U.S. President Barack Obama took a defiant tone Thursday, challenging Congress to vote for his jobs plan or explain why not.

In response to journalists' questions, Obama also said growing protests in New York "express the frustration American people feel" with the slow recovery from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

With his jobs plan expected to come up for debate in the Senate next week, he urged every senator to think "long and hard about what's at stake."

"People really need help right now," he told a news conference at the White House.

He kept up with a sharp new tone he has adopted against Republicans, challenging them to support him or spell out what they would do instead to help a stalling economy and high unemployment as the 2012 presidential campaign heats up.

Obama declared that if Congress failed to act, "the American people will run them out of town."

The U.S. unemployment rate is 9.1 per cent. About 45 per cent of those without jobs have been out of work for at least six months.

Obama said failure to pass his $447-billion jobs bill, a package of tax cuts, public works spending and tax credits for small businesses, will mean fewer jobs and weaker growth.

Europe's debt crisis could worsen

"Our economy really needs a jolt right now," Obama said.

He said the bill could guard against another economic downturn if the situation in debt-laden Europe worsens, something that "could have a very real effect on the [U.S.] economy."

Obama has proposed limiting tax breaks, including mortgage interest deductions, to raise taxes on the rich — individuals who earn more than $200,000 US a year and families who make more than $250,000 a year — to pay for the bill.

He said he was open to accepting a plan by Senate Democrats to impose a 5.6 per cent surtax on Americans making more $1 million.

Republicans are opposed, saying people making those incomes but residing in states and cities with high costs of living are not rich, and that the increases will hurt small business owners.

"Some see this as class warfare," Obama said. "I see it as a simple choice. We can either keep taxes exactly as they are for millionaires and billionaires, with loopholes that lead them to have lower tax rates in some cases than plumbers and teachers."

"Or we can put teachers and construction workers and veterans back on the job."

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Obama said growing protests, such as this one at Philadelphia City Hall Thursday, express the frustration American people feel over the economy. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Obama faced questions inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests that have escalated in New York City and across the country, expressing anger at, among other things, that the American middle class is bearing the burden of dodgy financial practices but the wealthiest are not.

The demonstration started Sept. 17 and have grown to include hundreds of people camping out at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan.

Their anger has also been directed at Obama.

The protests, he said. "express the frustration American people feel" with the slow recovery from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and which has created ""huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street."

"And yet, you're still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place."

"So yes, I think people are frustrated. And the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works."

But Obama defended bailing out big banks.

"I used up a lot of political capital and I've got the dings and bruises to prove it, in order to make sure that we prevented a financial meltdown, and that banks stayed afloat."

"And that was the right thing to do, because had we seen a financial collapse, then the damage to the American economy would have been even worse."

With files from The Associated Press