Published December 08, 2009
President Obama used his speech rolling out a stimulus-style jobs program Tuesday to point the finger at Republicans for allegedly facilitating the economic crisis and then foisting it off on his administration to solve.
While praising his own team for pioneering "ambitious" financial reform and "sweeping" economic recovery initiatives, the president took some pointed shots at Republicans who are now blasting the latest package as a spend-crazy "stimulus two" that will drill deeper into the deficit.
"We were forced to take those steps (to jump-start the economy) largely without the help of an opposition party which, unfortunately, after having presided over the decision-making that had led to the crisis, decided to hand it over to others to solve," Obama said, starting his address with a history lesson on the roots of the recession.
Republicans, however, slammed Obama for dipping into the federal piggy bank once again to finance a jobs program that might or might not work.
"This is stimulus two. They won't call it a stimulus," House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
"The policy of this administration is if you've got it, spend it," said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, R-Ind.
Obama said the crisis was caused not just by economic weakness but the "weakness in our political system" -- one corroded by the "bitterness of partisanship," and the "endless campaigns focused on scoring points instead of meeting our common challenges."
"We've seen the consequences of this failure of responsibility. The American people have paid a heavy price," Obama said, calling the nation's unemployment a "human tragedy."
In the address delivered at the Brookings Institution, Obama tried to reinforce his commitment to tackling unemployment, which has remained persistently high despite the $787 billion stimulus package enacted in February and several other incentive programs.
The president's proposals addressed three main areas. He focused primarily on help for small businesses, targeting them with tax credits to encourage hiring and unused Wall Street bailout dollars to increase lending. He also backed a one-year elimination of the capital gains tax on gains from new investment in small business stock and other measures.
The other two priorities for the president were to call for infrastructure spending for highways, railroads, bridges, tunnels, airports and seaports, and a new program to give rebates to people who retrofit their homes so that they're more energy efficient. He also backed an extension of aid and health insurance assistance for the unemployed.
Obama acknowledged the limitations of government action Tuesday, saying that "job creation will ultimately depend on the real job creators -- businesses across America." But he defended his proposals as necessary.
"Given the challenge of accelerating the pace of hiring in the private sector, these targeted initiatives are right and they are needed," he said.
"Our work is far from done," Obama said. "For even though we have reduced the deluge of job losses to a relative trickle, we are not yet creating jobs at a pace to help all those families who have been swept up in the flood."
He said about 7 million fewer Americans have jobs today than when the recession started.
"That's a staggering figure and one that reflects not only the depths of the hole from which we must ascend, but also a continuing human tragedy," he said. "It speaks to an urgent need to accelerate job growth in the short term while laying a new foundation for lasting economic growth."
It's the president's latest step to focus on jobs. He held a jobs summit in Washington last week to field ideas for turning the economy around and set out on a multi-city jobs tour on Friday, stopping first in Allentown, Pa. The jobless rate dipped slightly from 10.2 percent in October to 10 percent in November, though the number of unemployed rose by 11,000 jobs during that month.
Despite GOP objections, the White House is looking to use the suddenly available pot of money left over from the government's bank bailout to help create jobs. Officials initially seemed cool to the idea of trying to redirect that money to jobs-related programs but have changed their tone after a government report last week showed the slightly lower unemployment rate.
According to an administration official, Obama is looking to back using between $20 and $40 billion in unused bailout funds for increased small business lending. He plans to call for between $25 and $30 billion for tax credits aimed at encouraging small businesses to hire new workers, the official said.
The president told reporters Monday there might be "selective approaches" for tapping into the money that was allocated to prop up seriously ailing financial institutions. The administration and its allies on Capitol Hill still would have to get around a provision in the 2008 bailout legislation requiring money repaid by banks or left over to be used exclusively for reducing the federal deficit.
With a tough election year coming up, Obama and congressional Democrats want badly to do something about jobs. Turning a highly unpopular financial rescue program, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), into a potentially popular one that creates new jobs has strong political appeal.
The bailout program, which had an initial price tag of $700 billion, was passed by Congress in October 2008 as the nation's financial system teetered on the brink of collapse. The administration now estimates that the program will cost about $200 billion less than the $341 billion the White House estimated in August.
Fox Business Network's Peter Barnes, Fox News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.