmakers to get a bill to his desk without delay.
"It is absolutely true that we can't depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth," he said. "But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs."
Obama spoke just hours after Senate Democrats cleared a key procedural hurdle for their $838 billion version of the recovery package.
The measure is expected to win the necessary 60 votes when it comes up for final passage Tuesday, but Obama is still trying to assure taxpayers that such a massive package is necessary to steer the nation out of recession.
"This is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill recession," Obama said, calling the current crisis "the winter of our hardship."
He said Monday night that the plan would, through tax cuts, put money in the pockets of those who are most likely to spend it and save or create up to 4 million jobs, mostly in the private sector.
Despite the president's initial hopes for a bipartisan bill, Republicans on Capitol Hill almost unanimously oppose the spending and tax cut package.
Obama attributed such stalwart opposition to "bad habits" in Washington and said lawmakers should not play "political games" with the plan. He conceded the stimulus bill is not "perfect," but said doing nothing is "not an option."
The president's press conference, in which he spoke for nearly an hour, is part of his campaign-style approach to building public support for the stimulus.
Earlier in the day, he spoke at a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., where the unemployment rate soared to 15.3 percent in December, more than triple the rate since December 2007.
And on Tuesday, Obama plans to visit Fort Myers, Fla., an area hit hard by home foreclosures.
There he will be introduced by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, one of the handful of Republican governors the Obama administration has turned to in seeking bipartisan support for the package.
The town hall event Monday was a throwback to the presidential campaign, as Obama fielded questions from the audience in what was once a hotly contested battleground state.
But the stimulus debate has presented a new battle for Obama. He's trying to dampen criticism of the bill, which some still complain is loaded with special-interest projects and is too costly.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that the bill could have been just as effective at half the cost. A new budget office report put the bill's price tag at $838 billion, up from $827 billion earlier in the day.
Every Republican in the House opposed the first version of the measure two weeks ago, and just three Republican senators voted with Democrats to cut off debate and advance the bill Monday.
The measure as it stands is a blend of spending, tax cuts and incentives that the administration and Democrats in Congress hope will jolt the economy out of recession and create millions of jobs.
If the bill clears the Senate, the Obama administration will next have to oversee what could be a tense negotiation between House and Senate leaders as they try to reconcile the differences between their two bills. The House version is $819 billion.
The Obama administration pointed to a new Gallup poll Monday in arguing that the public is still on their side.
The poll found Obama had a 67 percent approval rating for the way he was handling the stimulus.
But the same was not true for those in Congress. Democrats had a 48 percent approval rating and Republicans had just a 31 percent approval rating for the way they were handling the process.