Obama to call for urgent steps on economy
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama will lay out a jobs package worth more than $300 billion on Thursday, staking his re-election hopes on a call for urgent bipartisan action to revive the faltering economy.
With his poll numbers sliding to new lows amid voter frustration with 9.1 percent unemployment, Obama will make tax cuts for middle-class households and businesses the centerpiece of the plan and will press for new spending to repair roads, bridges and other deteriorating infrastructure.
He will use his televised speech before a joint session of Congress, at 7 p.m. EDT, to urge passage of those measures by year-end.
If congressional Republicans reject his remedies, his strategy will be to paint them as obstructionists and blame them for the stagnating economy.
Stubbornly high unemployment has heightened fears that the economy could be headed for another recession. Net employment growth registered zero in August as a budget standoff in Washington and the European debt crisis spooked businesses and consumers.
Obama is under intense pressure to change perceptions that he has shown weak leadership. His economic stewardship has been criticized by both Republicans and fellow Democrats, casting a cloud over his prospects for re-election in November 2012.
"It's a major leadership moment for Obama," said Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "He's running out of months before voters settle in on whether his presidency has failed."
A renewal of payroll tax cuts for workers passed last December is one of the biggest elements of Obama's plan. He will also propose tax cuts to encourage businesses to hire.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this week showed Obama was no longer the favorite to win re-election. It was one of a series of polls this week that held gloomy news for Obama, whose popularity has dwindled to nearly 40 percent.
Democratic sources said Obama would discuss in stark terms the difficulties the economy faces and challenge Republicans to work with him. He will argue that Washington must do all it can to help the economy heal, a message he will press, not just in the speech, but in a series of other appearances this autumn.
JOBS LEGISLATION BY YEAR END?
The goal is to pass legislation by the end of this year, with the aim of making a dent in the unemployment rate by spring of 2012. Political analysts say that to bolster his chances for re-election, Obama needs to be able to point to economic improvement by the middle of next year.
If Congress, which controls the nation's purse strings, does not act, the White House is prepared to paint Republicans as obstructing his efforts to solving the jobless problem.
The bruising battle in July over the country's debt highlighted a wide philosophical chasm between Obama's Democrats and Republicans who control the House of Representatives.
Republicans have derided an $800 billion economic stimulus package that Obama pushed through Congress in 2009 as wasteful spending and have pushed for immediate cuts in the deficit.
Democrats say that while long-term deficits must be addressed, the economy needs a short-term fiscal boost.
Media reports have put the size of Obama's jobs package at upward of $300 billion. CNN quoted sources saying it could top $400 billion. The White House would not confirm the reports.
In a shift, the two top House Republicans, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, this week signaled openness to working with Obama. They said they were amenable to some infrastructure spending and to a program Obama plans to pitch to help train unemployed workers.
Many Democrats felt Obama was too deferential to Republicans during the fight over debt and have urged him to "go bold" in his economic speech.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, asked about Obama's reported jobs package, said, "$300 billion is a lot of money, and if properly spent, can make a tremendous difference."
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said Obama should take responsibility for making the economy worse.
"Unemployment is worse, housing is worse, the debt is worse, and he's done all that by throwing a big wet blanket over the economy with his regulatory, tax and healthcare policies," he said.
(Writing by Caren Bohan; editing by Christopher Wilson)
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