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25.03.2009 US & Canada

Obama pledges economic recovery

Obama pledges economic recovery

Barack Obama has told Americans he sees signs of economic recovery, but urged them to be patient and look beyond their "short-term interests".

The US president said his draft budget would build a stronger economy which would mean America did not face a repeat crisis in 10 or 20 years.

"We will recover from this recession," he told a prime-time news conference in Washington DC.

His $3.6tn (£2.5tn) budget faces its first tests in Congress this week.

Mr Obama said his economic strategy, and his new budget which was now being prepared, was based on creating new jobs, rejuvenating the housing market, and creating new liquidity and lending by the banks.

He stressed that immediate action was necessary, and urged both Congress and Americans in general to support his plan.

Opposition to the package, which features increased health care coverage, higher education spending and a new "cap-and-trade" system on greenhouse gas emissions, is coming from his own Democratic Party as well as the Republican opposition.

In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session that touched on the environment, the drugs trade and stem-cell research, Mr Obama said he expected "steady progress" in resolving disputes with Iran.

He said the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was unsustainable, adding that it was critical for the US to advance a two-state solution.

'Signs of progress'
In an eight-minute address at the start of the hour-long session, Mr Obama said his administration had "put in place a comprehensive strategy designed to attack this crisis on all fronts".

"And we are beginning to see signs of progress," he said.

"The budget I submitted to Congress will build our economic recovery on a stronger foundation, so that we do not face another crisis like this 10 or 20 years from now."

"We have made the tough choices necessary to cut our deficit in half by the end of my first term - even under the most pessimistic estimates," he argued.

Mr Obama urged US citizens to be patient.
"It will take time, it will take patience, and it will take an understanding that when we all work together, when each of us looks beyond our own short-term interests to the wider set of obligations we have to each other, that's when we succeed," he said.

Asked about the flow of illegal drugs into the US, Mr Obama said his administration would go beyond the $700m plan announced on Tuesday to support Mexico in its fight against the powerful drugs cartels.

He also praised his Mexican counterpart, Felipe Calderon, for his efforts against the cartels.

Budget fight
The stage is set at Congress for a tough fight over the budget with Mr Obama, who has been in office for barely two months, correspondents say.

On Wednesday, he is due to meet Senate Democrats in a bid to rally support for an increased deficit, reckoned to be $1.4tn for next year.

The House budget committee will begin writing its version of the budget plan the same day, and on Thursday the Senate budget committee will begin crafting its budget plan for 2010 and the four subsequent years.

Republicans complain that the draft budget expands government and raises taxes on the rich and some small businesses.

"There is little or no Republican support for this budget," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told Reuters news agency.

A Congressional budget office analysis released last Friday estimates that President Obama's budget would generate deficits totalling $9.3tn over the next decade.

"If these plans are carried out, we run the risk of looking like a Third World country," Mr McConnell was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

Kent Conrad, the Democratic chairman of the Senate budget committee, is preparing to slash Mr Obama's 11% increase for non-defence appropriations to perhaps 6%.

"We cannot have debt pile on top of debt," he said.

"In the short term, yes, we have got to have added deficits and debt to give lift to this economy, but longer term, we have got to pivot."

Mr Obama is also preparing for a European trip next week that includes the London G20 summit on the global economic crisis.