'Act now,' Obama tells Congress

President-elect Barack Obama speaks Thursday about the economy.

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama implored Congress on Thursday to "act boldly and act now" to fix an economy growing perilously weaker. Leading lawmakers set an informal goal of mid-February for enacting tax cuts and government spending that could cost as much as $1 trillion.

Democrats complained openly about the incoming administration's proposed tax cuts, and Republicans warned against excessive new spending, both parties letting Obama know they intend to place their own stamp on the economic recovery effort.

But there was little or no dispute about the need for action. An updated reading on unemployment was expected to bring more bad news today.

"If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years," with unemployment reaching double digits, Obama said in a speech at George Mason University in suburban Virginia. "A bad situation could become dramatically worse."

Less than two weeks from taking office as the 44th president, Obama has become increasingly vocal about the need for steps to revitalize the economy, even though he has continued to defer to President George W. Bush on matters of foreign policy.

Obama's aides and congressional Democrats have worked for weeks on legislation to create jobs, help the unemployed, cut taxes and aid cash-strapped states. Obama sent his chief political strategist, David Axelrod, and incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, as well as other aides to the Capitol for a series of meetings with lawmakers.

The measure probably will include a bewildering array of provisions, from subsidies to help the newly unemployed afford their health care to a massive new effort to improve the energy efficiency of federal buildings.

Lawmakers in both parties were digging into the details, few of which have been made public, and not always liking what they saw.

Democrats emerging from a private meeting of the Senate Finance Committee had little positive to say about Obama's tax cut proposals. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., was critical of a proposed tax break for workers and their families.

"Twenty bucks a week. How much of a lift is that going to give?" he said. Nor did he sound positive about a proposed tax break for businesses to create jobs. "If I'm a business person, it's unlikely if you give me a several-thousand-dollar credit that I'm going to hire people if I can't sell the products they're producing," he said.

Republicans noted forecasts of a record $1.2 trillion deficit for the current year and said too much additional spending could be harmful. "We can't buy prosperity with more and more government spending," said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader.

In his speech, Obama said there was plenty of blame to go around for the current economic situation.

Yet he also projected an air of confidence about the future.

"We can restore opportunity and prosperity. We should never forget that our workers are still more productive than any on Earth," he said. "Our universities are still the envy of the world."