WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is promoting help for highways and small businesses, bridges and energy-efficient homes in a broad pitch to get Americans back to work and roll back the double-digit unemployment that's approaching a quarter-century high, an administration official said Tuesday.
In a speech prepared for delivery Tuesday, Obama plans to talk about what he wants to see in the coming weeks and months — chiefly, more Americans in the workplace and fewer on unemployment, which now stands at 10 percent. The White House worked around the clock in recent days to pull together the president's speech.
Obama planned to address three main areas: helping small businesses add staff and grow; updating transportation infrastructure; and making homes energy-efficient, according to an administration official who discussed the speech on the condition of anonymity to preview an unreleased text.
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The official said Obama's remarks would not represent the sum of the president's plan, but rather an outline for the way forward. It was a similar line other White House officials used to preview the remarks.
"We've got quite some way to go," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Monday. "The president is not going to unveil the silver bullet idea. ... If there was one idea to do this, I assume it would have been done sometime in the intervening 22 months" since the recession began.
The White House is considering using a suddenly available pot of money left over from the government's bank bailout to help create jobs. Officials initially seemed cool to the idea of trying to redirect that money to jobs-related programs but have changed their tone after a government report last week showed a slightly lower unemployment rate.
The president told reporters Monday there might be "selective approaches" for tapping into the money that was allocated to prop up seriously ailing financial institutions. The administration and its allies on Capitol Hill still would have to get around a provision in the 2008 bailout legislation requiring money repaid by banks or left over to be used exclusively for reducing the federal deficit.
With a tough election year coming up, Obama and congressional Democrats want badly to do something about jobs. Turning a highly unpopular financial rescue program, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), into a potentially popular one that creates new jobs has strong political appeal. Republican critics have depicted such an approach as a backdoor way of enacting a second economic stimulus package.
"TARP has turned out to be much cheaper than we had expected, although not cheap," Obama told reporters at the White House on Monday. "It means that some of that money can be devoted to deficit reduction. And the question is: Are there selective approaches that are consistent with the original goals of TARP — for example, making sure that small businesses are still getting lending — that would be appropriate in accelerating job growth?"
It was the clearest sign yet that the White House might be planning to argue that helping unlock credit for small businesses is in line with the original goals of the bank bailout bill and thus a valid expenditure of federal money. Job creation would be a byproduct.
The bailout program, which had an initial price tag of $700 billion, was passed by Congress in October 2008 as the nation's financial system teetered on the brink of collapse. The administration now estimates that the program will cost about $200 billion less than the $341 billion the White House estimated in August.
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