President Barack Obama on Thursday urged Congress to quickly enact a package of tax cuts, infrastructure projects and other spending programs that he characterized as bipartisan.
In an address to a joint session of Congress, Obama unveiled his $447 billion jobs plan, which also includes new spending for teachers’ pay, school construction and tax reform.
Obama sought to set a tone of urgency early on. “Tonight we meet at an urgent time for our country,” Obama said. “We continue to face an economic crisis that has left millions of our neighbors jobless and a political crisis that has made things worse.”
Throughout the speech, the president avoided the lofty rhetoric that has been a hallmark of his oratory, opting for a more blunt tone.
“The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we’ll meet ours. The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy,” Obama said, a line that drew loud applause from Democrats but stony glares from Republicans.
Mixed in with his calls to work together, Obama took a number of not-so-subtle shots at Republicans. His direct attack on the GOP brought Democrats to their feet in thunderous applause and was a clear nod to the demands of his party’s base that Obama fully engage Republicans politically.
Likewise, Obama’s proposals on education and infrastructure clearly pleased Democrats, who at the outset of the speech seemed reluctant before warming to the plan as Obama described it.
Republicans were predictably quiet as Obama appealed to his base with proposals for more spending for teachers and transportation, but many also sat silently even as Obama touched on areas they might support. Virtually no Republicans responded to Obama’s call for an extension of the payroll tax cut, while Obama’s statement that “this isn’t class warfare” drew derisive laughter from the Republican side of the aisle.
However, Republicans, under strict orders from their leaders, did not engage in the kind of theatrics that have marred previous speeches by Obama before Congress. And in some cases, particularly Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), a few Republicans even broke ranks with their colleagues to applaud some of Obama’s proposals.
According to administration officials, the specifics of the plan will be built on a series of proposals that have been backed by Democrats and Republicans in the past.
This is “a combination of proposals that, if passed by Congress, will indisputably add to economic growth and add to job creation,” one senior administration official said.
The president will urge Congress to quickly pass the measure, which will likely be formally unveiled next week along with proposals to offset its cost.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.