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Obama jobs speech: 'Time to stop the political circus'

In his speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama proposed a $447 billion "American Jobs Act" to help those 14 million Americans out of work. Can he convince Republicans to vote for it, and will it help his own tough re-election bid?

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“This plan is the right thing to do right now,” he demanded. “You should pass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country.”

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Thursday night’s speech comes at a critical time – and a political low ebb – for Obama.

Unemployment seems stuck above 9 percent. As if to underscore the breadth of the problem, just hours before Obama’s speech it was reported that unemployment claims last week rose to nearly 415,000.

Sixty-two percent of those surveyed in the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll say they disapprove of the way Obama is handling the economy and jobs (47 percent “strongly” disapprove).

Obama is a proven and gifted speaker, as when he talked about race or his strategy on Afghanistan. But he’s been talking of the need to “jump-start job creation” since his first address to Congress a month after he took office. And with some 6 million Americans among the long-term unemployed (and many of the rest of the population worried about their employment situation), rhetoric – no matter how eloquent – goes only so far.

Will Obama’s proposals fly in Congress – in the Republican-controlled House and in a Senate where it’s easy for a small number of members to prevent legislation from going forward?

“The first stimulus didn't do it. Why would another?” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “This isn't a jobs plan. It is a re-election plan.”

At this point in the 2012 presidential race, anything a candidate (including the incumbent) does has to be seen in the election context. On Friday, Obama was to continue stumping for his jobs plan at the University of Richmond (in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district), and next week he’ll be in Columbus, Ohio (House Speaker John Boehner’s home state).

Still, there have been some indications of bipartisan cooperation – on extending the payroll tax “holiday” through 2012, for example, estimated to save the average household $1,500. Rep. Cantor (R) also has expressed support for infrastructure spending.

At a Monitor-sponsored press lunch Thursday, Mr. Cantor put it this way: “The American people don’t expect Republicans and Democrats to agree on every issue but given the times we’re in the people who elected us expect us to be able to set aside those differences and work towards finding some commonality.”

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