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It's Up To Congress Whether To Back Obama's Plan


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene.

President Obama laid out a challenge for Congress last night. He made proposals that he said could create jobs; a mix of tax cuts, infrastructure spending and also working training. And this is how he framed the argument: He insisted he was merely challenging Republican lawmakers to vote for their own ideas.

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.

GREENE: That was the president's description. Afterwards, some Republicans were skeptical, but there were also signs of agreement, as NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH: The reviews are in, and in some ways they're exactly what you'd expect. Here's New York Democrat Eliot Engel.

Representative ELIOT ENGEL (Democrat, New York): This is the Barack Obama I've been waiting for. He's back and better than ever.

KEITH: And Texas Republican Randy Neugebauer.

Representative RANDY NEUGEBAUER (Republican, Texas): We just saw basically a rehash of the policy that he laid out a couple of years ago. We tried the stimulus route and it didn't work.

KEITH: Some political math: Republicans control the House and have enough votes to stop any bill in its tracks in the Senate. The White House needs positive reviews from Democrats. But if Republicans won't go for the president's American Jobs Act, it's dead on arrival. That's not what they are saying, though, at least not right now.

In fact, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor kept things open.

Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia): I heard some things in the speech that we can probably get done and get done in a relatively quick manner.

KEITH: While sprinting down a staircase, Cantor said he wasn't up for an all or nothing approach, but there were parts of the president's plan he thought his party could get behind.

Rep. CANTOR: We ought to be focused on trying to build consensus and finding commonality.

KEITH: Consensus? Commonality? These are words that weren't even in Washington's vocabulary for most of the summer, as the debt ceiling debate raged on. And that might be why Democrats like Engel are hopeful.

Rep. ENGLE: I think the Democrats like me will be receptive. And I think the Republicans, if they're really going to be fair and they're not going to just say no, I think there are going to be elements of this plan that they should like.

KEITH: Now, for most of the speech, if there was an applause line, Democrats were the only ones clapping. But there were a few points when both Republicans and Democrats stood and clapped together.

Andy Harris is a Republican congressman from Maryland.

Representative ANDY HARRIS (Republican, Maryland): There's now bipartisan agreement we need to lower the corporate income tax rate. But the president didn't mention how far his plan is going to lower it. The president did talk about a tax credit for hiring returning veterans. I think there's going to be bipartisan agreement on that. Beyond that, I'm afraid that, you know, there's going to be a disagreement about whether this is really going to help create jobs or not.

KEITH: Disagreement about the approach? Yes. Total agreement about the problem. At 9.1 percent, the unemployment rate is painfully high. Members of Congress have just spent the past month back in their districts, where the need for jobs is all too real.

California Democrat Maxine Waters and the Congressional Black Caucus held job fairs around the country.

Representative MAXINE WATERS (Democrat, California): Ten thousand people showed up. In Atlanta, I think you had about 8,000. People stood in line for hours to get an opportunity to talk to an employer. No one can deny that this need is substantial.

KEITH: Which is why it's possible something might get done. California Republican Darrel Issa...

Representative DARRELL ISSA (Republican, California): The president had a very good point. Its 14 months before an election. In those 14 months, doing nothing is not an option.

KEITH: What they can actually do depends on whether this new conciliatory approach goes beyond words.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.