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.”