Washington – U.S. President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to put aside partisan wrangling and support a $447 billion jobs program that he said will give a push to a sluggish economy.
Eschewing the rhetorical flourishes of past speeches, Obama said in Thursday evening's address to a joint session of Congress that legislators must "stop the political circus" and focus on job creation for the good of the nation.
"The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we'll meet ours. 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," the president said.
The plan, which was more ambitious than many pundits in the media had expected, will require the approval of a divided Congress.
With Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives, the battle over Obama's jobs bill could lead to another partisan fight similar to the one earlier this summer over raising the debt ceiling.
Seeking to appeal to Republican opponents vehemently opposed to additional government spending, Obama stressed that tax cuts accounted for the majority of the $447 billion package.
The president also pledged that the cost of the plan will be completely covered.
He therefore proposed that the so-called congressional "super committee," tasked with identifying $1.5 trillion in federal budget savings before the start of December, add the cost of the jobs plan to the total.
Obama also said that later this month he will unveil a "more ambitious" complementary plan to reduce the budget deficit and government debt, the top priority for the Republican Party and its most conservative wing - the Tea Party.
That upcoming plan "will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run," the president said.
In his speech, Obama told lawmakers that "everything in (the jobs program) is the kind of proposal that's been supported by both Democrats and Republicans, including many who sit here tonight."
In addition to measures designed to appeal to Republicans, Obama also looked to win the favor of lawmakers in his own party by offering an extension of unemployment insurance for another year and proposing new spending to allow states to rehire laid off teachers.
The plan also calls for new investment in infrastructure, including money to "rehabilitate homes and businesses in communities hit hardest by foreclosures."
The plan "will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and if they hire, there will be customers for their products and services," Obama said, adding that "you should pass this jobs plan right away."
"Now it's time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama and Colombia and South Korea, while also helping the workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition," the president said.
Unemployment - voters' big concern ahead of the 2012 U.S. presidential election - currently stands at 9.1 percent and analysts see little chance of that figure improving significantly in the short term.
The high jobless rate is a serious problem for Obama and his re-election hopes. He has seen his approval rating plummet to new lows in recent weeks, although polls show that voters blame Congress even more for the country's woes.
With the speech, the president sought to recover the political initiative and dare Republicans, who sense an opportunity to recapture the White House next year, to oppose a bill aimed at putting people back to work.
The president also announced that he plans to embark on a nationwide tour to sell the program, which the White House says should be passed before year's end. His first stop will be Friday in Richmond, Virginia.