Obama calls for Congress to help spur economy

WASHINGTON — Citing the slow economic growth that led to Friday’s disappointing unemployment report, President Barack Obama used his weekly radio address Saturday to urge Congress to act on a package of long-stalled proposals he said would stimulate hiring.

“It’s not lost on anyone, least of all me, that this is an election year. But we’ve got responsibilities that are bigger than an election. We’ve got responsibilities to you,” Obama said. “With so many people struggling to get by, now is not the time to play politics.”

Most of the proposals in a $447-billion jobs package the president introduced in September have gone nowhere in Congress amid partisan fighting over the best way to boost the economy and deal with the huge budget deficit.

Among the stalled initiatives is new funding for road, bridge and school construction, money for states and municipalities to hire or retain teachers, police and firefighters, and a proposal to make it easier for struggling homeowners to refinance their mortgages.

“So my message to Congress is: Get to work,” Obama said.

Lawmakers and the White House have put aside the bickering to extend a payroll tax break for workers, and to give small businesses more access to capital through stock offerings. But there’s been little hope for more action in an election year.

Obama said Washington needs to do more in light of rising economic problems in Europe and a weakened jobs market. The U.S. economy created just 69,000 net new jobs in May, the government reported Friday, and the unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent.

“Right now, this country is still fighting our way back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The economy is growing again, but it’s not growing fast enough,” he said. “There are plenty of steps we can take right now to help create jobs and grow this economy.”

In the weekly Republican radio address, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said the most important thing Congress and the White House could do for the economy is extend the George W. Bush-era tax breaks set to expire at the end of the year, avoiding large across-the board tax increases.

“Make no mistake, every single working American will see his or her taxes go up on January first, absent action,” Cornyn said. “Family budgets will be squeezed even tighter. Disposable income will shrink. And many jobs will be destroyed.”

Republicans want to extend all the tax breaks, including those for the wealthy. Obama and most Democrats want to extend only the tax breaks for lower- and middle-class earners. Cornyn said the uncertainty over taxes was damaging to the economy and that Obama should take the initiative to resolve the issue and avoid tax increases that “would be a body blow for our economy.”

“Since President Obama took office, millions of households across the country have seen their income shrink, while the cost of health care, food, and gasoline have greatly increased,” Cornyn said. “And yet the president still seems to think that there’s nothing wrong with our economy that a tax increase on job creators won’t solve.”

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