(AP, ABC7) — Facing a frustrated public and a skeptical Congress, President Barack Obama will pitch at least $300 billion in jobs proposals aimed at getting Americans back to work quickly and forcing Republicans to take a share of the responsibility for solving the country's economic woes.
The underlying political strategy: If Obama can't get his ideas passed heading into his re-election year, he at least hopes to show why he shouldn't take the fall.
People who need a job will be watching closely, among them the nearly 125,000 people in Washington's 8th ward who are unemployed.
"I've been on unemployment for about two years so I'm just hoping that it’s something else that could be done,” Shequetta Patterson said inside the employment center.
D.C.’s unemployment rate stands at 10.8 percent. In Ward 8, a staggering 26.8 percent are without work.
"I just hope he pushed it. I don't think it's really gonna make a difference," Kevin Hill said of the president’s planned speech.
The 27-year-old married father of three said life is a series of little jobs. His most recent was a six-week-long lead abatement job that ended August 12th.
"I can only be patient and humble myself until it comes through," he said.
At his home, Hill has made-up pictures of Obama with Hill’s children. He and his wife Fuernica have an 8-year-old in school and two younger children at home.
"It’s hard man, you know, I don't want to go back to the streets,” Hill said. "I'm trying to do the right thing, you know, by me working that's all I believe in my kids need. I aint' going to do them no good locked up.”
He's never been to prison, but many in this neighborhood have been and need work.
"I just know we are hurting out here, I know that I ain’t the only one jobless… there's a whole rack of people in there jobless and got families or just came home from jail," Hill said.
In the rare speech Thursday to a joint session of Congress, Obama is likely to offer a package of ideas that would affect people in their daily lives — tax relief, unemployment insurance, spending to support construction jobs, aid to states to keep people in their jobs. Businesses would get their own tax breaks. And he will promise a long-term plan to pay for it all.
Yet all of it ultimately will depend on a Republican-controlled House that has a different economic approach and no political incentive to help a Democrat seeking a second term.
White House officials said Obama planned to formally send his plan — coined by the administration as the American Jobs Act — to Congress next week.
Obama's chief of staff, William Daley, urged Republican lawmakers to abandon their politically driven refusal to work with Obama and take action on his jobs proposal. Daley declined to provide details of the president's jobs proposal, saying only that it would help teachers, construction workers, first responders and small businesses, and that many of the ideas have been supported by Republicans in the past.
"The only reason some of these people may not support it now is because of the politics that's going on, which is again unfortunate for the American people," Daley said.
He said the jobs programs would be paid for without borrowed money, and hinted that some of the funds would come from higher taxes on wealthier Americans. They "ought to pay a little more," Daley said.
Obama's goal is also to put Republicans on the spot to act — in their face, and in their chamber. Obama is expected to speak for up to 45 minutes, beginning at 7 p.m. EDT.
Before Obama even said a word, political and economic reality raised two questions: Will any of his ideas get approved, and will they actually work?
When asked about some of the ideas Obama is expected to discuss, majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents were all skeptical that the proposals would do a lot to create jobs, a Pew Research Center poll out Wednesday found. A series of new polls by major news organizations finds that the mood is downright dismal about the direction of the country, with Obama's standing and approval on the economy at or near the lowest levels of his presidency.
Yet voters are holding all leaders accountable, supporting the White House's point that Congress is under pressure to act, too. An Associated Press-GfK poll found that more people assign chief blame for the economy to former President George W. Bush and congressional Republicans and Democrats than to Obama.
Democrats familiar with the president's plans say the White House sees the speech as a pivot point after spending the spring and summer focused on negotiations over deficit spending. They say the fall offers the president a window to press congressional Republicans to act on his economic plan — and if they don't, Obama will spend 2012 running against them as obstructionists. Whether that's enough to win over voters is another matter.
Obama's chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod, said the president won't start with ideas that have been "preapproved" by Republicans in Congress.
"Ultimately, the test for any of these ideas: Are they right? Can they help the economy? Can they help get people back to work?" Axelrod told The Associated Press.
The president's plan to pay for his ideas is a political necessity in a time of fiscal austerity. Deficit-boosting stimulus spending is out. But here, too, he is banking on a lot of help.
Obama plans to cover the cost by asking a new congressional supercommittee debt panel to go beyond its target of finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by the end of November, so the extra savings can pay for short-term economic help. That debt panel meets for the first time Thursday.
In one upbeat sign for those looking for a Washington compromise, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have told Obama they see potential areas of agreement on jobs — for example, infrastructure, which Obama has pushed repeatedly. Cantor also signaled to reporters Wednesday that he might support a payroll tax cut.
"It is not games and politics for people out across this country. It's real," Cantor said about the state of the economic debate. "The fact that we have had such sustained joblessness in this country, the fact that people are doing anything they can in many instances just to stay afloat and to pay the bills, it's real."
At the heart of Obama's plan will be extending, by one more year, a payroll tax cut for workers that went into effect this year. The president wants the payroll tax, which raises money for Social Security, to stay at 4.2 percent rather than kick back up to 6.2 percent. That tax applies to earnings up to $106,800.
Obama is expected to seek continued unemployment aid for millions of people receiving extended benefits. That program, too, is set to expire at year's end.
Among the other potential proposals by Obama:
—Tax credits for employers who hire.
— A major school construction initiative.
— Aid to local governments to prevent layoffs of teachers and other workers.
—Other tax help for businesses, such as continuing to allow them to deduct the full value of new equipment.
Since Obama took office in January 2009, nearly 2 million Americans have lost jobs. Almost 14 million people are out of work.
The unemployment rate, which stood at 5 percent at the start of the deep recession and 7.8 percent when Obama began in office, is at 9.1 percent. Most troubling is the trend line. After a period of steady if modest job creation, employers have stopped hiring.