WASHINGTON - President Obama yesterday called for a major new burst of federal spending, aiming to jolt the wobbly economy into a stronger recovery and reduce double-digit unemployment.
Despite Republican criticism concerning record federal deficits, Obama said the United States must continue to "spend our way out of this recession" as long as so many people are out of work. He did not provide a price tag for his proposals.
More than seven million Americans have lost their jobs since the recession began two years ago, and the jobless rate stands at 10 percent, a statistic Obama called "staggering." Including the number already without jobs before the recession, the total number of unemployed stands at 15.4 million.
Congressional approval would be required for the new spending, which is sure to be at least tens of billions of dollars.
"We avoided the depression many feared," Obama said in a speech at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. But, he added, "Our work is far from done."
It was the third time in a week that the president had presided over a high-profile event on jobs, responding to rising pleas in Congress that he spend more time discussing unemployment as the 2010 midterm election season draws near.
Obama proposed new spending for highway and bridge construction, for small-business tax cuts, and for retrofitting millions of homes to make them more energy-efficient.
He also said he wanted to extend economic-stimulus programs to keep unemployment insurance from expiring for millions of out-of-work Americans and to help laid-off workers keep their health insurance.
The president also called for an additional $250 apiece in stimulus spending for seniors and veterans and aid to state and local governments to discourage them from laying off teachers, police officers, and firefighters. Social Security recipients each received $250 in May as part of the $787 billion stimulus package.
Obama said he would work with Congress on deciding how to pay for the package.
Proposals in Congress being advanced by Democratic leaders that cover much the same ground would add up to $170 billion or more. Administration aides suggested that the president's highway and bridge infrastructure proposals alone could cost about $50 billion.
Republicans ridiculed the president's speech and his parallel call for doing more to hold down government deficits.
"At least the president's proposal will result in one new job - he'll need to hire a magician to make this new deficit spending appear fiscally responsible," said Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. He is the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. House GOP leader John A. Boehner of Ohio declared the president "out of ideas and out of touch."
Obama said government action could set the stage for more job creation by private business. Many of his proposals would extend or expand programs included in the stimulus package passed last winter.
While acknowledging increasing concerns in Congress and among the public over the nation's growing debt, Obama said critics presented a "false choice" between paying down deficits and investing in job creation and economic growth.
In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the federal budget deficit was $1.42 trillion.
To find money to pay for the new programs, the administration is pointing to the Treasury Department's report on Monday that it expects to get back $200 billion in taxpayer-approved bank bailout funds faster than expected. The bailout money came from a separate, $700 billion federal program passed in October 2008.
Obama suggested that this windfall would help the government spend money on job-creation at the same time it eats into the nation's accumulated debt, which totals $12 trillion.
Republicans cried foul, claiming that the leftover and repaid TARP money must be used exclusively for deficit reduction or additional bank bailouts, as the law setting it up spells out, and not for what amounts to an expensive new stimulus program to create jobs.