President Barack Obama used his first prime time press conference to urge Congress to resolve its differences and pass the stimulus plan, warning that failure to act would worsen the economic crisis, which he called "not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill recession."
The appearance comes as Obama hits the road for campaign-style travel to pitch the stimulus plan directly to the American people and highlight areas across the nation that are in need of an immediate economic boost.
Tonight in the East Room of the White House, Obama said job creation would be the initial indicator that the stimulus plan is working.
"[I]f people are working, then they've got enough confidence to make purchases, to make investments," he said. "Businesses start seeing that consumers are out there with a little more confidence, and they start making investments, which means they start hiring workers."
Last week the Labor Department announced that 598,000 jobs were lost in January, the worst single-month loss since December 1974, and unemployment rose to 7.6 percent.
Obama said the other two key indicators of success will be normalizing the credit market to increase opportunities for consumers to get credit and stabilization of the housing market.
If the government gets things right, Obama said, significant improvement could be seen next year, but he warned that this will be "a difficult year" dealing with "an unprecedented crisis."
"[M]y hope is that after a difficult year -- and this year is going to be a difficult year -- that businesses start investing again, they start making decisions that, you know, in fact, there's money to be made out there, customers or consumers start feeling that their jobs are stable and safe, and they start making purchases again, and, if we get things right, then, starting next year, we can start seeing significant improvement," he said.
As he has done recently, Obama admitted the stimulus plan was not perfect but defended the bill's bipartisan support. No Republican voted for the bill when it passed the House and only three Republican senators voted for the stimulus in a vote to close debate on it late today.
"It is a plan that is already supported by businesses representing almost every industry in America; by both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO." Obama said. "It contains input, ideas, and compromises from both Democrats and Republicans."
Obama said that government alone cannot be counted on to create jobs or economic growth, but now is the time for the government to step in to prevent a catastrophe.
"[A]t this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life," Obama said.
"It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money, which leads to even more layoffs," he said. "And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that's moving through Congress is designed to do."
While the bulk of the press conference focused on the economy, Obama did address other topics, including foreign policy and the admission by New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez that he used steroids.
On Afghanistan, Obama said the United States needs more effective coordination on military, diplomatic, and development efforts with allies in order to achieve success.