WASHINGTON — Mixing politically moderate proposals with a punchy tone, President Barack Obama challenged lawmakers Thursday to “pass this jobs bill” — a blunt call on Congress to enact his $447 billion package of tax cuts and new government spending designed to revive a stalling economy as well as his own political standing.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress, 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, Obama also said he would set his sights on a more ambitious target for long-term reduction of the deficit.
“You should pass this jobs plan right away,” Obama declared over and over in his 32-minute speech that eschewed his trademark oratory in favor of a plainspoken appeal for action — and a few sarcastic political jabs.
With Republicans listening politely but with stone-faced expressions, 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.”
Although 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 $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 Obama’s plans, party leaders greeted his proposals with a degree of conciliation.
“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.”
For Obama, burdened by the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, the address crystallized the multiple challenges he faces: reviving a torpid economy with a Republican House that rejects most of his prescriptions and seems emboldened by its success in the recent debt-ceiling negotiations with the White House to continue to defy the president.
After weeks on the defensive, however, the president clearly seemed to be trying 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, anti-government orthodoxy that holds “the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone’s money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own.”
He must also shake off a perception, after giving so many speeches on the economy, that he has not delivered on the promise of his oratory.