9 Jan 2009

Obama calls for drastic action over economy

7:16 am on 9 January 2009

United States President-elect Barack Obama has called for "drastic action" to prevent the US economic situation getting worse.

In his first major policy speech since being elected, Mr Obama on Thursday urged Congress to act quickly to pass his $US800 billion stimulus plan.

"I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible," he said. "If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years."

"This is a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime," he said in a speech in Virginia.

"A world that depends on the strength of our economy is now watching and waiting for America to lead once more, and that is what we will do."

Mr Obama said that, with US interest rates near zero, and economic activity and lending still shrinking, it was up to the government to act.

"Only the government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe," he said.

"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."

"I urge Congress to move as quickly as possible on behalf of the American people."

Tax cuts for working families

Mr Obama, who takes office on 20 January, has spent his first week in Washington focusing on his plan to revive the struggling US economy, which is entering its worst recession since the 1930s.

His stark warning comes as US job losses for 2008 are expected to reach 2.5 million when the December figure is released on Friday.

Mr Obama said his plan would create three million jobs by 2011. He would offer working families a $US1,000 tax cut and improve energy efficiency in millions of American homes in order to create jobs and stimulate the economy.

"To get people spending again, 95 percent of working families will receive a $1,000 tax cut - the first stage of a middle-class tax cut that I promised during the campaign and will include in our next budget," he said in a speech outside Washington.

Mr Obama said his economic recovery plan would extend jobless aid and healthcare coverage for the unemployed and include proposals to double production of alternative energy in the next three years and improve energy efficiency for millions of homes.

His task has been made more difficult by the projections by the Congressional Budget Office, released on Wednesday, that the budget deficit will reach $1.2 trillion this year - before any extra stimulus plan.

The size of the package means that his hopes of Congress passing the plan by the time he takes office have faded, with mid-February now seen as the earliest date that Congress could take action.