President Barack Obama delivers a speech to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Watching are Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner. (AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque, POOL)
WASHINGTON -- Confronting an economy in peril, President Barack 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 keep it and 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.
Under soaring expectations for results, Obama sought to put himself on the side of voters who he said could not care less about the political consequences of his speech.
"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," Obama said.
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.
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.