Image: Barack Obama in Detroit
Paul Sancya  /  AP
President Obama waves before speaking after the annual Labor Day parade in Detroit, Monday, Sept. 5. Obama's speech at the annual event was serving as a dress rehearsal for the jobs address he's delivering to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night. news services
updated 9/6/2011 10:32:36 PM ET 2011-09-07T02:32:36

The economy weak and the public seething, President Barack Obama is expected to propose $300 billion in tax cuts and federal spending Thursday night to get Americans working again. Republicans offered Tuesday to compromise with him on jobs — but also assailed his plans in advance of his prime-time speech.

In effect, Obama will be hitting cleanup on a shortened holiday week, with Republican White House contender Mitt Romney releasing his jobs proposals on Tuesday and front-running Texas Gov. Rick Perry hoping to join his presidential rivals Wednesday evening on a nationally televised debate stage for the first time.

Lawmakers began returning to the Capitol to tackle legislation on jobs and federal deficits in an unforgiving political season spiced by the 2012 presidential campaign.

Story: House GOP share some ground with Obama on jobs
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Adding to the mix: A bipartisan congressional committee is slated to hold its first public meeting on Thursday as it embarks on a quest for deficit cuts of $1.2 trillion or more over a decade. If there is no agreement, automatic spending cuts will take effect, a prospect that lawmakers in both parties have said they would like to avoid.

According to people familiar with the White House deliberations, two of the biggest measures in the president's proposals for 2012 are expected to be a one-year extension of a payroll tax cut for workers and an extension of expiring jobless benefits. Together those two would total about $170 billion.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan was still being finalized and some proposals could still be subject to change.

The White House is also considering a tax credit for businesses that hire the unemployed. That could cost about $30 billion. Obama has also called for public works projects, such as school construction. Advocates of that plan have called for spending of $50 billion, but the White House proposal is expected to be smaller.

Obama also is expected to continue for one year a tax break for businesses that allows them to deduct the full value of new equipment. The president and Congress negotiated that provision into law for 2011 last December.

Though Obama has said he intends to propose long-term deficit reduction measures to cover the up-front costs of his jobs plan, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would not lay out a wholesale deficit reduction plan in his speech.

In a letter to Obama on Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor outlined possible areas for compromise on jobs legislation. Separately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last month's unemployment report — it showed a painfully persistent 9.1 percent jobless rate and no net gain of jobs — "should be a wakeup call to every member of Congress."

First Read: A damaging summer for Obama

Whatever the potential for eventual compromise on the issue at the top of the public's agenda, the finger pointing was already under way.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell predicted Obama's Thursday night speech to Congress on jobs legislation would include "more of the same failed approach that's only made things worse over the past few years."

He spoke a few moments after Reid had said that Republicans, rather than working with Democrats to create job-creating legislation, insist on "reckless cuts to hurt our economic recovery."

The Senate returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday after an August recess. The House comes back Wednesday.

Left largely ignored in the latest political remarks was a remarkable run of late-summer polls that show the country souring on Obama's performance — and on Congress' even more.

Obama's job approval rating sunk to a new low of 44 percent, with 37 percent approving of his handling of the economy, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday morning.

A majority of poll takers — 54 percent — said Obama was facing a longer-term setback from which he was unlikely to recover.

Capitol Hill also hit an all-time low, with 82 percent of poll respondents disapproving of the job Congress is doing. In addition, when asked who was the most to blame for the S&P downgrade, a plurality pointed to congressional Republicans. And a majority of respondents said they would vote out every single member of Congress if they could.

Story: Obama hits all-time lows, according to NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll

The tea party has also been hurt, according to an AP-GfK survey last month, which found that 32 percent of those surveyed have a deeply unfavorable impression of the movement that helped give Republicans control of the House in the 2010 elections.

In their letter to Obama, Boehner and Cantor wrote that neither party would win all it wants from the coming debate over jobs legislation. "We should not approach this as an all-or-nothing situation," they said, striking a conciliatory tone in the first moments of a post-summer session of Congress.

But it was unclear what, if any, concessions they were prepared to make.

"We are not opposed to initiatives to repair and improve infrastructure," they wrote, saying they favor repeal of a current requirement for 10 percent of highway funds to be spent on items such as museums or bike trails.

Story: Obama plan may not be enough to fix jobs market

But they did not say they would support any additional funding for construction, and aides declined to provide any additional details.

Boehner and Cantor also said the House was ready to pass free trade agreements negotiated with Colombia, Panama and South Korea measures, which they noted the White House estimates would create 250,000 jobs.

The administration wants the trade deals approved simultaneously with legislation to provide job training and other benefits for workers who lose their job to imports, and the letter from the Republican leaders promised they would consider such measures rather than pledging to pass them.

There was maneuvering on another front during the day.

Democrats won approval in a Senate subcommittee for legislation adding $6 billion in spending to pay victims of Hurricane Irene and past disasters dating to Hurricane Katrina, including $4 billion for the 2012 budget year.

Republicans did not object, even though the legislation did not include other cuts to offset the cost and the new spending would exceed levels permitted in a sweeping compromise passed last month to cut future deficits by nearly $1 trillion over a decade.

It is unclear when the measure will come to the Senate floor, and whether Republicans will attempt to offset the increase when it does.

In comments in recent weeks, Cantor has said any increase must be offset.

For his part, Romney chose Nevada, where unemployment stood at a nationwide high of 12.9 percent in July, for a campaign speech in which he outlined numerous proposals to create jobs.

Story: Romney jobs plan: Cut taxes, slap China, drill oil

He called for lowering the maximum corporate tax from 35 percent to 25 percent and abolishing the tax on dividends and investment earnings for anyone making less than $200,000 a year. He also said any new government regulation that raises costs for businesses should be accompanied by other steps to reduce the burden by an identical amount.

"America should be a job machine, jobs being created all the time," he said.

The elements Romney outlined — lower taxes and less regulation — are the same as those advanced by Republicans in Congress.

McConnell said Republicans "will spend the next weeks and months arguing in favor of a robust legislation agenda aimed at blocking or repealing some of the most pernicious rules and regulations."

The Associated Press and NBC News' Mark Murray contributed to this report.

Video: Despite low approval rate, president focuses on jobs plan

  1. Closed captioning of: Despite low approval rate, president focuses on jobs plan

    >> where with the stakes this gets interesting.

    >>> with all these numbers as a backdrop, the stakes are rising for this president's primetime speech on jobs thursday night. kristen welker is at the white house for us tonight. kristen , good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening to be with you brian. white house officials tried to brush aside the poll numbers and keep the focus on the president's speech. on the cusp of delivering what the president hopes will be a defining speech on jobs, his lowest approval ratings to date, according to the latest nbc news " wall street journal " poll, 59% now disapprove his his handling of the economy. today, white house press secretary , jay carney , said the president understands that most americans are fed up with washington , but he's concentrating on his joobs' plan not the polls.

    >> what he is focused on is doing what the american people respect demanding that washington do. which is listen to them and not spend a lot of time trying to score political points and winning ideological battles.

    >> reporter: speaking in detroit on labor day the president a glimpse of his plan saying it would include investing in flukt and extending payroll tax cuts.

    >> there's work to be done and workers ready to do it. labor is on board. business is on board. we just need congress to get on board! let's put america back to work.

    >> reporter: with congress back in session today, some members of the leadership were already drawing battlelines.

    >> we've tried president obama 's approach. it's failed. it's time for something new.

    >> reporter: but the house republican leadership sent a letter to the president asking him to meet with congressional leaders to discuss areas of agreement before his speech. we should not approach this, they wrote, as an all or nothing situation. but the nbc news " wall street journal " poll shows the jooisht of americans have lost faith in washington 's ability to jump start the economy, mark ize mark eisenberg explains why he's skeptical.

    >> i've heard it before. people have to make it happen. not talk about it, not say it's going to happen, but make it happen.

    >> reporter: as for that republican invitation to the president, white house officials say they haven't scheduled anything at this point in time and also point to the fact that the president has already discussed jobs and debt reduction multiple times with republican leadership in the past, brian?

    >> all right, kristen welker at the white house . notably, no gop response after the president's speech. that will be interesting.


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