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Updated: September 7, 2010 18:37 IST

Obama promotes new jobs programme

AP
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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the annual Milwaukee Area Labour Council on Monday.
AP U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the annual Milwaukee Area Labour Council on Monday.

A combative President Barack Obama rolled out a long-term jobs programme on Monday that would exceed $50 billion to rebuild roads, railways and runways, and coupled it with a blunt campaign-season assault on Republicans for causing Americans’ hard economic times.

Republican leaders instantly assailed Mr. Obama’s proposal as an ineffective one that would simply raise already excessive federal spending. Many congressional Democrats are also likely to be reluctant to boost expenditures and increase federal deficits just weeks before elections that will determine control of Congress.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Jim Manley, cautioned, “If we are going to get anything done, Republican cooperation, which has been all but non-existent recently, will be necessary.”

That left the plan with low, if not impossible, odds of becoming law this year. When Congress returns from summer recess in mid-September, it is likely to remain in session for only a few weeks before lawmakers return home to campaign for re-election.

Administration officials said that even if Congress quickly approved the programme, it would not produce jobs until sometime next year. That means the proposal’s only pre-election impact may be a political one as the White House tries to demonstrate to voters that it is working to boost the economy and create jobs.

At a Labour Day speech in Milwaukee, Mr. Obama said Republicans are betting that between now and the Nov. 2 elections, Americans will forget the Republican economic policies that led to the recession. He said Republicans have opposed virtually everything he has done to help the economy, and have proposed solutions that have only made the problem worse.

“That philosophy didn’t work out so well for middle-class families all across America,” Mr. Obama told a cheering crowd at a labour gathering. “It didn’t work out so well for our country. All it did was rack up record deficits and result in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”

He said Repubicans have consistently opposed his economic proposals and seem to be running on a slogan of “No, we can’t,” playing off his 2008 presidential campaign mantra of “Yes we can.”

“If I said fish live in the sea, they’d say no,” Mr. Obama said.

Republicans made clear that Mr. Obama should not expect any help from them.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said the plan “should be met with justifiable scepticism.” He said it would raise taxes while Americans are “still looking for the ‘shovel-ready’ jobs they were promised more than a year ago” in the $814 billion economic stimulus measure.

The Republican leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner, added “We don’t need more government ‘stimulus’ spending. We need to end Washington Democrats’ out-of-control spending spree, stop their tax hikes, and create jobs by eliminating the job-killing uncertainty that is hampering our small businesses.”

Administration officials are hunting broadly for ways to revive the economy. But they are likely to drop a separate proposal to renew a law exempting companies from paying federal pension taxes on any unemployed workers they hire, according to a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision was not final.

Casual in brown slacks and open-collar white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, Mr. Obama took a populist tack in his speech, mixing attacks on Republicans with praise for working-class and middle-class Americans.

He said he’d “keep fighting, every single day, every single hour, every single minute to turn this economy around.” He said interest groups he has battled “talk about me like a dog.”

He also acknowledged that the past eight months of modest private-sector job growth hasn’t been enough to bring down the unemployment rate. He said economic problems facing families today are “more serious than ever,” and seemed to ask the audience in Milwaukee -- and voters nationwide -- for patience.

“Now here’s the honest truth, the plain truth. There’s no silver bullet, there’s no quick fix to these problems,” he said, adding that it will take time to “reverse the damage of a decade worth of policies” that caused the recession.

Administration officials said the transportation plan’s initial $50 billion would be the beginning of a six-year programme of transportation improvements, but they did not give an overall figure. The proposal has a longer-range focus than last year’s economic stimulus bill, which was more targeted on immediate job creation.

The plan calls for rebuilding 150,000 miles (241,400 kilometres) of roads; building and maintaining 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometres) of rail lines and 150 miles (240 kilometres) of airport runways, and installing a new air navigation system to reduce travel times and delays.

Mr. Obama also called for a permanent funding mechanism, an infrastructure bank, to focus on paying for national and regional infrastructure projects. Officials provided few details of how the bank would work.

Mr. Obama said the proposal would be fully paid for. In an earlier briefing for reporters, administration officials said Mr. Obama would pay for the programme by asking lawmakers to close tax breaks for oil and gas companies and multinational corporations.

The infrastructure spending is part of a package of economic proposals to be announced this week by Mr. Obama, who is feeling heat from fellow Democrats and a jittery public to show that he is focused on pumping life into the economic recovery and shrinking an unemployment rate long stuck near 10 per cent.

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