By Sam Youngman - 09/08/11 11:09 PM EDT
With both the economy and his reelection hopes teetering, President Obama on Thursday proposed a $447 billion jobs bill that he and his aides said will immediately put people back to work.
More than half of the new jobs package consists of tax cuts designed to encourage small-business growth and hiring. The White House said it would put about $1,500 in the pockets of an average family by cutting the employee payroll tax in half in 2012.
“The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities,” Obama said in an address to a joint session of Congress that alternated between offering the GOP tax cuts and Democrats some red meat.
Obama, energized and animated, repeatedly challenged Congress to pass the bill “right away,” bringing Democrats to their feet after weeks of hand-wringing that the president would not be forceful enough.
The president also followed through on his strategy of trying to paint Republicans as obstructionist, calling them out on taxes.
“Everyone here knows that small businesses are where most new jobs begin,” Obama said. “And you know that while corporate profits have come roaring back, smaller companies haven’t. So for everyone who speaks so passionately about making life easier for 'job creators,' this plan is for you.”
The size of the package is more than half the $787 billion stimulus Congress approved shortly after Obama took office. Republicans have eviscerated that legislation as a failure, while the White House has argued it kept the country out of a second Great Depression.
Obama called on the newly formed supercommittee to agree to ways for paying for the jobs measure, and for Congress to approve them. Obama also promised he would offer his own deficit-reduction proposal on Sept. 19 to pay for the package.
“There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation,” Obama insisted. “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.”
White House officials said Obama will send his jobs package to Congress next week as a single bill, and one official said he hopes to see the Senate pass the bill quickly.
While some of the tax cuts in the package could be attractive to Republicans, the size of the package and its focus on stimulus spending will likely be a tough sell, given the GOP House's focus all year on reducing the size of government.
Even before the speech, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), reacting to press reports, said more stimulus spending was not the answer for the nation's economic ills. After the president’s speech, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) quickly released a statement that said the president was offering more of the same “failed” policies.
Obama called McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday to speak to them about the proposals.
Neither Obama nor his aides would say specifically how many jobs they expect the package to create, noting that political rivals have made hay of missed expectations in the stimulus.
“We're just not going to get caught in that trap,” said one senior administration official.
About $175 billion of the package would go directly toward cutting the employee payroll tax in half for 2012.
The payroll tax was cut by 2 percent this year as part of a tax package approved by Congress in December that also extended all of the Bush-era tax rates. Obama is now proposing that this tax be cut by 3.1 percentage points, effectively doubling down on the initial measure.
An administration official said this would put about $1,500 in the pockets of an average American family over the course of a year.
Obama also proposed cutting the employer payroll tax in half, at a cost of about $70 billion.
Obama is proposing the creation of a national infrastructure bank, at a cost of $10 billion, to leverage private and public capital and to invest in a broad range of infrastructure products. Obama also is proposing $50 billion in immediate investments for roads, rails and bridges.
He proposes that unemployment insurance benefits be extended for another year at a cost of $62 billion. Federal benefits that allow the unemployed to get help for a longer period of time are set to expire in December.
With the recovery stalled, national unemployment still above 9 percent and the president's approval ratings dropping, the White House was hoping to regain some momentum with Thursday night's speech and a subsequent campaign to sell it.
Obama is scheduled to travel to Richmond, Va., on Friday and then to Columbus, Ohio, next week as he hits swing states to push what the White House said is a “bipartisan jobs plan.”
Shortly before traveling to Capitol Hill on Thursday, the president sent out a fundraising email to his supporters saying he wanted to “remind you that the fight to create jobs — and provide the kind of economic security for middle-class families that's been slipping away over the last decade — won't begin or end with the speech I give tonight.”
“What happens will be up to you,” Obama wrote. “In the coming days and weeks, it will be up to you to pressure Congress to act — or hold them accountable if they do not.”
This story was posted at 7:09 p.m. and updated at 8:01 p.m.