Obama Asks Republicans to End 'Blockade' of Jobs Bill

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The San Francisco Chronicle
August 30, 2010

President Barack Obama said his economic advisers will examine "additional measures" to promote hiring and growth and urged Senate Republicans to drop their "blockade" of a measure to help small businesses.

Obama called for congressional passage of initiatives he's already outlined, including extending tax cuts for middle-income Americans and a package of tax incentives and lending aid for small business. He didn't specify what new steps the government may take beyond expanding clean-energy projects and spending for infrastructure repair, which he and other members of the administration have talked about in the past.

"My economic team is hard at work in identifying additional measures that could make a difference in both promoting growth and hiring in the short term and increasing our economy's competitiveness in the long term," Obama said at the White House after a meeting with his advisers. He said there is no "silver bullet" that will undo the damage caused by the recession.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs said later at a briefing that the president has ordered his economic advisers to look at a "full series of ideas" to stimulate the economy, and that they go beyond small-business tax cuts, extension of middle-class tax breaks and targeted spending in such areas as clean energy.

Before Election

Gibbs offered no clues to how far-reaching they might be. He said Obama would spell them out over the next several weeks and before the midterm elections. He said renewal of the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit was "not as high on the list" as other, unspecified plans being considered.

With control of Congress at stake in midterm elections two months away, the administration confronts sluggish economic growth, continued high unemployment and a depressed housing market. With voter unease about the economy increasing, Obama has said there is no quick fix.

He again urged Republicans in the Senate to stop blocking the administration's small-business plan.

"The small-business owners and the communities that rely on them, they don't have time for political games," he said. "Holding this bill hostage is directly detrimental to our economic growth."

Republicans are focusing on the economy in their campaigns, with much of their criticism directed at the $814 billion stimulus measure Obama pushed through Congress last year. House minority leader John Boehner of Ohio is among the Republicans who say the stimulus has failed and argue that Obama's policies should be rolled back.

Small Business

In the face of continued Republican opposition, Obama is keeping up pressure on lawmakers to approve the small-business measure. The legislation, already passed by the House, would provide $12 billion in tax breaks, ease terms for loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration and create a $30 billion fund to help community banks extend credit.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the measure after it returns from its summer recess on Sept. 13.

Obama also wants Congress to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for families earning as much as to $250,000 a year, while letting them expire for those earning more.

Obama met this morning with his economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers, head of the National Economic Council, and his chief economist, Christina Romer, who is departing Sept. 3.

With Congress likely to be deadlocked over tax and spending measures before the election, Obama's options may be limited.

Emergency Loans

To help stabilize a weak housing market, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan said yesterday the administration plans to announce in the next few weeks plans for an emergency loan program for the unemployed to avert default, and a government mortgage refinancing effort to lower monthly mortgage payments to avoid foreclosures.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said last week that the central bank has the tools to prevent the economy from slipping back into a recession, while stopping short of indicating an immediate need for more stimulus.

In a speech Aug. 27 to central bankers and economists at the Fed's annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Bernanke detailed choices that include renewed large-scale securities purchases.

Polls show the public is increasingly skeptical of Obama's performance. Public approval for the president's handling of the economy was at 41 percent in an Aug. 11-16 Associated Press-GfK survey, an all-time low and down from 50 percent in July.

Economic Growth

The U.S. economy grew at a 1.6 percent annual rate in the second quarter, less than previously estimated, the Commerce Department said Aug. 27. An unemployment report due Sept. 3 is forecast to show an increase in the jobless rate to 9.6 percent from 9.5 percent in July, according to a Bloomberg News survey of economists.

The economy is "in a pretty precarious position," said Ellen Zentner, senior macro economist at Bank of Tokyo- Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd. in New York.

In response to Obama's statement, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pointed to polls showing that most Americans think the country is on the wrong track and that administration economic policies have failed.

"Instead of growing jobs as promised, Washington Democrats have grown the size of the national debt, the federal government and the unemployment rate," McConnell said in a statement.

--With assistance from Nicholas Johnston, Courtney Schlisserman and Holly Rosenkrantz in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Bob Drummond.

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