WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama warned Thursday that the nation is sliding into the deepest economic crisis since World War II and urged Congress to pass a stimulus package quickly or risk an entire generation of Americans losing any hope of prosperity.
In his first major speech since Election Day, Obama participated in an early version of a presidential ritual: preparing the country for an eventual economic recovery by painting an especially grim picture of the nation’s fiscal standing at the start.
“For every day we wait or point fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs. More families will lose their savings. More dreams will be deferred and denied,” he told an audience at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.”
For Obama, the address was the laying down of a political marker, said Andrew Biggs, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
“He wants to make clear that coming into his administration that the problems he faces are problems that he inherited,” Biggs said.
It would be difficult to sugarcoat the current economic dangers on the horizon, and Obama made no attempt to do so, citing a 28-year low in manufacturing, an unemployment rate that could reach double digits and 2 million lost jobs.
“We start 2009 in the midst of a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime – a crisis that has only deepened over the last few weeks,” he said.
The president-elect offered some hopeful words for a nation already growing weary from months of bad economic news. “The very fact that this crisis is largely of our own making means that it is not beyond our ability to solve,” he said. “Our problems are rooted in past mistakes, not our capacity for future greatness.”