WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama called for a major new burst of federal spending Tuesday, perhaps $150 billion or more, aiming to jolt the wobbly economy into a stronger recovery and reduce painfully persistent double-digit unemployment.
Despite Republican criticism concerning record federal deficits, Obama said the U.S. has had to "spend our way out of this recession," but insisted he was still mindful of a need to confront soaring deficits.
More than 7 million Americans have lost their jobs since the recession began two years ago, and the jobless rate stands at 10 percent, statistics Obama called "staggering."
Congressional approval would be required for any new spending.
"We avoided the depression many feared," Obama said in a speech at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. But he added, "Our work is far from done."
Obama proposed new spending for highway and bridge construction, for small-business tax cuts and for retrofitting millions of homes to make them more energy efficient.
He also said he wanted to extend economic stimulus programs to keep unemployment insurance from expiring for millions of out-of-work Americans and to help laid-off workers keep their health insurance.
He proposed an additional $250 apiece in stimulus spending for seniors and veterans, and aid to state and local governments to discourage them from laying off teachers, police officers and firefighters.
A major part of his package includes new incentives for small businesses, which account for two-thirds of the nation's work force. He proposed a new tax cut for small businesses that hire in 2010 and an elimination for one year of the capital gains tax on profits from small- business investments.
Obama also proposed an elimination of fees on loans to small businesses, coupled with federal guarantees of those loans through the end of next year.
His proposal for new tax breaks for energy-efficient retrofits in homes is modeled on the now-expired Cash for Clunkers rebates for trading in used vehicles for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Some administration officials have dubbed the proposed new program "Cash for Caulkers."
He did not give a price tag for the new package but said he would work with Congress on deciding how to pay for it.
On Capitol Hill, estimates of a potential jobs bill range from $75 billion to $150 billion, said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House.
Republicans ridiculed the president's speech and his parallel call for doing more to hold down government deficits.
"At least the president's proposal will result in one new job -- he'll need to hire a magician to make this new deficit spending appear fiscally responsible," said Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.
House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio declared the president "out of ideas and out of touch."
To find money to pay for the new programs, the administration is pointing to the Treasury Department's report on Monday that it expects to get back $200 billion in taxpayer-approved bank bailout funds faster than expected.
Obama suggested that this windfall and unused Troubled Asset Relief Program funds would help the government spend money on job creation at the same time that it eats into the nation's debt, which now totals $12 trillion.
David Walker, president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a group that promotes fiscal responsibility, said that just because the government hasn't had to spend all the TARP money on banks "doesn't mean we should automatically spend it on something else."
Walker, former head of the Government Accountability Office, said clearly defined objectives or conditions were missing from the $700 billion bank bailout law and the $787 billion stimulus package.
"You can't change history, but you need to learn from past mistakes to make sure that you don't repeat them," he said.