In a plainspoken speech, Obama repeatedly insisted that lawmakers approve the plan, which is composed of slightly more tax cuts than new spending. The program includes the repackaging of some previous Obama proposals and the extension of other initiatives, including temporary payroll tax cuts that were enacted last year. But he also called for several significant new steps, such as enlarging that tax cut to provide $1,500 in savings for the average family and offering another tax cut for businesses that hire new employees.
“The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working,” Obama said. “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. You should pass this jobs plan right away.”
The $447 billion cost of the program is more than half that of the stimulus package Congress passed in 2009 and reflects the severity of the nation’s economic challenge. Last week, the government reported that job creation came to a halt in August and that the nation’s unemployment rate was stuck at more than 9 percent, a sign that the economy was at risk of dipping back into recession.
Many economists say the government needs to pump hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy to avoid another downturn. But because virtually all of the measures in Obama’s plan would require congressional approval, few would have an immediate impact. Some economists warned that even if major tenets of the plan were to pass, overcoming deep Republican skepticism, they might do little more than keep the economy growing at a snail’s pace.
“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,” Obama said. “The question is whether we can restore some of the fairness and the security that has defined this nation since our beginning.”
Coming during the first chapter of the 2012 presidential campaign and at a moment of peril for the economy, the speech was one of the most pivotal of Obama’s presidency.
“There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation,” he told lawmakers. “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 32-minute address was an attempt by Obama to break from the acrimonious debate over government spending and deficits that has consumed Washington for much of the year.