WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Thursday proposed tax credits, tax relief and tax cuts for the middle class to get the economy going again.
In a speech before a joint session of Congress, Obama proposed the American Jobs Act and urged Congress to forget politics and do what's right for the country.
Obama railed against the unfairness of the current tax code, noting that billionaire investor Warren Buffet pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.
"We need a tax code where everyone gets a fair shake, and everybody pays their fair share," Obama said. "And I believe the vast majority of wealthy Americans and CEOs are willing to do just that, if it helps the economy grow and gets our fiscal house in order."
Obama proposed expanding the deficit reduction program agreed to last month, saying he would release a spending reduction blueprint next week "that will not only cover the cost of this jobs bill, but stabilize our debt in the long run." He called for extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.
"Regardless of the arguments we've had in the past, regardless of the arguments we'll have in the future, this plan is the right thing to do right now. You should pass it. And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country," Obama said.
Various news outlets put the price tag at $450 billion.
Obama invoked the memory of President Abraham Lincoln, who "in the middle of the Civil War" pushed for construction of the transcontinental railroad, started the National Academy of Sciences and set up the first land grant colleges.
"Tonight we meet at an urgent time for our country. We continue to face an economic crisis that has left millions of our neighbors jobless, and a political crisis that has made things worse," Obama said.
He said the public is disgusted with Washington politics.
"The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities," Obama said. "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; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.
"Those of us here tonight can't solve all of our nation's woes. Ultimately, our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers. But we can help. We can make a difference. There are steps we can take right now to improve people's lives."
Obama called on Congress to pass his plan "right away."
"There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. 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.
"The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It 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."
Obama noted Republicans as well as Democrats have proposed the same payroll tax plan his measure proposes. Additionally, he said, "everyone knows" the nation's roads and bridges are decaying, and highways and the skies are too congested.
"This is inexcusable," he said. "Building a world-class transportation system is part of what made us an economic superpower. And now we're going to sit back and watch China build newer airports and faster railroads? At a time when millions of unemployed construction workers could build them right here in America?"
The bill also calls for modernizing schools.
"Every child deserves a great school," he said.
Obama said changes will have to be made to Medicare so the system will be sustainable into the future and it's time for Democrats to recognize that.
"If we don't gradually reform the system while protecting current beneficiaries, it won't be there when future retirees need it. We have to reform Medicare to strengthen it," he said.
At the same time, Republicans need to recognize taxes will have to be raised for those who "can best afford it."
Obama said he plans to offer ideas to reform the corporate tax code.
"Our tax code shouldn't give an advantage to companies that can afford the best-connected lobbyists. It should give an advantage to companies that invest and create jobs here in America," he said.
Obama pledged to streamline federal contract rules so small businesses can get paid more rapidly. He called on Congress to speed up the patent process and clear the way for trade agreements.
"But what we can't do -- what I won't do -- is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades," Obama said. "I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients.
"I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. We shouldn't be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe that's a race we can win."
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said before the speech Senate Republicans would likely oppose Obama's economic-stimulus package.
"We certainly intend to listen politely to the recommendations the president has, but I think I can pretty confidently say everybody in the Republican conference of the Senate thinks that we need to quit doing what we've been doing -- quit borrowing, quit spending, quit threatening to raise taxes and quit having a big wet blanket on top of the private sector of the economy by this explosion of regulations," he told reporters Wednesday.
Republicans have decided not to give a rebuttal to Obama's speech, a decision House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said would "speak volumes about their lack of commitment to creating jobs."
She said the GOP "silence" was "not only disrespectful to [Obama] but to the American people."
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said there was no need for a formal response because House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, "doesn't expect to hear much to respond to" -- although Boehner is to give a speech about jobs and economic growth to the Economic Club of Washington in a week, his office said.
At least three GOP lawmakers said they would not show up for Obama's address Thursday.
Obama plans to follow his congressional address by traveling the country to promote his job-creation proposals, beginning in Richmond, Va., Friday.