President Barack Obama addresses a Joint Session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol September 8, 2011 in Washington, …Saying "There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation," President Barack Obama presented members of Congress Thursday night with a bill that he said would create jobs and provide relief for small businesses immediately.
"The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we'll meet ours," President Obama said in his speech. "The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning."
The American Jobs Act proposes $447 billion in job-creating measures including a "returning heroes" tax credit for businesses that hire veterans, deep payroll tax cuts, unemployment insurance reform, and the preservation of teaching, police, construction, and firefighting jobs-all without increasing the nation's debt. Instead, Obama said that he will propose an additional deficit-reduction plan on September 19 that would close loopholes in the tax system, lower the corporate tax rate, increase taxes for the wealthy, and reform programs such as Medicare. The legislation is slated to go to Congress next week.
"The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working," Obama said. "It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services." Throughout his speech, he urged members of both houses of Congress: "You should pass this jobs plan right away."
"Pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or raise workers' wages," he said. "Pass this jobs bill, and all small business owners will also see their payroll taxes cut in half next year."
Also included in the American Jobs Act:
- Help for businesses that choose work-sharing options, where they trim workers hours rather than laying people off.
- A $4,000 tax credit for companies that hire people who have been unemployed for more than six months (a.k.a. "long-term unemployed.")
- Protection against discrimination for long-term unemployed workers.
- Incentives to re-employ older workers.
- Re-employment assistance for the very long-term unemployed.
- Training programs and jobs for younger workers.
- $35 billion to retain teaching, police, and firefighting jobs and to reverse layoffs.
- "Project Rebuild," which would create jobs for people rehabilitating homes, businesses, and communities.
- Infrastructure reinvestment, including an immediate $50 billion for the improvement of air, rail, and highways.
- Expanding high-speed internet
- Start-up assistance for older workers seeking to launch their own businesses.
- Cutting payroll taxes, which would provide a tax cut of about $1,500 to families earning $50,000 a year.
- Ways to allow homeowners to refinance at today's low rates, even if interest rates rise.
- Tax credits from $5,600 to $9,600 for businesses that hire unemployed veterans.
The bill, which has strong support from Democrats, contains ideas familiar to Republicans. "Fifty House Republicans have proposed the same payroll tax cut that's in this plan," the president said. "Everything in here is the kind of proposal that's been supported by both Democrats and Republicans-including many who sit here tonight," the President said.
Even so, some Republicans said that they'd be skipping the jobs speech entirely, and some of those who did attend were critical. "President Obama, perhaps not knowing what else to do, is simply calling for more of the same, as if giving us more of the failed policies of the last two-and-a-half years will somehow yield different results," Arizona Senator Jon Kyl said in a statement. "I believe President Obama's new 'stimulus' will further delay economic recovery and continue to inflict harm on so many Americans." Looking bored, Louisiana Representative Jeff Landry sat through the speech holding a sign that said "Drilling = Jobs."
House Speaker John Boehner's response was more tempered: "It's my hope that we can work together to end the uncertainty facing families and small businesses, and create a better environment for long-term economic growth and private-sector job creation," he told CNN.
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