President Obama unveiled a $400 billion American Jobs Act Thursday that seeks to jolt the economy, boost job creation and reduce the federal deficit. the bill includes tax cuts for small businesses and working Americans, investment in the nation’s infrastructure and reforms to the unemployment insurance program that would enable recipients to gain temporary work experience and enhance their skills.
"The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we'll meet ours," Obama said before a rare joint session of Congress. "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."
Obama urged Congress several times to “pass this bill right away” and said that in addition to being controversy free, it includes several measures that have in the past received bipartisan support.
“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. It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed,” he said. “It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. 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. You should pass this jobs plan right away.”
With an unemployment rate that climbed to 16.7 percent in August, many African-Americans live in fear of what will happen when their unemployment benefits eventually run out. Obama’s proposal calls for a work sharing program that would enable employees to job share and receive some unemployment benefits so employers can avoid layoffs and a “bridge to work” initiative, through which unemployment recipients can continueto receive benefits while working eight weeks in a temporary position or pursue on-the-job training.
According to a White House fact sheet, Obama’s proposal would have a positive impact on the “unacceptably high” African-American unemployment rate by expanding opportunities for the long-term unemployed to reenter the workforce and making investments in schools, infrastructure and neighborhoods.
The administration estimates that 1.4 million African-Americans will benefit from the proposed one-year extension of unemployment insurance and tax credits for hiring the long-term unemployed. An extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut, it says, would benefit nearly 20 million African-American workers. The plan also would support subsidized jobs and summer and year-round jobs for Black youth for whom the unemployment rate is 32.4 percent.
Home foreclosure is another area where African-Americans have been among the hardest hit. Obama said that his administration would work with federal housing agencies to help responsible homeowners refinance their mortgages to the currently low four percent interest rate, which he estimates could put an additional $2,000 each year in a family's pocketbook. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) called the measure "an important first step in what must be a concerted effort to stabilize our housing market."
Although the president cautioned against putting politics and the 2012 election cycle ahead of the needs of struggling Americans, he employed a bit of political savvy as he outlined his plan by pointing to specific measures that Republicans have previously supported, such as an infrastructure plan, and “a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America,” two states represented by Republican leaders House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, respectively.
And in anticipation of Republican opposition to the bill’s price tag, Obama said that it will not add to the deficit and that he would soon release a deficit reduction plan “that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run.”
The president, who has plans to visit several key swing states, warned that despite any differences between him and Republican lawmakers, inaction is not an option and that he plans “take that message to every corner of the nation.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed told BET.com that the American Jobs Act would be an effective tool to drive down unemployment.
“Obama needs to use the full weight of his office and campaign for the passage of the bill as if he were campaigning for president. He still has the largest microphone in America but you do have to put it to work,” he said. “the only way to do that is to travel throughout the country and continue to drive the message home that he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to get people working again because that’s the number one priority for most Americans.”
(Photo: AP Photo/Kevin Lamarque, POOL)