Contours of Obama jobs package coming into focus

Friday, 26 August 2011 00:11 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Obama crafting hiring plan to focus on schools, taxes
  • Short-term spending likely to meet Republican resistance
  • Actual impact of measures on job creation unclear

VINEYARD HAVEN (Reuters): U.S. President Barack Obama is finalizing a jobs package that could include a program to refurbish school buildings nationwide and tax breaks to encourage firms to hire workers.

The package, to be unveiled in early September, is Obama's chance to convince skeptical voters he can bring down the 9.1 percent unemployment rate and steer the United States away from another recession -- ahead of next year's election.

Critics say the president, who bailed out the auto industry and spent $860 billion to revive the economy after he took office in 2009, has few jobs-boosting options and will have a hard time getting Republicans to accept any new spending plan.

But economists and advisers familiar with his strategy say Obama will argue next month that the financial crisis was worse than anyone thought at the time and say more stimulus is needed to make any real dent in the unemployment rate.

The details are still being discussed during the president's annual vacation in Martha's Vineyard, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

But the broad contours of the jobs package are quickly coming into focus.

The president is widely expected to repeat his calls for an extension of a payroll tax cut, push for patent reform and bilateral free trade deals, and suggest an infrastructure bank to upgrade the country's roads, airports and other facilities.

Retrofitting schools with energy efficient technology would allow the government to directly hire for labor-intensive work and also give a boost to the clean energy sector that Obama has said could be an important U.S. economic motor.

Other measures being considered, according to economists who have advised the White House, include tax credits for firms hiring more workers, funds for local governments to hire teachers, and retraining help for the long-term unemployed. Steps to boost the ailing housing market are also under review.

"What's going to be included in this plan are some reasonable ideas that could have a tangible impact on improving our economy and creating jobs ... the kinds of things that Republicans should be able to support," Earnest said. "These are bipartisan ideas that the president is going to offer up."

Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, are broadly opposed to any big new spending and have argued Obama's previous stimulus spending stretched budget deficits and added to the national debt without making a dent in employment.

But with unemployment stuck above 9 percent, and with the economy expected to continue to grow at an anemic rate for two years or more, the White House believes it needs to give the labor market another leg up. A senior administration official said Obama would focus next month's economics speech on jobs.

Poll: Obama in tight race against Republican rivals

Reuters: President Barack Obama is in a deadheat with Republicans presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul among registered voters, according to a Gallup poll issued this week.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney leads Obama by two percentage points -- 48 percent to 46 percent, when respondents were asked whom they would vote for if the 2012 presidential election were held today.

Texas Governor Rick Perry and Obama are tied at 47 percent. Democrat Obama edges out Texas congressman Ron Paul 47 percent to 45 percent and leads Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann for four percentage points.

The results show at this point in the campaign voters are fairly evenly divided over giving Obama a second term or electing a Republican candidate, the Gallup said.

The poll results are based on interviews with 1,026 voters on Aug. 17-18, as a part of a daily track survey and has a sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.