With the mantra "pass this jobs bill," President Obama told a joint session of Congress that he has a $447 billion plan to get people back to work: "The American Jobs Act."
The plan and the speech also signified Obama getting back to the work of effectively campaigning. And it might mark the first time of the president effectively governing when the house of the Capitol is divided. It was the best, strongest speech since his election. He vowed to fight, suggesting he's no longer going to be whittled down by the need for compromise. He was energized, eloquent and challenging, calling on his political friends and foes to do put aside partisan differences.
"We are Americans," he said. "We are tougher than the times we live in."
The plan in a nutshell: Some tax cuts for small businesses and workers. Some spending for road builders and chamber of commerce types. Bailout money to help teachers, firefighters and police (who belong to the most effective public-sector unions). Unemployment aid.
"It will not add to the deficit," Obama said of the 5-part jobs plan designed to appeal to special interests from the Capitol to City Hall. Obama said it won't cost an extra dime because the president next week will be recommending specific cuts in spending and the elimination of so-called "expenditures in the tax code" (that is, the elimination of so-called tax loopholes). He said he'll also submit legislation for Congress to vote on.
Of course, if the committee rejects Obama's proposals for savings, then his plan won't be paid for. (AP story here)
In some of his strongest language yet, Obama struck a defiant tone in addressing Congress, not-so-subtly calling out Republicans.
"There should be nothing controversial in this legislation," Obama said, noting that "many (Republicans) who sit here tonight" support some of his ideas, such as a payroll tax cut and small-business tax cuts.
"You should pass it right away," Obama said, pledging "no more earmarks. No more boondoggles. No more bridges to nowhere."
The Republican National Committee suggested there was nothing new in the speech. House Speaker John Boehner issued a statement calling on the president to consider more Republican ideas and work with conservatives."The proposals the president outlined tonight merit consideration. We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well," Boehner said in a written statement.
Later, Sen. Marco Rubio issued a video response and written statement saying he could support some of the plan, but "a lot of it won't work."
Obama's speech and plan come at a critical time. His approval ratings are at historic lows. Unemployment is at historic times since the Great Depression. Democrats were despairing that Obama just wouldn't fight. Some wondered why this speech and plan wasn't given a year ago.
In his speech, Obama suggested that the wealthy and corporations should pay more in taxes -- a poison pill for many Republicans. Undoubtedly, he and his Democratic colleagues will be accused of waging "class warfare." Obama anticipated the criticisms: "This isn't grand-standing. This isn't class warfare. This is simple math."
He said he agreed with Republicans that some regulations hamper business, but he said he wouldn't let this economic crisis be used as "an excuse" to hurt the little guy and "dismantle government." (Note: the vast majority of Republicans don't want to dismantle government).
Obama also said teachers, soldiers, the unemployed, those facing foreclosure and police and firefighters would benefit. But in promising help for nearly everyone, Obama is once again raising hopes. And so far, as when it came to the stimulus package, he has over-promised and under-delivered.
Soon, the matter will be in the hands of the Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. But where the old Obama left more to chance in Congress, this tougher Obama promises actual legislation and detailed plans. And he vowed he'll stay in the game not just in Washington, but in "every corner of this country."
Here's the speech (Download ObamaSpeech) Here's a rough outline of the plan from the White House: Download JobsAct
1) $70 billion in payroll tax cuts for small businesses to hire and grow their workforce. The White House says 98 percent of businesses would get the payroll tax-rate cut in half. Those who add jobs, get 100 percent "holiday" (a 6.2 percent cut). Democrats point out that Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann had supported a similar measure, as had Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a member of the so-called budget "Super Committee."
3) $62 billion to help retool unemployment insurance and aid older workers and the long-term unemployment. It's unclear if the unemployment insurance proposal will cost states in the long-run by requiring them to increase the state share (and therefore private business' share) of the increased entitlement. The package also institutes so-called "wage insurance" to help compensate those who have lost their jobs. And there's a plan to help the long-term unemployed (those out of work for six months or more) by giving a person unemployment benefits at the same time they're working for up to 9 weeks with a new employer. The White House says this is based on a Georgia program called "Georgia Works," but it's supposed to be designed to ensure people don't earn less than the minimum wage. There's also a $4,000 tax credit for employers who keep a new employee for more than six months $175 billion worth of continued and increased payroll tax cuts, going from 2 percent to 3.1 percent. The White House said this would "inject" money right away into the economy and equate to a raise for. 160 million American families would feel this as a raise. Bachmann and Hensarling