Confrontational Obama presents jobs bill, leaves Republicans underwhelmed
The weather outside wasn’t the only storm enveloping Capitol Hill on Thursday night. Inside the House chamber, a confrontational President Barack Obama presented his $450 billion American Jobs Act to a joint session of Congress.
He caught lawmakers off guard by announcing his intent to release a plan to reduce the deficit on September 19.
Considered to be his last chance to jolt an economic recovery and retake control of Washington’s agenda, Obama called on lawmakers to come together and solve the unemployment crisis that has plagued the nation.
In fact, Obama implored Congress to “pass this bill” nearly twenty times during his address. Still, he sounded prepared for a political battle.
“There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation,” he said. “Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans — including many who sit here tonight.”
The lawmakers who sat in the chamber, however, were divided evenly by party. Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts was seen sitting next to Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. Usual seat partners Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona were together, while Reps. Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan scribbled on notepads a few seats away from each other.
On the other side, Democratic Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York was seated next to Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware.
Former Rep. David Wu, who resigned from his seat in July, was also in attendance.
First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a number of guests in her box for the speech. They included: Jeffery Immelt, CEO of General Electric; Steve Case, CEO of Revolution LLC and co-founder of AOL; CEO of American Express Kenneth Chenault; and Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.
Afterward, Trumka issued his own statement supporting the bill, commending President Obama for starting “a serious national conversation about how to solve our jobs crisis.”
House Speaker John Boehner also had guests — more than a dozen private job-creators — in the House Gallery during the speech. They included: Spencer Weitman, President of National Cement; Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Gibson Guitar Company; Lisa Ingram, COO of White Castle; and Eric Treiber, CEO of Chicago White Metal Casting.
Obama said his plan would be fully paid for by the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. The president requested that the committee come up with more than the $1.5 trillion in cuts they were charged with finding before the end of the year.
In other words, the 12 Republican and Democrat lawmakers on the committee, which also met for the first time Thursday, would be responsible for paying for the jobs bill.
In his own statement, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland supported the proposal, saying that while reducing the deficit is important, “we must create jobs for our people. If we don’t we will not be able to balance our budget.”
According to Obama, the plan will focus on creating jobs for construction workers, teachers and veterans. It will also include a tax break for companies who hire new workers and cut payroll taxes in half for working Americans and small businesses. It would additionally extend unemployment insurance for at least another year.
“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,” said Obama. “You should pass this jobs plan right away.”
He also put a special emphasis on infrastructure, telling Congress that America’s highways and skies are clogged and congested.
“This is inexcusable,” said Obama. “Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we’re going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads?”
“At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America?” the president asked energetically.
Congressional Republicans reacted to the speech with apprehension and doubt. Before the Thursday night, some Republicans, including South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, were so unimpressed with the idea of another speech, they pledged not to attend.
Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina told The Daily Caller he was hoping the president was going to present something new. “It’s a continuation of borrow-spend, and really puts our country at risk,” he said.
“This is really not the way to run government,” Wilson added.
Rep. Allen West of Florida simply told TheDC with a shrug, “We’ll see”.
Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas told reporters he was afraid the bill would only “run the rest of business off.”
“The don’t need a partner,” the congressman said. “They need a referee to make sure everybody plays fair … they don’t need a partner. That’s what drives businesses away.”
“I need to read the bill,” Gohmert concluded, referring to past promises from Obama.
“We heard him say a number of things two years ago about his health care bill then we found out once we got the facts, that Joe Wilson was right,” he added, referring to his colleague from South Carolina.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, however, told TheDC that it was a “great speech.”