President-elect Barack Obama is urging Congress to act quickly on his economic recovery program, warning that inaction by Washington could extend the current recession for years.
President-elects traditionally focus on their transition period and naming cabinet members.
But Mr. Obama took the unusual step of delivering what his aides described as a major policy speech in Virginia, urging quick congressional action on an economic stimulus plan that is still being put together.
"Now I do not believe that it is too late to change course, but it will be if we do not take dramatic action as soon as possible. If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years," he said.
The Obama stimulus plan could cost as much as $800 billion. The incoming administration hopes to free up credit for consumers, create three million jobs and boost spending on infrastructure projects around the country.
Mr. Obama said it was important to have what he called an open and honest discussion about his evolving recovery plan in the days ahead. But he warned Congress against lengthy delays in taking up his proposals once he becomes president on January 20.
"For every day we wait or point our fingers or drag our feet, more Americans will lose their jobs. More families will lose their savings," he added. "More dreams will be deferred and denied. And our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse."
Republican congressional leaders have complimented the president-elect on his efforts to reach out to them as the incoming administration and lawmakers shape the recovery plan.
But the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, Congressman John Boehner of Ohio, said members of his party remain concerned about the size of the Obama stimulus plan and its impact on the federal budget deficit.
"I do believe that our economy is facing a crisis, and I do believe that American families and small businesses are under an awful lot of stress and anxiety. And I do believe that Washington has to act," he said. "But we have to act in a responsible way. We have got to address the economic crisis, but we also have to address just how much debt we are going to build up."
Mr. Obama acknowledged some of the concerns in his speech. But he also added that he and the new Congress have little alternative but to take dramatic steps to turn the economy around.
"It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth. But at this particular moment, only government can provide the short term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe," he said.
Democratic congressional leaders had hoped to pass Mr. Obama's economic recovery plan before he took office so that it would be ready for his signature right after his inauguration on January 20. But some leaders are now suggesting that congress may not finish with the plan until mid-February at the earliest.