President Obama waves Thursday as he arrives to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington.
WASHINGTON — Confronting an economy in peril, President Obama unveiled a larger-than-expected $450 billion plan Thursday night 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.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, liked the fact Obama is turning his attention to the issue, but disagrees with Obama’s plan.
“I’m pleased the president is finally turning his attention to the issue that matters most to Americans: jobs,” said Chambliss. “But, the only way to truly jump-start the economy is by giving American businesses a chance to be competitive.
“In order to create jobs, we need to reduce corporate taxes by reforming the tax code; move to a territorial tax system; eliminate burdensome and costly regulations; put a two-year moratorium on additional regulations coming from Washington; repeal Obamacare; and send to Congress the three outstanding free trade agreements.”
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.”