President Barack Obama sees in the newest report of unemployment today - 3.6 million jobs lost since the start of the recession a little over a year ago - another signal that Congress cannot afford to wait on a stimulus.
With nearly 600,000 jobs lost last month, the toll taken by a recession that officially began in December 2007 has risen to 3.6 million, the Labor Department reports.
"Last month, another 600,000 Americans lost their jobs,'' Obama said, in announcing a new team of economic advisors headed by economist Paul Volcker. Assembling corporate leaders and universities, the president says they represent voices "beyond the Washington echo chamber.''
Noting "the single worst month of job loss in 35 years,'' Obama said, "that's 3.6 million Americans who wake up every day wondering how they are going to pay their bills, stay in their homes and provide for their children.
"That's 3.6 million Americans who need our help.''
As the Senate heads toward a possible vote on its $900-billion measure today, Obama - acknowledging that the bill under debate "is not perfect,'' while insisting that it is of "the right size... and scope'' to confront the challenge the nation faces -- suggested that senators too should find a sense of urgency in the newest numbers.
"I hope they share my sense of urgency and draw the same, unmistakable conclusion: the situation could not be more serious. These numbers demand action,'' he said. "It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down, distraction, delay and politics as usual while millions of Americans are being put out of work. It is time for Congress to act.''
While Republicans complain that the stimulus is too laden with new spending and too short on tax relief, Obama maintains that spending is precisely the stimulus needed.
The president voiced this in tougher terms Thursday night, in addressing the House's Democrats at a retreat in Virginia with pointed criticism for Republicans demanding more tax relief. But he reiterated the argument today.
"The bill before Congress isn't perfect, but it is absolutely necessary,'' Obama said. "There may be provisions in the bill that need to be left out. There may some provisions that need to be added. But broadly speaking, it is the right size. It is the right scope.''
The president has attempted to underscore the urgency of congressional action by repeating this week that an economic crisis could turn to "catastrophe'' with inaction.
"This is not some abstract debate,'' Obama said today in an East Room appearance in the White House.
"It is an urgent and growing crisis that can only be fully understood through the unseen stories that lie underneath each and every one of those lost jobs,'' he said. "Somewhere in America, a small business has shut its doors, a family has said goodbye to their home, a young parent has lost their livelihood and doesn't know what's going to take its place.
"These Americans are counting on us,'' the president said. "All of us in Washington must remember that we're here to work for the American people. And if we continue to drag our feet and fail to act, this crisis will turn into a catastrophe. We'll continue to get devastating job reports like today's - month after month, year after year.
"These aren't my assessments - these are the assessments of independent economists,'' he said. "Millions more jobs will be lost. More families will lose their homes...
"That's the result of the inaction, and it's not unacceptable to the American people,'' he said.
"They did not choose more of the same in November,'' said Obama, drawing on the capital that he believes he carries from November's election. "They did not send us to Washington to get stuck in partisan posturing, or to turn back to the same tried and failed approaches that were rejected, because we saw the results. They sent us here to make change, and the expectation that we would act.''
The president's new economic advisory board includes:
-- William H. Donaldson, Chairman, SEC (2003-2005)
-- Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., President & CEO, TIAA-CREF
-- Robert Wolf, Chairman & CEO, UBS Group Americas
--David F. Swensen, CIO, Yale University
-- Mark T. Gallogly, Founder & Managing Partner, Centerbridge Partners L.P.
-- Penny Pritzker, Chairman & Founder, Pritzker Realty Group
-- Jeffrey R. Immelt, CEO, GE
-- John Doerr, Partner, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers
-- Jim Owens, Chairman and CEO, Caterpillar Inc.
-- Monica C. Lozano, Publisher & Chief Executive Officer, La Opinion
-- Charles E. Phillips, Jr., President, Oracle Corporation
-- Anna Burger, Chair, Change to Win
-- Richard L. Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer, AFL-CIO
-- Laura D'Andrea Tyson, Dean, Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley
Þ Martin Feldstein, George F. Baker Professor of Economics, Harvard University.