GWEN IFILL: President Obama offered a spirited defense of his economic policies today. He said the initiatives have stopped our economic freefall. And Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke offered a hopeful view about an end to the recession.
Judy Woodruff has our lead story report.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is good to be back in Ohio.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The spirit surfaced first this morning at a General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, where the president urged on cheering auto workers.
BARACK OBAMA: As long as you've still got an ounce of fight left in you, I've got a ton of fight left in me. I've said it before: I'm skinny, but I'm tough.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Obama touted the success of Cash for Clunkers, as new numbers showed it helped boost retail sales nearly 3 percent in August. And he defended the deep government intervention in the auto sector.
BARACK OBAMA: Because of the steps we've taken, this plant is about to shift into high gear. A hundred and fifty of your co-workers came back to work yesterday. More than a thousand will be coming back to work in less than three weeks, as production of the Cobalt ramps up.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, the president jetted to Pittsburgh and the annual meeting of the AFL-CIO. Resurrecting that familiar call from his campaign, he argued the economy has been stabilized, and he insisted it's unacceptable to return to business as usual.
BARACK OBAMA: We're not turning back. We're moving forward. That's why we need to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Obama said a major building block of that foundation is reforming health care, in order to limit premiums from going even higher.
BARACK OBAMA: When are we going to stop it? When are we going to say enough is enough? How many more workers have to lose their coverage? How many more families have to go into the red for a sick loved one? How much longer are we going to have to wait? It can't wait.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But back in Washington, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the president's plan still costs too much and won't do anything to fix health care.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader: The vast majority of Americans believe that, when all is said and done, they're going to end up paying more and getting less. That, I think, is among the reasons -- those are among the reasons that the public is having a really difficult time believing that the health care proposal that the president outlined the other night and that the majority is trying to produce here in the Senate will improve American health care.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The president's push today came as the chairman of the Federal Reserve offered his most upbeat appraisal yet. Ben Bernanke said it appears the downturn has ended.
At the Brookings Institution in Washington, Bernanke said there are signs now of a fragile recovery, but he cautioned that unemployment, now at a 30-year high, will not improve quickly.
BEN BERNANKE, chairman, Federal Reserve: It will come down, but it may take some time. Obviously, that's a very serious concern, and that's one reason why even though, from a technical perspective, the recession is very likely over at this point, it's still going to feel like a very weak economy for some time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Bernanke said the economy is still dealing with ongoing headwinds such as hard-to-secure credit and low overall consumer spending.
GWEN IFILL: Did any good come out of the last year's financial turmoil? Read what three economists think on our Web site, newshour.pbs.org.