Job creation plan may be battered Obama's last chance to impress

While some Republicans may want instinctively to block the proposals, they know that doing so will open them up to a charge of obstructionism

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Strapped by an economy teetering on a second recession and falling popularity numbers, President Barack Obama presented an urgent jobs-creation package to members of Congress on Capitol Hill last night, labelling it the "American Jobs Act" and urging them in blunt terms to pass it "right away".

In a high-stakes gambit that he hopes will rekindle his already faltering hopes for re-election to a second term, Mr Obama challenged members – and in particular those in the Republican-controlled lower chamber – to lay aside the old games of partisan advantage and act on his plans or face the wrath of the nation.

"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, whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning," Mr Obama said according to pre-released excerpts.

Even before he spoke, the Republican leader in the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, snidely accused Mr Obama of merely replaying his past economic stimulus strategy that didn't work the first time around: "The definition of insanity... is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result." Some conservative Republicans threatened to boycott the speech entirely.

The plan was seen in some quarters as a hotchpotch of what should be mostly non-controversial policy initiatives – some of which have received Republican support in the past, including an extension in a reduced rate of payroll tax, an injection of federal funds to begin a large-scale infrastructure programme to fix America's roads and bridges, other tax benefits and new funds for struggling local and state authorities.

Both parties know that as the 2012 election season heats up, unemployment is the single largest issue on the minds of voters. That Mr Obama chose to present his jobs plan last night to a rare joint session of the US Congress only underscored the political quick-sands he faces if the job numbers continue to deteriorate.

With the tabling of his plan, a new and deeply delicate pas-de-deux opens between him and Congress. While some Republicans will want instinctively to kill his plan at birth, they will know that doing so will allow him to charge them with obstructionism. Often their approval ratings are worse than his.

"There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation," Mr Obama said. "Everything in here is the kind of proposal that's been supported by both Democrats and Republicans – including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything."

He said his plan "will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed. It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away."

While the White House is loathe to put a figure on the package, all its elements may cost as much as $400bn (£250bn). That compares with the $787bn for the first Obama stimulus passed in early 2009. After consulting with other Republican members on Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner did hint at possible compromise down the road.

"The American people want us to find common ground and I'll be looking for it," Mr Boehner said.