Obama optimistic about jobs bill after bipartisan meeting

President Obama met with leaders of both parties Tuesday to move forward one of his key objectives: a bill designed to stimulate job creation. Democrats have said they would like to pass a jobs bill by Feb. 12.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Barack Obama meets with bipartisan House and Senate leaders to discuss the economy and jobs, Tuesday, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. From left are, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Md., House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and the president.

President Obama voiced optimism Tuesday on one of his key short-term objectives: getting a bill through Congress designed to accelerate job creation.

The Senate is in bipartisan talks "as we speak," and quick action is possible, Mr. Obama told reporters after meeting in the morning with lawmakers from both major parties. But he added that the bill "may not include all the things I think need to be done."

With congressional elections coming up this fall, dealmaking across party lines looks to be difficult on many issues this year. Jobs could be an exception, given the urgency of unemployment as a voter concern.

Still, the two parties have differing ideas on how to stimulate job growth. And with the Democrats' recent loss of a 60-vote Senate supermajority, dealmaking has become decidedly tougher for the president. "It may take a series of incremental steps," involving trust-building across party lines, to get more of his jobs plan passed, Obama said.

He expressed hope that the Senate can agree on eliminating capital-gains taxes for investments in new firms.

And where he has proposed a $5,000-per-job tax credit for firms that hire new workers, it appears possible that a bipartisan Senate deal will center around another incentive for employers.

Sens. Charles Schumer (D) of New York and Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah have proposed a break from Social Security taxes in 2010 for employers when they hire someone who is unemployed.

Obama has also called for a $30 billion plan to inject new capital into community banks, so that they can make more loans. And he hopes to win more money for infrastructure spending and tax breaks for homeowners to pay for energy-efficient improvements.

"We are talking about a roughly $80 billion [jobs] package," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said after he and others met with Obama at the White House.

Many Republicans argue that hiring remains stalled in part because of uncertainty about Obama administration policies and the potential burden of rising government spending and taxation.

"President Obama’s budget spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much," House minority leader John Boehner said in a recent statement.

Obama sought to parry that criticism Tuesday, when asked whether small-business uncertainty was hindering job creation. He said reforms of healthcare and of financial markets would create a better climate for business.

"The sooner the business community has a sense that we've got our act together in Washington ... I think the better off the entire country's going to be," he said.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada is hoping to pass a jobs bill by the end of the week, despite slowdowns caused by Washington-area snowstorms. The push comes amid signs that the labor market is turning in a positive direction. Unemployment fell last month from 10 percent to 9.7 percent. Some economists believe that within a quarter or two, the economy will be adding 200,000 to 300,000 jobs per month.

Even if the labor market shifts into gear like that, however, it wouldn't fix the high jobless rate. With nearly 15 million Americans unemployed and looking for work, many economists support the idea of additional federal spending to buoy job growth.

Obama also included reforming healthcare and taming budget deficits on his to-do list for bipartisan talks. Those issues are much tougher to reach consensus on, especially in an election year.

"I have put forward the idea of a fiscal commission [on the deficit]," Obama said earlier in the day. "I'm going to be discussing both with my Democratic and Republican colleagues how we can get that moving as quickly as possible, so that we can start taking some concrete action."

Although the deficit is less pressing than jobs as an immediate economic concern, the two issues are linked. The current fiscal crisis in Greece is a reminder that an untamed buildup in debt can cross a threshold where it could have a severe impact on the economy and credit.

America's public debt has been rising fast during the recession, nearing a level that economists say is risky. And politically, voter concern about deficit spending has helped to fuel Republican hopes for wins in fall elections.

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