February 26, 2021

For Obama, a Familiar Labor Day Theme

Mr. Obama, speaking to a riverfront crowd estimated by the police to number 13,000, said he would propose “a new way forward on jobs” in his speech on Thursday to a joint session of Congress, which returns this week from its August recess.

Mr. Obama did not provide details — “Tune in on Thursday,” he teased — but he said millions of unemployed construction workers would be able “to get dirty” building roads, bridges and other public works under his infrastructure proposals.

Organized labor and business leaders are on board, Mr. Obama said. “We just need Congress to get on board,” he said, prompting cheers of “Four more years!” from an audience filled with members of unions for autoworkers, public employees, service industry workers and teachers.

It remains unclear what new ideas Mr. Obama will propose on Thursday. But he faces high expectations after recent evidence that job growth has stalled and because of his own buildup since announcing a month ago that he would lay out a short-term stimulus program after Labor Day.

Mr. Obama also faces skepticism because of persistent unemployment. Recent polls give him his lowest ratings to date for job approval and his handling of the economy, though the ratings of Congress, and especially Republicans, are even more negative.

Mr. Obama has indicated that besides infrastructure proposals, he will call for extending and expanding temporary tax cuts for businesses and individuals, including a payroll tax cut for which he won Republicans’ support in December after agreeing to extend the Bush-era tax cuts on high income. He is expected to propose that employers get a tax credit for each new person hired, and to help local governments avert more teacher layoffs.

Separately next week, Mr. Obama is expected to recommend ways to reduce annual budget deficits to a special Congressional committee charged with finding up to $1.5 trillion in savings over 10 years. He plans to propose more than that in deficit reductions, aides say, partly to offset the stimulus costs.

But in Detroit Mr. Obama emphasized job creation. His backdrop was the high-rise headquarters of General Motors, which, along with Chrysler, has restructured and returned to profit and hiring after their rescue early in his administration.

“We’ve got a lot more work to do to recover fully from this recession,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m going to propose ways to put America back to work that both parties can agree to because I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems.”

That expression of faith in bipartisanship drew loud groans of skepticism, reflecting a growing sentiment among Obama supporters that he is too conciliatory toward Republicans.

As if acknowledging the skeptics, Mr. Obama quickly added, to applause: “But we’re not going to wait for them. We’re going to see if we’ve got some straight shooters in Congress. We’re going to see if Congressional Republicans will put country before party.”

Flying here with Mr. Obama were several union leaders, including Richard Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., who has been critical of his compromises with Republicans.

Also joining Mr. Obama was Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who, as Mr. Obama told his audience, gave the president a Labor Day address that President Harry S. Truman delivered in Detroit in 1948, the year of his come-from-behind election after campaigning against “do-nothing” Republicans.

Afterward, Mr. Levin said he told the president, “Here’s a ‘give ’em hell’ kind of speech.”

The president’s Labor Day addresses trace the stubbornness of the crisis he inherited.

In 2009, he spoke to an A.F.L.-C.I.O. picnic in Cincinnati, just after the government reported 216,000 jobs lost in August — relatively good news because it marked a second month of declining losses from a high of 750,000 as Mr. Obama took office. Six months earlier, in February, a Democratic-controlled Congress had passed his two-year, $800 billion stimulus program of tax cuts and spending.

“It’s working,” Mr. Obama said then. Most economists agreed, though many have since concluded that the package was not forceful enough to counter a recession and crises in the financial and housing sectors. Republicans, who generally opposed it, continue to say that the stimulus program failed and that they will not support another round.

“We’re on the road to recovery, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Mr. Obama said two years ago. That would become a refrain.

Last year, Mr. Obama was in Wisconsin with union families. While private-sector hiring had expanded for eight months, the unemployment rate was 9.6 percent — just a tenth of a percentage point lower than the year before. With his two-year stimulus plan winding down, Mr. Obama announced new plans for infrastructure projects and more.

“Now the plain truth is, there’s no silver bullet or quick fix to the problem,” he said in Milwaukee. “Even when I was running for this office, we knew it would take time to reverse the damage of a decade’s worth of policies that saw a few folks prosper while the middle class kept falling behind.”

But his infrastructure plans went nowhere before Republicans, capitalizing on voters’ economic frustrations, won control of the House in November.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1b6150c61221d9071d6e5b8c2fa824ed

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