On Thursday evening, an impassioned Barack Obama addressed the U.S. Congress to deliver a speech presenting his American Jobs Bill. Long awaited by Americans, the bill aims to simply help America get back to work. National unemployment stands at 9.1 percent, and the monthly figure hasn't been below 8.8 percent since President Obama took office in 2009. As the president begins to take seriously his reelection, the polls are increasingly telling him that jobs and economy are the most important issues on the minds of Americans. President Obama has been criticized on both sides of the aisle for allowing a raft of issues to dominate the national agenda, from health care to the raising of the debt ceiling, while Americans continue their search for work.
His speech, and the bill it announced was his effort to change the narrative. Barack Obama must convince Americans their employment is as important to him as it is to them. "Pass this jobs bill," he repeatedly implored the 112th Congress. He says his bill, if passed, would cost $447 billion dollars, and that it would pay for itself based on the summer's long-term spending cuts deal. He added that in the coming weeks, he would outline further deficit reduction plans. But in the immediate aftermath of the speech, analysts were already saying that they expect congressional dealmaking to settle on a smaller package once a jobs plan became law. Below are five key points from the speech.
1. Cut Payroll Taxes
Topping the president's jobs initiative is a payroll tax cut. The plan is to expand cuts worth $240 billion so that workers could expect to see their share halved through 2012. This provision would also cut the payroll tax in half to 3.1 percent for employers, on the first $5 million in wages. The president returned to the theme of restoring taxes from before the administration of George W. Bush for the wealthiest Americans, to offset any loss of revenue.
2. Transportation Infrastructure
The fact that America has fallen behind Asian giants like China in an area that it once dominated -- think interstate highway system -- has become a national embarrassment. Infrastructure presents another opportunity for Obama -- a chance to get Americans working on the country's myriad eyesores. Among the possibilities that Obama alluded to was modernizing America's railroads and, indeed, high-speed rail plans have been a pet project of Vice President Joe Biden. In total, the president aims to spend $50 billion on immediate investments for highways, transit, rail and aviation. Another $10 billion will be spent on an infrastructure bank. Such spending runs the risk of drawing serious opposition from Republicans, who will view such projects as further stimulus that's unlikely to help.
3. School Infrastructure
Obama also pledged to put Americans to work on construction projects at some 35,000 dilapidated schools. Similar ideas have been batted around in the U.S. Congress, and plans have been put forward by Congresswoman Jan Schakowky (D-Ill.), among others. Obama's version aims to invest $25 billion in school infrastructure. The president also specified the need to rehire teachers who have been laid off, and will look to offer up $35 billion to help protect 280,000 teachers. The president put it bluntly: "How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart?"
4. Get Veterans Hired
The president suggested that the country's greatest embarrassment is the unemployment rate of U.S. veterans. The rate for vets below the age of 30 hovers around 24 percent, and that rate could even grow. Currently, there are 2 million veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns back home. But once those missions fully draw down, that number could easily double, reports say. These veterans often come back without full educations, and severely traumatized. The so-called Returning Heroes tax credit will set aside $5,600 to $9,600 to encourage the hiring of unemployed veterans.
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5. Tax Credit for Hiring Long-Term Unemployed
There are some 6.2 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months. Their ongoing plight has been one of the defining aspects of the Great Recession, and President Obama pitched a plan to give companies a $4,000 tax credit for hiring from this group of 5 million Americans. The president also called on Congress to extend unemployment insurance for those who have seen theirs expire.
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