President Obama took the bully pulpit tonight before a divided Congressand disillusioned electorate, laying out a $447 billion legislative package meant to spur job creation and put more money in the pockets of consumers, and do it quickly.
In what has become a familiar refrain, Obama exhorted lawmakers to “stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.” And he said his plan — the American Jobs Act — is ready for a vote and could be passed right away.
“There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation,” Obama said. “Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans, including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything.”
The president’s plan, aimed at answering his critics’ recent calls for boldness, follows the same contours of the $825 billion economic stimulus package he signed into law three years ago.
This new, second stimulus of sorts features a mix of tax cuts for businesses and workers, billions in new infrastructure spending and aid to states, and an infusion of aid for the long-term unemployed.
“It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services,” he said.
The speech, Obama’s fifth before a joint session of Congress, comes at a politically crucial point for a president who has faced a steep erosion of support amid persistently high unemployment and sluggish economic growth.
An ABC News-Washington Post poll released earlier this week found that 43 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing as president, with 53 percent disapproving.
Meanwhile, 62 percent of Americans say they disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, including 47 percent who do so “strongly.”
“I think he’s a very sincere person, but I don’t see him as being very much of a fighter,” said Jim Bonner, 32, anunemployed worker from Pittsburgh.
“President Clinton had that ability to fight, but this man [Obama] is a lot more laid back, he’s a lot more accommodating. When you have millions of people out of work, you can’t be accommodating,” he said. “You have to be the warrior.”
Speaking for a little more than 30 minutes, Obama used tough and impassioned rhetoric, calling on lawmakers 16 separate times to “pass this bill.” And he called out Republicans specifically to consider aspects of the plan he believes are hard to refuse.
“Every proposal I’ve laid out tonight is the kind that’s been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of skepticism about whether the politics of the moment will allow us to pass this jobs plan – or any jobs plan, but know this: The next election is 14 months away and the people who sent us here — the people who hired us to work for them — they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months.
“They need help, and they need it now,” Obama said, drawing resounding applause.
Obama used tough and impassioned rhetoric to challenge his Republican colleagues to accept the deal he has put on the table, one he said includes many ideas that have a history of bipartisan support and would be difficult to refuse.
The fine print of the Obama plan relies heavily on tax cuts and credits to stimulate economic growth. The president proposes halving the payroll taxes paid by employers, and implementing a complete employer payroll tax holiday for new workers or higher wages.
He wants to provide tax credits of up to $5,600 for businesses that hire unemployed veterans, $4,000 for hiring workers unemployed for more than six months, and up to $9,600 for companies that hire unemployed workers with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for work for more than six months.
The administration also wants to extend the current payroll tax cut for workers, which it estimates will leave $1,500 more in the pocket of the average working family earning $50,000 a year.
Obama’s plan calls for more than $140 billion in direct aid to states meant to keep teachers and first responders on the job, modernize public schools, build roads, railways and airport facilities and put construction workers on the job rehabilitating hundreds of vacant and foreclosed homes and businesses.
The president would allocate more than $50 billion for the extension of unemployment insurance benefits and the creation of new training programs for workers akin to a popular and successful initiative underway in Georgia called “Georgia Works.”
The total $447 billion price tag would be “fully paid for” if enacted in its entirety, the White House says. But the burden for covering the cost largely falls on the new congressional super committee already tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction before the end of the year.
Obama tonight he would release a blueprint for reaching roughly $2 trillion in cuts by Sept. 19, and urged the committee to include closure of corporate tax loopholes and higher taxes on wealthier Americans as part of that effort.
But both proposals have faced fierce resistance from Republicans, as seen in the debt-ceiling debate earlier this summer.
“This isn’t political grandstanding. This isn’t class warfare. This is simple math,” Obama said of the need to raise revenue. “These are real choices that we have to make. And I’m pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose.”