Who are you…and what have you done with Barak Obama?
President Obama went to the Hill yesterday and in a speech long awaited by his supporters challenged Congress to “Pass this Jobs bill.” The President outlined a major $447 billion dollar package of tax cuts and new government spending designed to revive the economy and put the country back to work. Roughly 60% of the bill is tax cuts with the remaining 40% going toward infrastructure, school repair and new jobs initiatives for teachers and first responders.
Outlining the details of his “American Jobs Act” a feisty and combative Obama described a list of measures that had received bi-partisan support in the past. Time after time, item by item, the President described a specific component of the plan, noted that both Democrats and Republicans had supported the idea, and then reiterated the urgency of swift action saying: “You should pass this plan right now… “There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by Democrats and Republicans.” He went on to say: “The only 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.”
In a nod toward the fiscal conservatives and deficit hawks in the room he noted that his plan would not increase the deficit; stating on several occasions: “Everything in this bill is paid for.” He promised that in one week’s time he would provide the Super Committee with his plan for further deficit reduction. In a bold move, guaranteed to raise concern on the part of his own party members, he said that long term deficit reduction must include modifications of Medicare and Medicaid if those programs are to remain viable in the future.
While the purpose of this speech was to address job growth and the economy, the President was not above doing a little campaigning at the expense of his detractors.
Addressing his desire to extend unemployment benefits and the payroll tax holiday he jabbed at Republicans who had signed the Nordquist pledge to never increase taxes. “I know some of you have sworn an oath to never raise 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.”
Referring to Republicans who preach that we should not increase taxes on business because they create jobs; the President proposed tax incentives and reduced payroll taxes for employers saying: “everyone agrees that job growth starts with small businesses so all of you that believe in tax cuts for “job creators” should pass this plan right now.”
When talking about infrastructure and repairing our roads and bridges he pointed specifically to a major bridge in desperate need of repair that connects Republican House Speaker Boehner’s Ohio with Republican Senate Minority Leader McConnell’s Kentucky.
As expected, reaction has been mixed. Democrats applauded his tone but are concerned that he may give up entitlement reform while getting little in return. Several Republicans have already discounted his remarks as mere campaign rhetoric and “more government spending”. Economists however expressed surprise and approval at the size and scope of the package. Many state that if past the plan would jump start the economy and lower the unemployment rate by a full percentage point…no small feat.
Now comes the hard part…getting his bill through Congress. The President has laid out a strong bi-partisan plan. Now he has to sell it.
The President said that he intended to “take this message to every corner of the country.” It is no coincidence that he will start his road trip today in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond is lies in the congressional district of Republican House Whip Eric Cantor, long one of Obama’s major critics. Next Tuesday he will travel to Ohio; the home state of Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
The road ahead will not be easy. Republicans have only two goals: shrink the size of government and defeat Obama in 2012. It is hard to picture Cantor and Boehner giving the President a major victory right before the 2012 election. After yesterday’s speech the President now has a response. If the Republican stonewalling and intransigence rears its ugly head the President will simply say: “I gave them a comprehensive, bi-partisan plan. My opponents have already agreed to the individual components. But they won’t pass this bill because they would rather defeat me in 2012 than help you.”
We applaud the President. The tone that he exhibited last night was long overdue. While passage of his plan is far from certain…you cannot win a fight unless you are willing to fight back.
The President finally threw a punch. The fight has just begun.