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Obama hits the road to sell his pivotal jobs plan

RICHMOND, Virginia: President Barack Obama, seeking to rescue a faltering U.S. economy and his own re-election prospects, began an uphill battle Friday to win Republican support for a $447 billion jobs plan.

The proposals, weighted toward tax cuts for workers and businesses, was carefully crafted to appeal to middle-class voters who gravitate toward the political center.

A day after unveiling his ideas on Capitol Hill, Obama pitched the plan directly to Americans in a speech at Virginia’s Richmond University, kicking off a months-long campaign to promote the package across the country.

“Everything in it will put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. Everything in it will be paid for,” he told thousands of students, faculty and supporters at the event dotted with “2012” signs.

“Let’s pass this jobs bill right away,” he said to cheers.

The White House sees Obama’s plan – a mix of payroll tax cuts and spending to upgrade roads, bridges and schools – as the best hope for reducing the 9.1 percent unemployment rate that threatens his presidency.

Early estimates suggested it could lift U.S. growth by 1 to 3 percentage points in 2012, lower the unemployment rate by at least half a percentage point and add well over 1 million jobs. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics and a former adviser to 2008 Republican presidential contender John McCain, said it could add 1.9 million jobs.

With his on-the-road messaging, Obama hopes to rally enough support to pressure Republicans to get behind the plan so that it can start to lower unemployment before voters make up their mind about who to support in November 2012.

“The next election is 14 months away,” Obama told a rare joint session of Congress Thursday. “And the people who sent us here – the people who hired us to work for them – they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months.”

Obama will send the jobs plan legislation to Congress next week but it may take months for lawmakers to work through it.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said earlier Friday that once it is passed, the jobs plan would filter out in the economy in three to six months. That means it could make a dent by summer 2012 so long as it’s passed this year.

There were initial signs that Republican congressional leaders may be ready to find at least some common ground on the plan, despite their opposition to much of Obama’s agenda over the past year.

The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, said Obama’s ideas “merit consideration.” Rep. Eric Cantor, the second ranking Republican in the House whose state Obama will visit Friday, said the payroll tax cuts were “something that will be a part of the discussions” and described “a lot of room for us to work together.”

“I heard plenty in the president’s speech last night where there is a lot of room for commonality and we can get something done quickly,” Cantor told CNN Friday morning.

He said Republicans were unconvinced about the need for an infrastructure bank, another component of Obama’s jobs plan, but could accept other aspects, including tax cuts.

Top Democrats said they hoped Republicans, whose top issue is debt and deficit reduction, would be willing to accept the public works programs and funds to hire teachers that round out Obama’s program, along with mortgage refinancing help.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters en route to Richmond that the president welcomed the “conciliatory tone” from Boehner and other Republicans and stressed that creating jobs was a top priority for most Americans, politics aside.

Obama said in Richmond he was glad to hear Cantor and others say they saw an opportunity to work together.

Bleak jobs figures and other data have raised fears the U.S. economy could slide into another recession.

While the economy’s woes have sent Obama’s popularity tumbling to new lows, Republicans are well aware they could suffer political fallout too if Obama succeeds in painting them as obstructionists in the effort to fix the jobs problem.

The unexpectedly large $447 billion price tag for Obama’s jobs plan was welcomed by powerful constituencies such as labor unions whose support Obama needs in his re-election drive.

Financial markets were not convinced by Obama’s plan and its chances of getting Republican support to pass Congress. But worries about the resignation of a European Central Bank executive board member soon eclipsed that skepticism, causing U.S. stock indexes to tumble more than 2 percent Friday.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 10, 2011, on page 5.

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