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Payroll taxes: keystone of Obama jobs plan

Payroll taxes would be slashed for workers and employers, under the Obama proposal. Besides payroll taxes, the plan calls for $105 billion in public works and $50 billion in renewed unemployment benefits.

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In announcing a plan heavy on the tax cuts that Republicans traditionally love, Obama sought to achieve multiple goals: offer a bill that could actually get through a deeply divided Congress, speed hiring in a nation where 14 million are out of work, shore up public confidence in his leadership and put Republicans on the spot to take action.

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Obama looked to put himself above the partisanship asking "whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy."

But politics shadowed every element of Obama's speech. He appealed to people watching on TV to lobby lawmakers to act. He did the same thing before his speech in an email to campaign supporters, bringing howls of hypocrisy from Republicans who wondered why Obama was telling them to put party above country.

Washington's political divide has become so intense that normally routine matters now lead to partisan spats. That included the timing of Obama's speech. Obama had asked to speak on Wednesday, at the time of a Republican presidential debate. Speaker John Boehner, in an unusual move, rejected the day and proposed Thursday instead.

Republicans cast Obama as swelling the deficit with reckless spending and proposing what they call job-killing tax increases. Democrats cast Republicans as out of touch with an American public that wants to see the government do more to create jobs and favors a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to bring down deficits.

Obama also has faced criticism from his own supporters, who say he has been too quick to yield to the demands of Republican, especially those associated with the anti-tax, small-government tea party movement.

In his speech, Obama defended the role of government and, without mentioning it by name, took on the tea party.

"This larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone's money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they're on their own - that's not who we are," he said. "That's not the story of America."

Obama remains personally popular and a formidable campaigner. But his approval ratings keep tumbling and no incumbent president in recent history has won re-election with the unemployment rate anywhere near the current level, 9.1 percent.

In one striking sign of discontent, nearly 80 percent of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction. That's about the same level of pessimism as when Obama took office. It reflects both persistently high unemployment and disgust with Washington infighting.

Obama took office in the midst of recession that began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, costing America a staggering 7.5 million jobs. Even though many voters are spreading blame around, Obama owns the economy now and his political strategy of putting the onus on Congress holds risk.

If nothing comes of his jobs program and he tries to blame Congress, he will still be the most identifiable target for voter ire.

Obama will waste no time taking his sales pitch on the road. His first stop will be on Friday at the University of Richmond, in the Virginia congressional district of House majority Leader Eric Cantor, a frequent critic of the president's policies.