September 8, 2011 in Nation/World

Obama asks $450 billion to lift economy

By Ben Feller AP White House Correspondent
 
Read the president’s entire speech.

Obama’s jobs plan
Key elements of the $447 billion jobs package that President Barack Obama unveiled today to a joint session of Congress.


EMPLOYEE TAX CUTS. A deeper payroll tax cut for all workers. Congress in December cut the payroll tax, which raises money for Social Security, from 6.2 percent for every worker to 4.2 percent, for all of 2011. Obama’s proposals would cut that tax even further — to 3.1 percent — for all workers in 2012. The tax applies to earnings up to $106,800. The estimated cost is $175 billion.

EMPLOYER TAX CUTS. A payroll tax cuts for all business with payrolls up to $5 million. Obama’s proposal would cut the current 6.2 percent share of the payroll tax that employers pay to 3.1 percent. As with employees, that tax applies to annual employee earnings of $106,800. The White House says 98 percent of businesses have payrolls below the $5 million threshold. In addition, Obama proposes that businesses get a full payroll tax holiday for additional wages resulting from new hires or increased payrolls. The estimated cost is $65 billion.

PUBLIC WORKS. The president proposes spending $30 billion to modernize schools and $50 billion on road and bridge projects. He also calls for an “infrastructure bank” to help raise private sector money to pay for infrastructure improvements and for a program to rehabilitate vacant properties as part of a neighborhood stabilization plan. The estimated total cost of all those programs is $105 billion.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. If approved by Congress, the proposal would continue assistance to millions of people who are receiving extended benefits under emergency unemployment insurance set up during the recession. That program expired in November but Congress renewed it for 2011. If not renewed again, it would expire at the end of this year, leaving about 6 million jobless people at risk of losing benefits. The president also wants to spend extra money on states that help long-term unemployed workers though training programs. One model cited is a Georgia program that lets people receiving unemployment benefits obtain job training at a company at no cost to the employer. The estimated cost is $49 billion.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AID. The ailing economy has forced state and local governments to lay off workers. Money that states and municipalities received in the 2009 stimulus package has been running out. Obama proposes spending to guard against layoffs of emergency personnel and teachers. The estimated cost is $35 billion.

EMPLOYER TAX CREDITS. The president proposes a tax credit of up to $4,000 for businesses that hire workers who have been looking for a job for more than six months. The estimated cost is $8 billion.

EQUIPMENT DEDUCTION. Wary of imposing a burden on business, Obama wants to continue for one year a tax break for businesses, allowing them to deduct the full value of new equipment. Previously, companies could only deduct 50 percent of the value. The president and Congress in December negotiated that provision into law for 2011, but it is set to expire at the end of this year. The estimated cost is $5 billion.

WASHINGTON — Confronting an economy in peril, President Barack Obama unveiled a larger-than-expected $450 billion plan tonight to boost jobs and put cash in the pockets of dispirited Americans, urging Republican skeptics to embrace an approach heavy on the tax cuts they traditionally love. With millions of voters watching and skeptical of Washington, Obama repeatedly challenged Congress to act swiftly.

The newest and boldest element of Obama’s plan would slash the Social Security payroll tax both for tens of millions of workers and for employers, too. For individuals, that tax has been shaved from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for this year but is to go back up again without action by Congress. Obama wants to deepen the cut to 3.1 percent for workers.

“This plan is the right thing to do right now,” Obama said after a divided body rose in warm unison to greet him. “You should pass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country.”

In his televised address to Congress, Obama sought to provide a jolt for the economy, still staggering on his watch, and for his own standing at one of the lowest marks of his presidency. He put forth a jobs plan that he hopes can get bipartisan support and spur hiring in a nation where 14 million people remain out of work and the jobless rate is stuck at 9.1 percent. Public confidence in his stewardship of the economy is eroding.

Obama did not venture an estimate as to how many jobs his plan would create. He promised repeatedly that his plan would be paid for, but never said how, pledging to release those details soon.

The president also would apply the Social Security payroll tax cut to employers, halving their taxes to 3.1 percent on their first $5 million in payroll. Businesses that hire new workers or give raises to those they already employ would get an even bigger benefit: On payroll increases up to $50 million they would pay no Social Security tax.

Obama also proposed spending to fix schools and roads, hire local teachers and police and to extend unemployment benefits. He proposed a tax credit for businesses that hire people out of work for six months or longer, plus other tax relief aimed at winning bipartisan support in a time of divided government.

Under soaring expectations for results, Obama sought to put himself on the side of voters who he said could not care less about the political consequences of his speech.

“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.

His aim Thursday night was to put pressure on Congress to act — and to share the responsibility for fixing the economic mess that is sure to figure in next year’s elections. For every time he told lawmakers to “pass the bill” — and he said over and over — Democrats cheered while Republicans sat in silence.

Tax cuts amounted to the broadest part of Obama’s proposal — in essence, a challenge by the Democratic president to congressional Republicans to get behind him on one of their own cherished economic principles or risk the wrath of voters for inaction. The tax cuts alone would amount to roughly $250 billion.

The president said deepening the payroll tax cut would save an average family making $50,000 a year about $1,500 compared to what they would if Congress did not extend the current tax cut.

“I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live,” Obama said, a reference to the conservative tea party influence on many House Republicans. “Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise-middle class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away.”

Politics shadowed every element of Obama’s speech. He implored people watching on TV to lobby lawmakers to act. He did the same thing before his speech in an email to campaign supporters, bringing howls of hypocrisy Republicans who wondered why Obama was telling them to put party above country.

The American public is weary of talk and wary of promises that help is on the way.

In one striking sign of discontent, nearly 80 percent of people think the country is headed in the wrong direction. That’s about the same level of pessimism as when Obama took office. It reflects both persistently high unemployment and disgust with Washington infighting.

No incumbent president in recent history has won re-election with the unemployment rate anywhere near the current 9.1 percent.

Obama’s jobs plan put a special emphasis on the long-term unemployed — those who have been out of work for six months or more. He repeated his calls for a one-year extension of unemployment insurance in order to prevent up to 6 million people from losing their benefits, and he proposed a $4,000 tax credit for businesses that hire workers who have been out of work for more than six months.

A key part of Obama’s approach was to appeal to the lawmakers in front of him to pass a deal, and to position them for blame for inaction should the jobs plan fall short.

“The next election is 14 months away,” he said. “And the people who sent us here — the people who hired us to work for them — they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months. … They need help, and they need it now.”


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