President Obama pitched his American Jobs Act before a joint session of Congress Thursday evening, pleading his case with proposals clearly designed to win bipartisan approval and demanding action with tough campaign-style rhetoric. The nature of the talk, a desperate soft and hard sell, underlined the fact that Americans are stuck hoping the most frustratingly partisan government in modern history can summon the wherewithal to finally address the job-killing recession that has plagued the country for years and that shows no sign of letting up anytime soon.
“I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away,” he said. “There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans, including many who sit here tonight. Everything in this bill will be paid for… It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed. It will provide tax breaks for companies who hire new workers and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business.”
Colorado Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Udall sat with Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski as a nod to bipartisanship. He told reporters after the speech that he thought the president’s job act was a “practical and responsible” proposal and that the time had come for the crippling rancor on Capitol Hill to end.
“In any other political time, [the act] would probably get support from both sides of the aisle… There will be a few hyper-partisans who will want to go into a corner to get ready to punch it out” until the next election, he said, suggesting that the media should downplay detractors as inevitable and as outliers in the debate.
“The last several months have been the most bitterly divided I have ever seen in Washington. It’s been detrimental to the country.”
Signals coming from GOP leaders so far suggest Udall’s cautious optimism is not misplaced. A memo circulated among the House Republican Conference in advance of the speech intimates that the thrust of the act and some of its main planks could win Republican support.
The act is sort of a stimulus plan via tax cuts that centers on projects aimed at rebuilding the nation’s highways, bridges, runways and schools. It includes tax breaks for companies that hire long-term unemployed Americans and a middle class payroll tax cut. The plan would look to hire more teachers, streamline regulations and extend and revamp unemployment insurance benefits and back-to-work programs partly to up economic demand.
The GOP House memo suggested Republicans would cooperate on a plan designed to boost construction projects generally and infrastructure spending in particular. The memo said they would also support a plan that offered a jobs program for the unemployed.
In media appearances after the speech, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sounded a fairly positive note.
“I did hear some things, like small business tax relief, reducing red tape, working to try and streamline the infrastructure spending in this country, and looking to reform the unemployment benefits program to get people back to work,” he told CNBC. “These are the kinds of things that can produce results, help clean up the system, and we could do these right away. I’m hoping to peel some of these out of the package, to put them on the floor, to see what we can get done as soon as possible to produce results.”
The payroll tax cut championed by the president, however, has been one of the only tax cuts Republicans have not enthusiastically endorsed in the last decade.
“I know some of you have pledged to never again raise taxes as long as you live,” Obama said looking out over the seated GOP caucus. “Well, now is not the time to carve out an exception.”
Republicans groaned when Obama proposed allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy– pitched as temporary a decade ago– to expire as a way to help pay for the jobs plan.
“I think the wealthy would want to do that [for the country],” he said. “It’s just math. These are simple choices, and I know what most Americans would choose.”
In her comments after the speech, Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette bristled at what she described as a sign of likely “intransigence” on the part of some Republicans in response to the president proposing to lift the tax breaks.
“For too long… gridlock has stood in the way of Congress providing real solutions to create jobs for Americans. Unfortunately tonight that intransigence was once again on display, as my Republican colleagues visibly refused to support the idea that everyone in our country – including the wealthiest among us – should contribute their fair share to our recovery.”
Republican members of the Colorado delegation responded to the proposal with qualified and tentative support.
Mike Coffman wished the president had brought Republicans into the process of drawing up the jobs act.
“The president should have shown leadership by bringing both parties together in the White House to come up with a bipartisan plan on a jobs bill instead of delivering a highly-partisan campaign speech. However, I owe it to my constituents to study each of his proposals to see which ones have merit and to continue to work hard toward improving our economy in order to create jobs.”
Cory Gardner took a cue from the House memo that asked members to play up the “House Republican Plan for America’s Job Creators.”
“As the President moves forward with his jobs plan, I hope that he considers taking action on the dozens of House-passed jobs bills that could immediately help put people back to work but have stalled in the Senate. Many of these bills bring much needed relief from excessive federal regulations that are hampering job creation across our country. Both parties must work together in the weeks ahead to facilitate this effort.”
Doug Lamborn wants to see the bill.
“The President’s engagement on this critical issue is long overdue. I look forward to seeing a written plan that can be independently reviewed for cost.”
Governor John Hickenlooper characteristically looked for sunshine. The storm clouds that have squatted over Washington for so long might finally break, he suggested. The plan represents a great opportunity.
“The President described an integrated plan that involves tax credits and tax cuts to help encourage businesses to hire workers… [but] what matters more than the details of this package is the important opportunity Congress and the President have to kick election politics aside and demonstrate to Coloradans and to the country that government in Washington, D.C., is not broken and that Congress can get things done to help the economy.”