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Obama To Congress: Act On Stimulus Plan

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Since he came to Washington this week, President-elect Barack Obama has spoken every day about what he wants from Congress - a huge economic stimulus package. In a speech today, he also issued a call to the American people. Mr. Obama echoed Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy and urged Americans to restore their confidence in government and the U.S. economy. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President-elect Obama painted a frightening picture of a worsening economic crisis with more than two million jobs lost and manufacturing at its lowest level in almost three decades. He said it's not too late to stop the downward spiral, but warned soon it could be. Mr. Obama says Congress should have an open and honest debate about his economic stimulus package, but be quick about it.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs, more families will lose their savings, more dreams will be deferred and denied. And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.

HORSLEY: As part of his plan, Mr. Obama wants the federal government to spend hundreds of billions of dollars building roads and bridges, digitizing medical records and investing in clean energy. He says the goal is not only to create jobs in the short run, but to put people to work in ways that pay long-term dividends.

President-elect OBAMA: It's not just another public works program. It's a plan that recognizes both the paradox and promise of this moment - the fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work even as, all around the country, there's so much work to be done.

HORSLEY: The president-elect acknowledged new spending on such a massive scale will deepen the deficit, at a time when the government is already expected to run in the red by more than a trillion dollars this year. He said skepticism is understandable, given how much money the government's already spent on financial bailouts with little to show for it. He said given the dire economic situation, the government has no choice but to act.

President-elect OBAMA: It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth. But at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe.

HORSLEY: In addition to new government spending, Mr. Obama's stimulus proposal will include hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts, including the thousand dollar cut for working families he promised during the campaign. He's also calling for a sweeping effort to prevent home foreclosures and an overhaul of the nation's financial regulations.

His message today was aimed partly at lawmakers, but also at the American people. His tone borrowed from another new president who spoke during an even deeper economic crisis, rallying the public to look beyond their fears.

Dr. DAVID WOOLNER (Executive Director, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute; Assistant Professor, History and Political Science, Marist College): Part of what Roosevelt really felt he had to do was to restore the faith of the American people in democracy itself and in our government.

HORSLEY: David Woolner is executive director of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute in Hyde Park, New York. He says it's no accident the incoming president is echoing President Roosevelt.

Dr. WOOLNER: Part of what leadership is all about is restoring and maintaining confidence of the people in their government and in their leadership, and that's a good deal of what President-elect Obama is going to have to do.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama also hearkened back to President Kennedy today, urging Americans to ask not what's good for them, but what's good for the country their children will inherit.

President-elect OBAMA: More than any program or policy, it is this spirit that will enable us to confront these challenges with the same spirit that has led previous generations to face down war and depression and fear itself.

HORSLEY: If Americans adopt that spirit, Mr. Obama said, 2009 will be remembered as a new and hopeful beginning, hard as that may be to imagine in the midst of the worrisome present. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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