Sunday 26 March 2017

Obama unveils jobs creation package

Barack Obama, looking to jolt both the US economy and his presidency, proposed a $447bn plan for creating jobs in a high-profile, nationally televised speech before Congress.

Mr Obama, facing a tough re-election fight next year, looked to stem the eroding confidence in his leadership as the mood of Americans darkens and emboldened Republican presidential challengers assail his record.

The newest and boldest element of Mr Obama's plan would slash the payroll tax for the Social Security pension programme both for tens of millions of workers and for employers, too.

It also includes $105bn in public works projects and the renewal of $50bn in unemployment benefits for about six million Americans at risk of losing jobless insurance.

Mr 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.

"This plan is the right thing to do right now," Mr 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."

His aim was to pressure 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 politicians to "pass the bill" and he said over and over Democrats cheered while Republicans sat in silence.

Mr Obama will likely have a hard time getting much of his plan through Congress.

Republicans control the House of Representatives and can use procedural tactics to block bills in the Senate.

Beyond their ideological opposition to Mr Obama's plans, Republicans would seem hesitant to hand Mr Obama a major legislative victory that could boost his re-election prospects.

Even before the speech, the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, described Mr Obama's expected ideas as retreads, saying: "This isn't a jobs plan. It's a re-election plan."

Mr Obama looked to put himself above the partisanship asking "whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy".

But his speech offered some potential to boost his own political standing. By challenging Republicans on their own turf, Mr Obama could show the voters watching at home, particularly independents, that he isn't the one to blame for inaction.

Washington's political divide has become so intense that normally routine matters now lead to partisan spats.

That included the timing of Mr Obama's speech. Mr Obama had asked to speak on Wednesday, at the time of a Republican presidential debate.

Speaker John Boehner, in an unusual move, rejected the day and proposed Thursday instead.

Republicans cast Mr Obama as swelling the deficit with reckless spending and proposing what they call job-killing tax increases.

Democrats cast Republicans as out of touch with an American public that wants to see the government do more to create jobs and favours a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to bring down deficits.

Mr Obama has faced criticism from his own supporters, who say he has been too quick to yield to the demands of Republican, especially those associated with the anti-tax, small-government tea party movement.

In his speech, Mr Obama defended the role of government and, without mentioning it by name, took on the tea party.

"This larger notion that 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 - that's not who we are," he said. "That's not the story of America."

Mr Obama remains personally popular and a formidable campaigner. But his approval ratings keep tumbling and no incumbent president in recent history has won re-election with the unemployment rate anywhere near the current level, 9.1pc.

About 14 million people are unemployed. There is just one job opening available for every four job seekers, on average, in the richest nation on earth.

In one striking sign of discontent, nearly 80pc of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

That is about the same level of pessimism as when Mr Obama took office. It reflects both persistently high unemployment and disgust with Washington infighting.

Mr Obama took office in the midst of recession that began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, costing America a staggering 7.5 million jobs. Even though many voters are spreading blame around, Mr Obama owns the economy now and his political strategy of putting the onus on Congress holds risk.

If nothing comes of his jobs programme and he tries to blame Congress, he will still be the most identifiable target for voter ire.

Press Association

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