Days after the Labor Department reported stagnant US job growth, President Barack Obama addressed both chambers of Congress Thursday night. The topic, of course, was jobs–specifically his plan to battle the stubbornly high unemployment rate. The price tag: a surprising $447 billion, for a package that the president says will create jobs for construction workers, teachers and veterans. “In the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy,” he said.
The plan, which despite his claims to the contrary does contain controversial elements, includes a proposal to extend the payroll tax holiday into 2012. This is one of the few tax cuts many Republicans oppose. Obama has also included incentives for small businesses to hire more workers, particularly veterans and the long-term unemployed.
The package includes $85 billion in aid for state and local governments; $35 billion to employ teachers, firefighters and police officers; money to modernize schools, rehabilitate and refurbish foreclosed homes; and spending to help low-income youths find jobs.
The construction and manufacturing industries were also high in priority in the plan. It earmarks $50 billion to invest in highways, transit, rail and aviation and $10 billion to fund an infrastructure bank. This bank, which has been discussed before among policy-makers, would leverage private funds.
“There are private construction companies all across America just waiting to get to work,” Obama said. “There’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America. A public transit project in Houston that will help clear up one of the worst areas of traffic in the country. And there are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating.”
The president didn’t say how he would pay for the plan, promising to do so next week with a deficit-reduction plan he plans to submit to the congressional committee that has been tasked with identifying $1.5 trillion in savings by year‘s end, plus an additional $1 trillion over the next ten years. He did provide a hint though. “Tonight, I’m asking you to increase that amount so that it covers the full cost of the American Jobs Act.”