President Barack Obama has fired a biting campaign-style attack on Republicans and the former Bush administration, seeking to drive his 900 billion dollar stimulus plan through Congress.
As a debate in the Senate raced to a tense climax, the president rejected Republican complaints the package was too large and lacks sufficient tax cuts, seeking to turn his election win last November into political dominance.
He took his debut flight as president on Air Force One to a retreat of Democratic House of Representatives members in Virginia, and delivered the most combative and partisan speech since taking office last month.
In searing attacks on Republicans, Obama said Americans had not voted for "false theories of the past and they didn't vote for phony arguments and petty politics."
"They didn't vote for the status quo, they sent us here to bring change. We owe it to them to deliver," a fired up Obama said at a resort in Williamsburg, Virginia.
"This is the moment for leadership that matches the great test of our times."
The president also rejected Republican arguments that the massive stimulus plan should be defeated because it will expand the budget deficit, which is already heading for more than one trillion dollars.
"I found this deficit when I showed up," Obama said, in a clear swipe at the administration of former president George W. Bush.
"I found this a national debt double wrapped in a big bow waiting for me as I stepped into the Oval Office," he said.
Obama also Thursday set a date for a primetime news conference on Monday night, the first of his presidency.
Earlier the president told lawmakers the "time for talk is over," with dismal unemployment figures released on Thursday and more expected Friday, reflecting the depth of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.
"These numbers that we are seeing are sending an unmistakable message, and so are the American people," Obama said, as senators haggled over the details of the bill, which combines tax cuts and infrastructure spending, in an increasingly ill-tempered debate.
"The time for talk is over, the time for action is now because we know that if we do not act, a bad situation will become dramatically worse," Obama said.
Once the Senate has voted, both chambers of Congress will have to agree and vote on a joint package, before sending it to the president's desk to be signed into law.
The bill passed the House last week -- but without a single Republican vote, scuppering Obama's plan for a bipartisan bill after the opposition party complained it was shut out of the process.
New government figures Thursday showed US jobless claims soared to their highest level since October 1982, with more US workers on the unemployment rolls than at any time since the data were first published in 1967.
Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, a key ally of the president, blamed Republicans for the acrimony fomenting around the plan on Capitol Hill, but said he was not worried early setbacks would taint his friend's young presidency.
"Nobody said it would be easy," he told reporters.
"As the president said, old habits are hard to break, and if we're going change the environment, the climate and the attitude in this town, we're going to have to be patient and go through some rocky periods."