WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama proposed on Tuesday small business tax cuts, fresh infrastructure spending and energy efficiency rebates to boost jobs, but there were few details on the scale or cost of the measures.
Battling public dismay over double-digit U.S. unemployment, Obama also called for an extension of unemployment and health insurance benefits for the more than 15 million out-of-work Americans, and stressed that boosting jobs was the best way to tackle the deficit.
There are those who claim we have to choose between paying down our deficits on the one hand, and investing in job creation and economic growth on the other. But this is a false choice, Obama said in a speech.
A senior administration official said around $50 billion of fresh money would be earmarked for spending on roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure, and the money would be spent over the course of a year.
But there was little detail on the cost of the other proposals, which will be shaped in conjunction with Congress, meaning it could be a while before the price tag is known.
U.S. unemployment dipped slightly to 10 percent last month but Americans remain anxious about the economy, nudging Obama's approval ratings to 50 percent or below and potentially dimming his Democratic Party's prospects in midterm congressional elections next November.
Obama signed a $787 billion emergency spending bill in February and is keen to avoid having any additional action tagged as a second stimulus package, not least because two-thirds of this money has still not been spent.
Obama has been pressured by Democrats in Congress to consider using some money previously earmarked for a $700 billion bank rescue fund that has been returned to the public purse.
But Obama said some of the money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, which has cost about $200 billion less than previously thought, will be used to pay down the record U.S. budget deficit and the program will be wound down.
This will also free up money elsewhere in the budget to shift resources to help create jobs, and an administration official was at pains to stress that strict laws determine what TARP money itself can be spent on.
Republicans oppose diverting any of this money from deficit reduction, and Obama is aware of the perils of not tackling the country's record budget shortfall, which hit $1.4 trillion in the financial year that ended in September.
Ensuring that economic growth and job creation are strong and sustained is critical to ensuring that we are increasing revenues and decreasing spending on things like unemployment so that our deficits will start coming down, Obama said.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Matt Spetalnick)
(Editing by Eric Beech)