WASHINGTON - (AP) - Confronting an economy in peril, PresidentBarack Obama unveiled a larger-than-expected $450 billion planThursday night to boost jobs and put cash in the pockets ofdispirited Americans, urging Republican skeptics to embrace anapproach heavy on the tax cuts they traditionally love. Withmillions of voters watching and skeptical of Washington, Obamarepeatedly challenged Congress to act swiftly.
The newest and boldest element of Obama's plan would slash theSocial Security payroll tax both for tens of millions of workersand for employers, too. For individuals, that tax has been shavedfrom 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for this year but is to go back upagain without action by Congress. Obama wants to deepen the cut to3.1 percent for workers.
"This plan is the right thing to do right now," Obama saidafter a divided body rose in warm unison to greet him. "You shouldpass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of thiscountry."
In his televised address to Congress, Obama sought to provide ajolt for the economy, still staggering on his watch, and for hisown standing at one of the lowest marks of his presidency. He putforth a jobs plan that he hopes can get bipartisan support and spurhiring in a nation where 14 million people remain out of work andthe jobless rate is stuck at 9.1 percent. Public confidence in hisstewardship of the economy is eroding.
Obama did not venture an estimate as to how many jobs his planwould create. He promised repeatedly that his plan would be paidfor, but never said how, pledging to release those details soon.
The president also would apply the Social Security payroll taxcut to employers, halving their taxes to 3.1 percent on their first$5 million in payroll. Businesses that hire new workers or giveraises to those they already employ would get an even biggerbenefit: On payroll increases up to $50 million they would pay noSocial Security tax.
Obama also proposed spending to fix schools and roads, hirelocal teachers and police and to extend unemployment benefits. Heproposed a tax credit for businesses that hire people out of workfor six months or longer, plus other tax relief aimed at winningbipartisan support in a time of divided government.
Under soaring expectations for results, Obama sought to puthimself on the side of voters who he said could not care less aboutthe political consequences of his speech.
"The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing nationalcrisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do somethingto 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 thatis sure to figure in next year's elections. For every time he toldlawmakers to "pass the bill" - and he said over and over -Democrats cheered while Republicans sat in silence.
Tax cuts amounted to the broadest part of Obama's proposal - inessence, a challenge by the Democratic president to congressionalRepublicans to get behind him on one of their own cherishedeconomic principles or risk the wrath of voters for inaction. Thetax cuts alone would amount to roughly $250 billion.
The president said deepening the payroll tax cut would save anaverage family making $50,000 a year about $1,500 compared to whatthey would if Congress did not extend the current tax cut.
"I know some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxeson anyone for as long as you live," Obama said, a reference to theconservative tea party influence on many House Republicans. "Nowis not the time to carve out an exception and raise-middle classtaxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away."
Politics shadowed every element of Obama's speech. He imploredpeople watching on TV to lobby lawmakers to act. He did the samething before his speech in an email to campaign supporters,bringing howls of hypocrisy Republicans who wondered why Obama wastelling them to put party above country.