Obama says rejecting plan would be 'catastrophe'


PRESIDENT Barack Obama has used his first White House press conference to urge Congress to pass a massive economic recovery plan, warning that failure to take decisive action could turn “a crisis into a catastrophe”.

The prime-time, televised news conference came hours after the economic stimulus plan passed a crucial procedural hurdle in the senate, which is expected to approve the $827 billion (€643 billion) bill today. The House of Representatives has already passed a similar measure but the two bills must be reconciled and approved by the entire congress before the president can sign the measure into law.

“After many weeks of debate and discussion, the plan that ultimately emerges from Congress must be big enough and bold enough to meet the size of the economic challenges that we face right now,” Mr Obama said.

“Despite all of this, the plan is not perfect. No plan is. I can't tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans.”

The president defended his efforts to win bipartisan support for the plan, despite the fact that it won no Republican votes in the House of Representatives and only three in the senate. He said his overtures to Republicans were not aimed simply at winning votes in the short term.

“They were designed to try to build up some trust over time. And I think that as I continue to make these overtures, over time hopefully that will be reciprocated,” he said.

Mr Obama said he was willing to compromise with critics who disagreed with some of the details of the plan, which is a mixture of tax cuts and public spending. He complained, however, that some Republicans rejected any government intervention in the marketplace, despite the fact that most economists believe a major, publicly-funded stimulus is essential.

“I'm happy to get good ideas from across the political spectrum, from Democrats and Republicans,” he said.

“What I won't do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place, because those theories have been tested and they have failed. And that's part of what the election in November was all about.”

The president said the plan would create up to four million jobs and lay the foundations for a stronger economy in years to come. He struck back at Republicans who characterised the spending programmes in the plan as wasteful.

“When I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now, and the economic crisis that we have right now,” he said.

On foreign policy, Mr Obama said his administration was currently reviewing US policy towards Iran with a view to engaging in direct diplomacy.

“My expectation is in the coming months we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face to face, diplomatic overtures that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction,” he said.