President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress tonight, introducing his plan for creating jobs and reviving a struggling economy. The "American Jobs Act" would extend and expand payroll tax cuts, spend on schools and public works projects and overhaul unemployment insurance.
Barack Obama: 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 -- including many who sit here tonight.
President Obama postponed explaining how he would pay for the $447 billion package -- nearly $150 billion more than had been expected -- saying that he would address that tough topic in coming weeks.
For now, he urged Congress to pass the plan right away, stating that the millions of Americans watching the speech did not care for Washington's politics.
Obama: I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any 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.
Kai Ryssdal: In a week heavy with news of jobs and the economy, this is, you could fairly say, the political day. Ben Bernanke gave a speech today that was about as pointed as you're ever going to hear a central banker get.
And of course the president's big jobs speech tonight. So as we continue with The Breakdown, our economy one step at a time, what political Washington has to say about a key economic problem.
Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale starts us off with the president's speech. Hey John.
John Dimsdale: Hello Kai.
Ryssdal: So $447 billion is the price tag. How is he going to spend it?
Dimsdale: Yeah that makes it about half the size of the stimulus plan that he signed more than two years ago, and it doesn't really look all that different from that one. There's spending on construction projects, roads and schools. The president wants to extend government benefits to the unemployed. And the thinking there is that those are the people who will spend it right away and get it in circulation. He would give aid to states and local governments, saying teachers are being laid off in droves. He'd also wants to expand this year's payroll tax break for workers into another year and extend it to small companies that hire new workers or give existing workers raises. And all of these things he said are the best ways to create jobs.
Obama: It will provide a jolt to an economy that is stalled and give companies confidence that if they invest and if they hire, there will customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away.
And finally, he said that all of these proposals will be paid for.
Ryssdal: Yeah, make me smart on that: How's that going to happen?
Dimsdale: Well he said he's going to have some proposals later. But he's also putting the onus on that joint committee for deficit reduction that has to come up with $1.5 trillion in cuts by December. That means that they're going to have to find more like $2 trillion worth of deficit savings.
Ryssdal: Was there something there for the GOP that can make members vote for it, John?
Dimsdale: Yeah, he said that these ideas have attracted bipartisan support in the past, that they shouldn't be controversial. He noted that businesses have been pushing for infrastructure spending. And he's going to cut red tape for businesses and pay government contractors more quickly.
Ryssdal: Quickly, John, your sense of tone. He started right at the beginning by saying, you know what, people have been talking all day about how this is an Obama speech and it's a key thing, but it's really about the American people. Did that carry through the speech, do you think?
Dimsdale: I think so. I mean, he is going for some pragmatic proposals here. He tried to set a moderate tone, but he was aggressive about millionaires and billionaires and oil companies have to be willing to sacrifice.
Ryssdal: John Dimsdale in our Washington bureau, live with us, talking about the president's speech tonight. More on this speech from regular old Americans, coming up later in the broadcast. John, thanks a lot.
Dimsdale: Thanks Kai.