WASHINGTON — Facing a frustrated public and a skeptical Congress, President Barack Obama will pitch at least $300 billion in jobs proposals aimed at getting Americans back to work quickly and forcing Republicans to take a share of the responsibility for solving the country's economic woes.
The underlying political strategy: If Obama can't get his ideas passed heading into his re-election year, he at least hopes to show why he shouldn't take the fall.
In a rare speech Thursday to a joint session of Congress, Obama is likely to offer a package of ideas that would affect people in their daily lives — tax relief, unemployment insurance, spending to support construction jobs, aid to states to keep people in their jobs. Businesses would get their own tax breaks. And he will promise a long-term plan to pay for it all.
Yet all of it ultimately will depend on a Republican-controlled House that has a different economic approach and no political incentive to help a Democrat seeking a second term.
White House officials said Obama planned to formally send his plan — coined by the administration as the American Jobs Act — to Congress next week.
Obama's chief of staff, William Daley, urged Republican lawmakers to abandon their politically driven refusal to work with Obama and take action on his jobs proposal. Daley declined to provide details of the president's jobs proposal, saying only that it would help teachers, construction workers, first responders and small businesses, and that many of the ideas have been supported by Republicans in the past.
"The only reason some of these people may not support it now is because of the politics that's going on, which is again unfortunate for the American people," Daley said.
He said the jobs programs would be paid for without borrowed money, and hinted that some of the funds would come from higher taxes on wealthier Americans. They "ought to pay a little more," Daley said.
Obama's goal is also to put Republicans on the spot to act — in their face, and in their chamber. Obama is expected to speak for up to 45 minutes, beginning at 7 p.m. EDT.
Before Obama even said a word, political and economic reality raised two questions: Will any of his ideas get approved, and will they actually work?
When asked about some of the ideas Obama is expected to discuss, majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents were all skeptical that the proposals would do a lot to create jobs, a Pew Research Center poll out Wednesday found. A series of new polls by major news organizations finds that the mood is downright dismal about the direction of the country, with Obama's standing and approval on the economy at or near the lowest levels of his presidency.
Yet voters are holding all leaders accountable, supporting the White House's point that Congress is under pressure to act, too. An Associated Press-GfK poll found that more people assign chief blame for the economy to former President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans and Democrats than to Obama.
Democrats familiar with the president's plans say the White House sees the speech as a pivot point after spending the spring and summer focused on negotiations over deficit spending. They say the fall offers the president a window to press congressional Republicans to act on his economic plan — and if they don't, Obama will spend 2012 running against them as obstructionists. Whether that's enough to win over voters is another matter.