WASHINGTON — Facing a frustrated public and a skeptical Congress, President Barack Obama will pitch at least $300 billion in jobs proposals aimed at getting Americans back to work quickly and forcing Republicans to take a share of the responsibility for solving the country’s economic woes.
The underlying political strategy: If Obama can’t get his ideas passed heading into his re-election year, he at least hopes to show why he shouldn’t take the fall.
In a rare speech tonight to a joint session of Congress, Obama is likely to offer a package of ideas that would affect people in their daily lives — tax relief, unemployment insurance, spending to support construction jobs, aid to states to keep people in their jobs. Businesses would get their own tax breaks. And he will promise a long-term plan to pay for it all.
Yet all of it ultimately will depend on a Republican-controlled House that has a different economic approach and no political incentive to help a Democrat seeking a second term.
White House officials said Obama would formally send his plan — coined by the administration as the American Jobs Act — to Congress next week.
Obama’s chief of staff, William Daley, urged Republican lawmakers to abandon their politically driven refusal to work with Obama and take action on his jobs proposal. Daley declined to provide details of the president’s jobs proposal, saying only that it would help teachers, construction workers, first responders and small businesses, and that many of the ideas have been supported by Republicans in the past.
“The only reason some of these people may not support it now is because of the politics that’s going on, which is again unfortunate for the American people,” Daley said.
He said the jobs programs would be paid for without borrowed money.
Obama is expected to propose paying for some of his jobs initiatives by closing corporate tax loopholes and increasing taxes on wealthier Americans, measures he failed to win during summer negotiations over increasing the nation’s debt ceiling. Offsetting some cost of his economic plan with new tax revenue is likely to meet stiff resistance from Republicans, but the White House has argued that the public has supported a mix of spending cuts and revenue as a way to avoid higher deficits.
Daley said wealthy Americans “ought to pay a little more.”
Obama’s goal is also to put Republicans on the spot to act — in their face, and in their chamber. Obama is expected to speak for up to 45 minutes, beginning at 4 p.m. PDT.
Given the country’s political and economic reality, two key questions hang over the president’s speech: Will any of his ideas get approved, and will they actually work?
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he was hopeful that there would be some proposals the White House and Republicans could agree on.
“We know the two parties aren’t going to agree on everything, but the American people want us to find common ground and I’m going to be looking for it,” Boehner said.
But some other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, were criticizing the planned proposals even before the president had uttered a word. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Obama seemed determined to simply reintroduce economic policies that haven’t worked.
“It’s time the president start thinking less about how to describe his policies differently and more time thinking about devising new policies,” McConnell said.
A Pew Research poll out this week also found majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents skeptical that the proposals Obama is expected to discuss would do a lot to create jobs. And a series of new polls by major news organizations finds that the mood is downright dismal about the direction of the country, with Obama’s standing and approval on the economy at or near the lowest levels of his presidency.
Yet voters are holding all leaders accountable, supporting the White House’s point that Congress is under pressure to act, too. An Associated Press-GfK poll found that more people assign chief blame for the economy to former President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans and Democrats than to Obama.
Democrats familiar with the president’s plans say the White House sees the speech as a pivot point after spending the spring and summer focused on negotiations over deficit spending. They say the fall offers the president a window to press congressional Republicans to act on his economic plan — and if they don’t, Obama will spend 2012 running against them as obstructionists. Whether that’s enough to win over voters is another matter.
Obama’s chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod, said the president won’t start with ideas that have been “preapproved” by Republicans in Congress.
“Ultimately, the test for any of these ideas: Are they right? Can they help the economy? Can they help get people back to work?” Axelrod told The Associated Press.
The president’s plan to pay for his ideas is a political necessity in a time of fiscal austerity. Deficit-boosting stimulus spending is out. But here, too, he is banking on a lot of help.
Obama plans to cover the cost by asking a new congressional supercommittee debt panel to go beyond its target of finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by the end of November, so the extra savings can pay for short-term economic help. That debt panel met for the first time Thursday.
In one upbeat sign for those looking for a Washington compromise, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have told Obama they see potential areas of agreement on jobs — for example, infrastructure, which Obama has pushed repeatedly. Cantor also signaled to reporters Wednesday that he might support a payroll tax cut.
“It is not games and politics for people out across this country. It’s real,” Cantor said about the state of the economic debate. “The fact that we have had such sustained joblessness in this country, the fact that people are doing anything they can in many instances just to stay afloat and to pay the bills, it’s real.”
At the heart of Obama’s plan will be extending, by one more year, a payroll tax cut for workers that went into effect this year. The president wants the payroll tax, which raises money for Social Security, to stay at 4.2 percent rather than kick back up to 6.2 percent. That tax applies to earnings up to $106,800.
Obama is expected to seek continued unemployment aid for millions of people receiving extended benefits. That program, too, is set to expire at year’s end.
Since Obama took office in January 2009, nearly 2 million Americans have lost jobs. Almost 14 million people are out of work.
The unemployment rate, which stood at 5 percent at the start of the deep recession and 7.8 percent when Obama began in office, is at 9.1 percent. Most troubling is the trend line. After a period of steady if modest job creation, employers have stopped hiring.