March 2, 2021

Obama, in Speech to Congress, Offers Plan for Economy

Speaking to a joint session of Congress, Mr. Obama ticked off a list of measures that he emphasized had been supported by both Republicans and Democrats in the past. To keep the proposals from adding to the swelling federal deficit, Mr. Obama also said he would encourage a more ambitious target for long-term reduction of the deficit.

“You should pass this jobs plan right away,” the president declared over and over in his 32-minute speech, in which he eschewed his trademark soaring oratory in favor of a plainspoken appeal for action, stiffened by a few sarcastic political jabs.

With Republicans listening politely but with stone-faced expressions, Mr. Obama said, “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.”

Though Mr. Obama’s proposals — including an expansion of a cut in payroll taxes and new spending on public works — were widely expected, the package was substantially larger than predicted, and much of the money would flow into the economic bloodstream in 2012. The pace would be similar to that of the $787 billion stimulus package passed in 2009, which was spread over more than two years. Analysts said that, if passed, the package would likely lift growth somewhat.

While Republicans did not often applaud Mr. Obama,, party leaders greeted his proposals with uncharacteristic conciliation. Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, and other Republicans signaled a willingness to consider at least some of the measures, reflecting what some have described as anger in their home districts over the political dysfunction in Washington.

“The proposals the president outlined tonight merit consideration,” Speaker John A. Boehner said in a statement. “We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well.”

Still, analysts said it was unlikely that the White House would win Congressional approval for many elements of the package.

For Mr. Obama, burdened by the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, the address crystallized the multiple challenges he faces, among them reviving a torpid economy with a Republican House that, however receptive some of its leaders appeared Thursday, has staked out a relentlessly confrontational course with the White House. The president must also shake off a perception, after so many speeches on the economy, that he has not delivered on the promise of his oratory.

After weeks on the defensive, however, Mr. Obama seemed to get off his back foot. He framed the debate over the economy as a tug-of-war between mainstream American values and a radical, antigovernment orthodoxy that holds that “the only thing we can do restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone’s money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own.”

With a difficult re-election bid looming, Mr. Obama declared that his vision would appeal to more voters. “These are real choices we have to make,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It’s not even close.”

At times, he edged into sarcasm. Promoting the extension in the payroll tax cut to Republicans, Mr. Obama said: “I know some of you have sworn oaths never to raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. 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.”

The centerpiece of the bill, known as the American Jobs Act, is an extension and expansion of the cut in payroll taxes, worth $240 billion, under which the tax paid by employees would be cut in half through 2012. Smaller businesses would also get a cut in their payroll taxes, as well as a tax holiday for hiring new employees. The plan also provides $140 billion for modernizing schools and repairing roads and bridges — spending that Mr. Obama portrayed as critical to maintaining America’s competitiveness.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/09/us/politics/09payroll.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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