WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama challenged Republicans to halt a "political circus" and immediately pass a bigger than expected $447 billion jobs plan to jolt the "stalled" economy.
"These are difficult years for our country. But we are Americans. We are tougher than the times that we live in, and we are bigger than our politics have been," Obama said on Thursday, pleading for unity in a speech to a polarized Congress.
"Let's meet the moment," he said, seeking to restore public trust in his leadership with a plan that mixes tax cuts and investments and takes aim at 9.1 percent unemployment which is threatening his 2012 reelection bid.
"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," said Obama in front of a large US flag in the well of the House of Representatives.
A combative and feisty Obama said the initiative, called the American Jobs Act, would put people back to work and more money into the pockets of those who had jobs.
"It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed," he said.
"It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away."
"You should pass it and I intend to take that message to every corner of this country."
The divided nature of Washington was reflected as Obama reeled off the applause lines of his speech, as his Democrats cheered plans for investment, and Republicans stonily sat through his calls for higher taxes on the wealthy.
Prospects for Obama's plan are uncertain given blanket Republican opposition to new spending not balanced by immediate budget cuts and a deeply polarized political climate already agitated by the coming election.
Obama says his plan will be fully paid for by spending cuts in years to come when the economic crisis has past.
He has already warned that if the plan is blocked, he will seek to hold Republicans to account at the polls and accuse them of putting a desire to eject him from the White House above a patriotic duty to revive the economy.
The approach, envisaging a big role for government in stimulating the economy set up a clash with Republican 2012 front runners Mitt Romney and Rick Perry who argue Obama is out of his depth on the economy.
But Obama, hit back at Republican critics who complain at his plan to raise taxes on the richest Americans and close corporate tax loopholes.
"This isn't political grandstanding. This isn't class warfare. This is simple math.
"I'm pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It's not even close and it's time for us to do what’s right for our future."
The plan's $447 billion price tag contains $175 billion to cut employee payroll taxes in half, to 3.1 percent in 2012.
The taxes fund the Social Security retirement and Medicare health plan for senior citizens, and officials said the cuts were a way to get money directly into the pockets of those who need it most and those most likely to spend it.
Obama also proposed cutting the payroll tax in half for 98 percent of businesses on payroll up to $5 million in a bid to induce hiring of new workers.
Firms can get a complete payroll tax holiday if they add workers or increase the wages of current employees up to $50 million in payroll.
One administration official said that using payroll taxes to spur demand was an "elegant" way to ensure that people "have more money in your check, more money in your pocket."
Obama also proposed a $50 billion program to invest in highways, railroad and airport modernizations, which officials said would put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back to work.
He called on Congress to provide $10 billion to capitalize a national infrastructure bank to leverage private and public capital to invest in a broad range of projects.
He also proposed a $35 billion program to prevent layoffs of 280,000 teachers and to keep police officers and firefighters on the job, in a bid to stem local and state government layoffs that are inflating unemployment figures.
Other projects included:
-- A $30 billion project to modernize 35,000 public schools.
-- A "returning heroes" tax credit to spur hiring of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans
-- A $49 billion plan to reform an extend insurance payments for the long-term unemployed.
Obama will ask a congressional supercommittee which met for the first time Thursday and is mandated to cut spending by $1.5 trillion to seek further budget cuts to offset the new spending.
And he pledged to unveil a new plan to cut the long-term deficit on September 19.
© AFP -- Published at Activist Post with license
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