WASHINGTON (CBS) -- Urging Congress to "stop the political circus," President Obama on Thursday night called for immediate action on a $447 billion package of spending initiatives and tax cuts designed to jump-start the stalling economy.
"The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we'll meet ours," Mr. Obama said in a fiery speech before a rare joint session of Congress. "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."
In the face of the worst recovery from a recession in the nation's history, a stubborn unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent and zero job growth in the month of August, the pressure is on the president to take action. The challenges remain daunting, however, as Republicans in Congress are taking a combative stance against the president's policies, with just 14 months to go before the 2012 elections.
Dubbed the "American Jobs Act," the plan Mr. Obama is sending to Congress is larger than many expected. More than half of the plan is tax cuts for working Americans and small businesses. It also includes spending initiatives in areas like infrastructure. While a package that costs hundreds of billions may be hard to swallow for a Congress that's been more focused this year on deficit reduction, the president is signaling to Republicans that they're also responsible for the poor economy.
"Some of you have decided that those differences are so great that we can only resolve them at the ballot box," Mr. Obama said. "But know this: the next election is fourteen months away. And the people who sent us here - the people who hired us to work for them - they don't have the luxury of waiting fourteen months."
But while he said the current economic crisis transcends politics, the president warned Republicans that he's taking his message to the voters: "This plan is the right thing to do right now. You should pass it," he said. "And I intend to take that message to every corner of this country."
"You should pass this bill right away," Mr. Obama repeated throughout his speech, conveying a strong sense of urgency.
The president argued that his plan is fully comprised of ideas that have in the past gained bipartisan support.
"For everyone who speaks so passionately about making life easier for 'job creators,' this plan is for you," Mr. Obama said, listing the benefits for small businesses his plan includes.
"Pass this jobs bill, and starting tomorrow, small businesses will get a tax cut if they hire new workers or raise workers' wages," he said.
"Pass this jobs bill, and all small business owners will also see their payroll taxes cut in half next year."
Furthermore, the president insisted every idea in his bill will be paid for. He gave no specific price tag for his proposals, but CBS News has learned it is expected to cost nearly $450 billion. Mr. Obama said tonight he will ask a newly-formed congressional "super committee" to formulate a plan to pay for his proposals.
The "super committee" was formed as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling, and the bipartisan group of 12 is already tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in federal budget savings by Christmas. Its initial task is challenging enough, so it's unclear whether they could ramp up their mission to pay for the president's plan.
Mr. Obama is asking for an extension of the payroll tax cut set to expire at the end of the year, at an expected cost of about $120 billion. While some Republicans have pushed back on that idea, Mr. Obama said tonight, "Fifty House Republicans have proposed the same payroll tax cut that's in this plan. You should pass it right away." The president is also asking Congress for another extension of jobless benefits, at a cost of about $50 billion. The president is also calling for a major school construction and infrastructure renovation project to the tune of $100 billion.
"There are schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating," Mr. Obama said. "How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart? This is America. Every child deserves a great school - and we can give it to them, if we act now."
The president's plan is also includes requests for a tax write-off for business investments, tax credits for businesses that hire veterans, and a $4,000 tax credit for businesses that hire anyone who has spent more than six months looking for a job. It also includes aid for state and local governments to keep public workers like teachers on the payroll, among other ideas. "Pass this jobs bill, and thousands of teachers in every state will go back to work," Mr. Obama said.
Republicans have indicated they are skeptical of the president's plan. "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 in the Senate thinks that we need to quit doing what we've been doing," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday.
Still, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor this week identified some areas in which Republicans expect to be able to work with Democrats, including initiatives on infrastructure, unemployment insurance and trade bills.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi today sent a letter to House committee leaders, asking them to act on the president's proposals immediately. But given that Republicans control the House, it's unclear how fast they will act.
Mr. Obama will take his pitch for new stimulus on the road this week, starting with a visit to the University of Richmond on Friday. Next Tuesday, he'll travel to Columbus, Ohio.