In his Thursday-night jobs speech, a pumped-up President Obama — sounding more like the inspirational, powerful political force that we haven't seen in a while — put forward his much-anticipated plan for economic growth and job creation.
"The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy," he said at the top of his 45-minute address before a joint session of Congress.
The president's pitch: the American Jobs Act, a $450 billion bill composed of provisions that he claimed have been supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the past. "There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation," he said before repeatedly urging the Congress to pass it right away.
Much like the president's original 2009 stimulus act, the bill largely involves a mix of tax cuts for small businesses and working individuals, and expanded spending on infrastructure, education and unemployment benefits. Some of his proposals are already in place now in some form, a sign of the limitations of their effectiveness. However, the bill also includes new ideas to build on his previous effort and improves access to opportunities.
Small-Biz Hiring Incentives
"Pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or raise workers' wages," Obama said of his hiring incentives, which also include a $4,000 tax credit for all employers that specifically hire the long-term unemployed who have been out of work for more than six months. The bill would further cut the payroll tax for most small businesses next year.
Payroll Tax Cut for Workers
"Pass this jobs bill, and the typical working family will get a $1,500 tax cut next year," he said, pushing an expansion of the payroll tax that he passed last year. Doubling down on that move, he's now calling for cutting payroll taxes in half, which would provide an extra $1,500 for a family earning $50,000 a year.
"Pass this jobs bill, and we can put people to work rebuilding America," he said of his various proposals to get construction workers back on the job, such as a $50 billion investment on roads, rail and airport projects. An additional $50 million would be reserved for transportation-related job training for minorities, women and low-income workers.
The president also called for modernizing at least 35,000 public schools across the country, with an emphasis on the schools most in need. Forty percent, or $10 billion, of school-modernization funds would target the 100 largest low-income school districts.
The bill further proposes a $15 billion "Project Rebuild" initiative, which focuses on rehabilitating vacant and foreclosed homes and businesses while drawing on partnerships with the private sector.
Keeping Year-Round Jobs
"Pass this bill, and hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged young people will have the hope and dignity of a summer job next year," Obama said, referring to the Pathways Back to Work Fund, which would support summer job programs for low-income youths and job training for unemployed young adults. He also called for a renewal of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Emergency Contingency Fund, a program that supported 260,000 jobs for low-income adults in 2009 and 2010.
To prevent layoffs of teachers, police officers and firefighters, the president advised spending $35 billion directed at both retaining and hiring workers in those fields.
Support for the Unemployed
"Democrats and Republicans in this chamber have supported unemployment insurance plenty of times in the past," the president said of the now divisive issue of extending such benefits, which expire next year. "At this time of prolonged hardship, you should pass it again, right away."
Obama called for not only extending unemployment insurance but also funding for programs that allow the long-term unemployed to take temporary work to build their skills while looking for permanent work.
The bill also expands "work sharing," an arrangement that uses unemployment insurance to keeps employees working at reduced hours rather than completely laying them off.
How to Pay for It?
With the idea of additional government spending essentially out of the question for congressional Republicans, the president claimed that the American Jobs Act would be fully paid for. Remember that debt-reduction super committee, tasked with cutting $1.5 trillion from the federal budget by Christmas? The president is now asking them to find $450 billion more in savings to make room for this bill.
"A week from Monday, I'll be releasing a more ambitious deficit plan — a plan that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill but stabilize our debt in the long run," he added, launching into a repeat of the approach that he failed to sell during the debt-ceiling debate — altering Medicare and Medicaid to slow down their unsustainable pace of spending, and ending tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.
Busting the Blockade
Obama admitted that his proposal would meet objection from Republicans — but tried to appeal to them anyway. "This larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone's money, let everyone write their own rules and tell everyone they're on their own — that's not who were are," he said. "That's not the story of America."
While trying to persuade Congress to pass his bill now, the president also said that he will engage with and enlist the support of regular citizens. The White House has already enlisted the support of Democratic mayors, labor unions and certain business groups, releasing their numerous statements of approval shortly after the president’s speech.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter wrote, "President Obama laid out a comprehensive set of ideas, the American Jobs Act, which is exactly what this country, and certainly Philadelphia, needs to get our economy going."
Richard Parsons, chairman of Citigroup and a member of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, chimed in, "The president's focus on assisting small business is spot-on, since small business is the engine of job creation."
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said, "It's imperative that we extend unemployment benefits to those who are suffering the most, while instituting programs with innovative work-based reforms. The president is right on the mark."
I'm also pleased with many of the items that President Obama proposed, but I think he is, again, underestimating the resolve of his opponents. We already know that his "It's time to come together and do what's right" rhetoric isn't going to significantly move the votes needed in a Republican-controlled House — and that was pretty much the extent of his plan for the essential steps of passage and execution.
On the other hand, House Speaker John Boehner released a post-speech statement giving the impression that he's open to at least some of what Obama had to say. "The proposals the president outlined tonight merit consideration," Boehner wrote. "We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well. It's my hope that we can work together to end the uncertainty facing families and small businesses, and create a better environment for long-term economic growth and private-sector job creation."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.