U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with workers at the Lordstown Complex General Motors Plant in Warren, Ohio.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with workers at the Lordstown Complex General Motors Plant in Warren, Ohio. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: In a week heavy with news of jobs and the economy, this is, you could fairly say, the political day.

There's the president's speech tonight, of course. And the Fed chairman's speech this afternoon was about as pointed as you're ever going to hear a central banker get.

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.

This evening, the president's going to ask Congress to approve an emergency program of tax cuts and government spending aimed at creating jobs as fast as possible. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale starts our coverage.

John Dimsdale: Obama's roughly $300 billion plan is his second try at stimulating the economy. Back in 2009, he spent nearly $800 billion. This time, the tax cuts and spending are more targeted. For example, extending benefits for the unemployed.

Princeton professor Betsey Stevenson says every dollar given to jobless workers generates $2 of economic activity.

Betsey Stevenson: You give someone who's unemployed a dollar, they go out and buy groceries with that dollar. The money paid to the grocer with that dollar then gets used to pay wages to their worker. That worker goes out and purchases perhaps gas. It's that on and on and on as that dollar moves through the economy that generates the $2 in economic activity.

Another significant part of the plan will extend a payroll tax cut for workers and give a new one to employers who hire.

But Bruce Bartlett, a former economic adviser to Republican presidents, says those tax cuts are likely to be saved -- not spent.

Bruce Bartlett: The payroll tax cut goes only to people who have jobs, who by and large are doing pretty well as compared to the unemployed. So I think you're getting very little bang for the buck there.

The president will also propose funding more infrastructure projects that offer longer term financial benefits for transportation and education. And finally, there'll be significant aid to local governments to keep teachers and police on the payroll. Bartlett says they're being laid off by the hundreds of thousands.

Bartlett: The main impact there will not be so much to create new jobs as to prevent jobs from disappearing.

Will $300 billion in spending and tax breaks be enough? Betsey Stevenson would like to see more, but she figures that's all the president can get.

Stevenson: He's not somebody who's going to go up there and talk pie in the sky on something no Republican would ever agree to. I expect to see something that will be extraordinarily bipartisan. I don't think we can do more in the current climate.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.