President Barack Obama will lay out a jobs package worth more than $300 billion on Thursday, staking his re-election hopes on a call for urgent bipartisan action to revive the faltering economy.
With his poll numbers sliding to new lows amid voter frustration with 9.1 percent unemployment, Obama will make tax cuts for middle-class households and businesses the centerpiece of the plan and will press for new spending to repair roads, bridges and other deteriorating infrastructure.
He will use his televised speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, at 7 p.m. EDT, to urge passage of those measures by year-end. He is expected to speak for 45 minutes.
If congressional Republicans reject his remedies, his strategy will be to paint them as obstructionists and blame them for the stagnating economy.
Stubbornly high unemployment has heightened fears that the economy could be headed for another recession. Net employment growth registered zero in August as a budget standoff in Washington and the European debt crisis spooked businesses and consumers.
Obama is under intense pressure to change perceptions that he has shown weak leadership. His economic stewardship has been criticized by both Republicans and fellow Democrats, casting a cloud over his prospects for re-election in November 2012.
"It's a major leadership moment for Obama," said Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. "He's running out of months before voters settle in on whether his presidency has failed."
Democratic officials familiar with the President's plan told NBC News that most of Obama's plan consisted of measures that had been supported by Republicans and Democrats in the past.
They said no one would be left in any doubt that the plan would help the middle class and boost growth quickly.
However the officials also told NBC that the unemployment rate was not going to fall suddenly.
Not make or break?They rejected the idea that the speech would be make or break for the president, but said it was important, both for Obama and the United States.
The officials told NBC that they did not think the U.S. was going into a double dip recession, but that action was needed to help the economy, which they accepted was weaker than it should be.
The sources, referring to the debt ceiling debate that brought America to the brink of default, said politicians had to stop making unforced errors that increased the country's economic problems.
They complained that the Republican party seemed to oppose any idea put forward by Obama, simply because he came up with it, suggesting they would argue over his assessment of the weather.
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.
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.
Renewing payroll tax cuts for workers passed last December is one of the biggest elements of Obama's plan. He will also propose tax cuts to encourage businesses to hire.
Obama's popularity fadingAn NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this week showed Obama was no longer the favorite to win re-election.
It was one of a series of polls this week that held gloomy news for Obama, whose popularity has dwindled to nearly 40 percent.
Since Obama took office in January 2009, nearly 2 million Americans have lost jobs. Almost 14 million people are out of work.
Obama will continue to press the message that Washington must do all it can to help the economy heal in a series of other appearances this autumn.
The goal is to pass legislation by the end of this year, with the aim of making a dent in the unemployment rate by spring of 2012.
Political analysts say that to bolster his chances for re-election, Obama needs to be able to point to economic improvement by the middle of next year.
If Congress, which controls the nation's purse strings, does not act, the White House is prepared to try to portray the Republicans as getting in the way of his efforts to solve the jobless problem.
The bruising battle in July over the country's debt highlighted a wide philosophical chasm between Obama's Democrats and Republicans who control the House of Representatives.
Republicans have derided an $800 billion economic stimulus package that Obama pushed through Congress in 2009 as wasteful spending and have pushed for immediate cuts in the deficit.
'Go bold'Democrats say that while long-term deficits must be addressed, the economy needs a short-term fiscal boost.
Media reports have put the size of Obama's jobs package at upward of $300 billion. CNN quoted sources saying it could top $400 billion. The White House would not confirm the reports.
Many Democrats felt Obama was too deferential to Republicans during the fight over debt and have urged him to "go bold" in his economic speech.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, asked about Obama's reported jobs package, said, "$300 billion is a lot of money, and if properly spent, can make a tremendous difference."
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said Obama should take responsibility for making the economy worse.
"Unemployment is worse, housing is worse, the debt is worse, and he's done all that by throwing a big wet blanket over the economy with his regulatory, tax and healthcare policies," he said.