ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - President Barack Obama, pressuring lawmakers to urgently approvea massive economic recovery bill, criticized Republicans who havebalked at the legislation Monday night and said, "I can't afford tosee Congress play the usual political games."
Obama used the first prime-time news conference of hispresidency to warn that a failure to act swiftly and boldly "couldturn a crisis into a catastrophe."
With the nation falling deeper into a long and painfulrecession, Obama defended his program against Republican criticismthat it is loaded with pork-barrel spending and will not createjobs.
"The plan is not perfect," the president said. "No plan is. Ican't tell you for sure that everything in this plan will workexactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidencethat a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as thepain felt by millions of Americans."
Obama addressed the nation from the East Room of the White Housein a news conference that lasted almost exactly one hour. He hitrepeatedly at the themes he has emphasized in recent weeks,including at a town hall meeting to promote his plan earlier in theday in Elkhart, Ind.
When the stimulus bill passed the House last month, not a singleRepublican voted for it. On Monday an $838 billion version of thelegislation cleared a crucial test vote in the Senate by a 61-36margin, with all but three Republican senators opposing it.
Obama said he had made a deliberate effort to reach out to theGOP, putting three Republicans into his Cabinet, and "as I continueto make these overtures, over time, hopefully that will bereciprocated."
"So my bottom line when it comes to the recovery package is:send me a bill that creates or saves 4 million jobs."
Obama acknowledged the difficulty of mending political divisionsbetween Republicans and Democrats.
"Old habits are hard to break," he said. "We're coming off anelection, and people sort of want to test the limits of what theycan get. There's a lot of jockeying in this town and who's up andwho's down, testing for the next election."
Obama said the federal government was the only power that couldsave the nation at a time of crisis, with huge spending outlays andtax cuts.
"At this particular moment, with the private sector so weakenedby this recession, the federal government is the only entity leftwith the resources to jolt our economy back to life," he said.
Rejecting criticism that the emphasis on federal action was toogreat, he said that 90 percent of the jobs created by the planwould be in the private sector, rebuilding crumbling roads, bridgesand other aging infrastructure.
"The plan that ultimately emerges from Congress must be bigenough and bold enough to meet the size of the economic challengewe face right now," Obama said.
Again and again, he stressed that the economy is in direstraits.
"This is not your ordinary, run of the mill recession," he said.Obama said the United States aims to avoid the kind of economicpain that Japan endured in the 1990s -- the "lost decade" when thatnation showed no economic growth.
"My bottom line is to make sure that we are saving or creating 4million jobs," he said, and that homeowners facing foreclosurereceive some relief.
While Obama focused on the economy in the opening minutes of thenews conference, he also faced questions on foreign policy. He wasasked how his administration would deal with Iran, a nation accusedby the United States of supporting terrorism and pursuing nuclearweapons.
The president said his administration was reviewing its policytoward Iran "looking at places where we can have constructivedialogue." He also said it was time for Iran to change itsbehavior.
"My expectation is in the coming months we will be looking foropenings that can be created where we can start sitting across thetable face to face," Obama said.
He said that Iran must understand that funding terroristorganizations and pursuing nuclear weapons are unacceptable.
Obama tried to brace the U.S. for tougher sacrifices ahead inAfghanistan, where he said the national government is limited andterrorists still find places to hide and hinder coalitionefforts.
An estimated 33,000 U.S. troops currently are in Afghanistan,and the Pentagon is expected to almost double that presence. Sojust as Obama is planning to pull troops out of Iraq, he is sendingmore into Afghanistan.
"I do not have a timetable for how long that's going to take,"he said. "What I know is I'm not going to allow al-Qaida and(Osama) bin Laden to operate with impunity, planning attacks."
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