US President Barack Obama has laid out a jobs package worth $447bn, staking his re-election hopes on a call for urgent action to revive the economy and challenging Republicans who have consistently opposed his initiatives.
Addressing members of Congress on Thursday, Obama said the plan, which he called the “American Jobs Act”, would “jolt” the country’s ailing economy – which is currently experiencing an unemployment rate of 9.1 per cent.
“It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed. It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business.“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,” Obama said.
Describing the plan as bipartisan, Obama urged Congress to pass it without delay.”There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. 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,” he said.
Surprisingly weak jobs data has heightened fears that the US economy, the world’s largest, may be headed for another recession. The Federal Reserve, the US central bank, is considering ways to bolster demand but has said the onus for recovery mainly lies with legislators who control spending.
If his jobs plan is deemed a success, it might provide a boost in time to help Obama’s re-election prospects next year. If it fails, his strategy will be to paint congressional Republicans as obstructionist and blame them for the stagnating economy.
Already on Thursday morning, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley criticised Obama’s opponents over what he described as a do-nothing climate on Capitol Hill.
“It’s time for Congress, after a five-week vacation, to come back and do something and not just say ‘no’ to everything that gets proposed in this town,” Daley said on CBS news channel.
The bruising battle in July over the country’s debt levels that led to a Standard & Poor’s ratings downgrade highlighted a wide chasm between Obama’s Democrats and Republicans, who control the House of Representatives.
Republicans see a $800bn economic stimulus package Obama pushed through in 2009 as wasteful and want immediate cuts in the deficit. Democrats say while long-term deficits must be trimmed, the economy needs a fiscal boost.
The White House has said the jobs package will be paid for with future cuts but has not offered details. Obama will urge the congressional “super committee” that convened on Thursday to find more than $1.2tr in budget savings, but not unveil his suggestions until next week or later.
House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor have signalled they are open to some infrastructure spending and to a programme Obama will pitch to help train unemployed workers.
“The proposals the president outlined tonight merit consideration. We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well,” Boehner said on Thursday.
But Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, said the president’s readiness to accuse those who don’t support his ideas of being overly partisan was a political smokescreen.
“There is a much simpler reason to oppose the president’s economic policies that has nothing whatsoever to do with politics – they simply don’t work,” he said. “This isn’t a jobs plan, it’s a re-election plan.”
Harry Reid, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, meanwhile, said that Republicans also had their eyes squarely on the 2012 vote.
“The other side seems convinced that a failing economy is good Republican politics. They think if they kill every jobs bill and stall every effort to revive the economy, President Obama will lose,” Reid said.
“Republicans aiming at the President have caught innocent Americans in the crossfire.”