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A Recap Of Obama's Jobs Speech

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

President Obama called on Congress tonight to stop the political circus and pass his plan, dubbed the American Jobs Act.

President BARACK OBAMA: There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that's been supported by both Democrats and Republicans, including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for - everything.

SIEGEL: President Obama, addressing a joint session of Congress this evening; his speech wrapped up about 25 minutes ago. The White House says the president's jobs plan will cost $447 billion. Included in that proposal, spending to improve roads, bridges and schools, payroll tax cuts and tax credits to businesses that hire long-term unemployed workers.

For more on tonight's speech, I'm joined by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And, Mara, first, your sense of the president's speech.

MARA LIASSON: Well, I think it was a speech that was delivered in a feisty, fighting way. He laid out his jobs plan, it's a specific plan, he's going to have an actual bill going up to Congress. It is about half the cost of the original stimulus, so it will pack a certain kind of punch to the economy. It has some proposals in it, as he said, that were in the past bipartisan. Remains to be seen if the Republicans are willing to pass anything that the president proposes.

But I do think it succeeded in one of its aims, which is satisfying his base that he has a jobs plan and that he's willing to fight for it.

SIEGEL: Yeah, the president dared Congress to oppose a tax cut that was targeted at the middle class. Let's take a listen to what he said.

Pres. OBAMA: I know that some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes, which is why you should pass this bill right away.


LIASSON: This is what one of the White House's kind of trump cards here. They believe it is going to be very hard for Republicans to oppose a tax cut that affects middle-class people. This is the payroll tax cut, otherwise known as the Social Security tax - everyone who works gets this taken out of their paycheck. The tax cut that the president is talking about extending and expanding would put about $1,500 into every working family's checkbook. He also wants to expand it to affect the employer's side of the ledger, so that they would also get a payroll tax break, because they pay half of the tax, too.

This morning, Eric Cantor, at a breakfast, was kind of dismissive of this idea. It's not an income tax, so Republicans aren't very focused on it. But I think it will be hard for them to oppose. And I do think this is one of the most powerful political arguments that the Democrats have.

SIEGEL: And, actually, I think it's a majority of Americans who spend more on their Social Security tax than they do in income tax.

LIASSON: Yes, it does affect everybody, that's right.

SIEGEL: This was a feisty speech, President Obama read it at a rapid clip. And he indicated that this speech is, for him, just a beginning.

Pres. OBAMA: Regardless of the arguments we've had in the past, regardless of the arguments we'll have in the future, this plan is the right thing to do right now. You should pass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country.


Pres. OBAMA: And I ask - I ask every American who agrees to lift your voice. Tell the people who are gathered here tonight that you want action now.


LIASSON: Well, we'll see if people respond to him. He's done this before. During the debt ceiling debate, he asked people to call Congress and they, whether they did or not, they didn't sway Congress to the president's point of view. But I do think what this says is the president understands that this speech, this one speech is not the end of this fight, that he does have to repeat this message over and over again. That's something that the White House has been faulted for, for not having follow through and kind of message discipline. But now he has something to campaign on.

This is, in effect, the economic platform for his reelection campaign. He's saying that if the Republican Congress stops him - stops these programs from going into - from being enacted, this is what he would do if he had a second term.

SIEGEL: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.