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As Election Nears, Jobs Are First Priority

SCOTT SIMON, host: Joined now by NPR's Andrea Seabrook.

Thanks for being with us.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Great to be here, Scott.

SIMON: And remind us now the main details of President Obama's proposal and characterize his speech for us.

SEABROOK: OK. Tax cuts, he says, to help American small businesses hire and grow. That includes some of the things that Scott was just talking about - cutting payroll taxes. There is a complete payroll tax holiday for adding workers or increasing wages for small businesses. A lot more to those plans.

Also, he has a section called putting workers back on the job. Returning heroes hiring tax credit. What that means is, as he said in his speech, people who've been fighting for America shouldn't have to fight for a job when they get back. That's tax credits for helping to hire unemployed workers.

Preventing teacher layoffs while keeping, you know, and also cops and firefighters by giving tax credits to municipalities that keep them on. Modernizing public schools. And let's hear a little bit about his part about modernizing public schools.

President BARACK OBAMA: The American Jobs Act will repair and modernize at least 35,000 schools. It will put people to work right now, fixing roofs and windows, installing science labs and high-speed Internet in classrooms all across this country. It will rehabilitate homes and businesses in communities hit hardest by foreclosures. It will jumpstart thousands of transportation projects all across the country.

SEABROOK: And there's a big part that's all about tax relief for American workers and families. So the main thing, though, at the very end of the speech, the thing that got both Republicans and Democrats on their feet, was that he said it would be fully paid for.

SIMON: Now, of course, you were in the chamber, and how did the speech go over?

SEABROOK: Well, let me tell you, Scott. That clip that we just played of him talking about modernizing schools and classrooms was a really interesting one because the Democrats jumped to their feet very excited about the speech. The Republicans stayed seated. They don't like anything that has spending attached to it.

And it's, you know, this was more of - it was a big policy speech. You've heard everything I just. But it was also a political speech. Listen to his refrain throughout the speech.

OBAMA: I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. Pass this jobs bill. You should pass this jobs plan right away. Pass this jobs bill. You should pass it right away. Pass this jobs bill. You should pass this bill right away.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SEABROOK: So you can imagine the Democrats were all fired up. They were going, woot, woot. And the Republicans looked stony faced and sat in their seats. And afterwards, Republican leaders, you know, told me they felt a little bit like they'd been bullied, hammered. And they said, you know, there is something for us to find, some commonality here, but Congress doesn't work that way. The president doesn't just come and say pass this bill and it's done.

SIMON: So what's your wisest surmise, is it going to pass?

SEABROOK: I think it's possible that some version of it could pass. I think everyone, everyone in Congress right now wants to talk about jobs. They went home for their August recess, and I believe just about all of them got a talking to from their constituents saying, August - no, July, June was shameful.

The idea that Congress spent all that time working on averting an artificial crisis was just amazing. And Americans - meanwhile, Americans have the highest unemployment in decades. So I think they all want to do something. And I think they are eager to have something done.

SIMON: So, 20 seconds we got left, what about the old supercommittee?

SEABROOK: Oh, they'll be at work, too. I mean, that whole thing hangs on them. And, you know, it's not a great campaign move either to have a whole bunch of terrible cuts. And, of course, don't forget, Scott, we now have the constant peanut gallery of Republican presidential candidates. It's going to be an interesting fall.

SIMON: Never forget that.

NPR's congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook.

Thanks so much.

SEABROOK: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.