President Barack Obama on Wednesday sought a high profile and politically provocative venue to unveil new economic proposals, asking to address Congress on the same night Republican presidential candidates hold a debate.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama asked for a joint session of the House of Representatives and Senate at 8:00 p.m. EDT on September 7 to lay out his plan to create jobs and boost economic growth while reducing the U.S. deficit.
As I have traveled across our country this summer and spoken with our fellow Americans, I have heard a consistent message: Washington needs to put aside politics and start making decisions based on what is best for our country and not what is best for each of our parties in order to grow the economy and create jobs, Obama said in the letter.
We must answer this call.
There was no immediate response to the president's request from House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner. The House and Senate must pass a joint resolution to provide for Congress to assemble for Obama's remarks.
By seeking a joint session of Congress, much like the president's annual televised State of the Union address, Obama sought a sweeping platform in his opening bid to get support from Democrats and Republicans for his proposals.
But the timing of the speech -- on the same night as his potential Republican rivals debate how to oust him from the White House -- gives him an opportunity to upstage the other party at the same time that he is seeking its support.
Television networks not airing the Republican debate at the Reagan library in California would likely broadcast Obama's address to Congress. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the timing was coincidental and noted that Republicans might enjoy the prospect of responding to the president's plan.
It is our responsibility to find bipartisan solutions to help grow our economy, and if we are willing to put country before party, I am confident we can do just that, Obama said in his letter.
He said he would lay out a series of steps that Congress could act on immediately to strengthen small businesses and put more money in the paychecks of the middle class and working Americans while reducing the deficit.
FOCUS ON JOBS
Improving the economy is a top priority for the White House, Congress, and Republican presidential candidates, who recognize it as Obama's biggest vulnerability going into the November 2012 election.
A glimmer of good news came on Wednesday. Data showed factory activity in the Midwest slowed slightly in August and private employers continued to hire despite extreme financial market turmoil, easing fears the economy would fall back into recession.
Carney said Obama's speech would focus primarily on jobs, with detailed proposals on deficit reduction coming later.
The proposals could include programs to fund infrastructure building, measures to help struggling homeowners, and tax breaks to encourage hiring of new workers.
Business lobby group the Chamber of Commerce said it was skeptical about a payroll tax holiday to subsidize companies that hire workers because that might not convince firms they should ramp up output.
Companies don't invest and hire people just because they have more cash, said Martin Regalia, the group's chief economist. They hire people when they can put those people to work producing a product or a service that they can sell at a profit. That's what they do. And right now the economy isn't presenting that opportunity.
Earlier on Wednesday Obama urged Congress to not hold up multibillion-dollar temporary funding bills for aviation and highway spending.
Obama also said he would instruct certain federal agencies to identify high priority infrastructure construction projects to speed them through the bureaucracy, a recommendation of the White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
(Additional reporting by Alister Bull, Thomas Ferraro, and Jason Lange; Editing by Deborah Charles and Jackie Frank)