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 Friday and tried to pare down below its $900-billion-plus price tag. Obama acknowledged it was not perfect and pledged to work with lawmakers to refine the measure, which he called "absolutely necessary."
"But broadly speaking, the package is the right size, it is the right scope, and it has the right priorities to create 3 to 4 million jobs, and to do it in a way that lays the groundwork for long-term growth," Obama said at a ceremony in the White House East Room.
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, propelling the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent. The rate is the highest since September 1992.
"These numbers demand action. It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay or politics as usual while millions of Americans are being put out of work," Obama said bluntly. "Now is the time for Congress to act."
Borrowing themes from an address the night before to fellow Democrats on retreat in Williamsburg, Va., Obama reminded lawmakers that voters gave them the White House and control of Congress.
"They did not choose more of the same in November," Obama said Friday. "They did not send us to Washington to get stuck in partisan posturing, to try to score political points. They did not send us here to turn back to the same tried and failed approaches that were rejected because we saw the results. They sent us here to make change with 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 also was a sign that the administration was increasingly worried about losing their first major legislative priority so soon after taking office.
He warned inaction would only deepen the problems.
"These Americans are counting on us, all of us in Washington. We have to remember that we're here to work for them. 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 said grimly.
He reminded his audience that some 3.6 million Americans had lost their jobs as the economy has gone into a free fall.
"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.
Obama had already tapped Paul Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman and a top Obama adviser, as the leader of the newly created Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
Volcker said he expects Congress to share the president's "sense of urgency" that something must to be done to remedy a skidding economy.
Other members of Obama's panel 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 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.