Even as he trumpeted a slowdown in the country's job losses Friday, President Barack Obama put finishing touches on a proposal he'll unveil next week to "jump-start" business hiring across America.
In a speech from Washington on Tuesday, Obama plans to send Congress a list of ideas he supports for a new jobs bill. He will endorse sending the biggest chunk of fresh money to cash-strapped state and local governments to stem their layoffs and on expanding a program that gives people cash incentives to fix up their homes with energy-saving materials, a senior administration official said.
Obama will also endorse new tax breaks for small businesses that hire workers, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the package, and Obama's speech, are still being crafted. The president will support some new spending on construction of roads, bridges and other construction, but prefers to see that as a smaller portion of the package because administration economists calculate it doesn't give as quick a boost to job creation as the other measures, the official said.
"We need to grow jobs and get America back to work as quickly as we can," Obama said Friday at a metal works plant in Allentown, where he visited with workers. "On Tuesday, I'm going to speak in greater detail about the ideas I'll be sending to Congress to help jump-start private sector hiring and get Americans back to work."
Job losses in the U.S. have been the worst since the 1930s, but new statistics out Friday showed a relatively moderate shedding of 11,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate dipped from 10.2 percent in October to 10 percent in November.
The Labor Department report showed November job losses were at the smallest monthly number since the recession began.
"As we come to the end of this very tough year, I want to do something I haven't had a chance to do that often during my first year in office and that is to share some modestly encouraging news on our economy," Obama said before detailing the report.
Channeling a campaign style and an upbeat tone, Obama called it "good news just in time for the season of hope" and said it is a sign his plans are starting to improve a battered economy.
But, even with the best jobs report the country has had since 2007, Obama said the situation is still dire and in need of urgent attention. Unemployment is expected to remain high for months.
"I still consider one job lost one job too many," he said. "Good trends don't pay the rent."
Making his pitch - and Americans' pain - personal, Obama said his own family had members who were looking for work. The flourish was not included in his prepared remarks.
At the town hall meeting, the first question asked of the president involved legalizing marijuana and prostitution.
"I appreciate the boldness of your question," Obama said to laughter after a young man asked him if he would consider legalizing illicit but lucrative industries like marijuana sales. "That will not be my job strategy."
While the economic crisis began under Obama's predecessor, it now falls to the first-year president to right a sliding economy that has invited political criticism as unemployment stays high. Obama pointed to 700,000 jobs lost each month before he took office in January.
There is growing concern in the White House that unemployment problems could dwarf all others. Obama hosted a jobs summit at the White House Thursday, scheduled the trip to Pennsylvania for Friday and set the jobs-bill speech for Tuesday.
At Allentown Metal Works, the president adopted a campaign tone, casually chatting with the kind of working-class voters who will be crucial to his plan making its way to Congress and, more daunting, Democrats' chances in the 2010 congressional elections and his own in 2012. Obama has seen his approval rating slide as his promises of change have slammed into governing reality.
The president's motorcade raced past protesters. "Go home," one group chanted. The group also hoisted signs reading "Fail!" and "Republicans work so you don't have to."
In a nod to growing anxiety about federal deficits, Obama is also stressing a need not to increase federal spending too much. During Thursday's jobs discussion with CEOs and academics at the White House, he said it is primarily up to the private sector to create large numbers of new jobs, because "we also, though, have to face the fact that our resources are limited."
The appetite for debt-financed jobs legislation is far higher in Congress, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress will extend several items in February's $787 billion economic stimulus measure.
After talks with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other administration officials, congressional Democrats are eying up to $70 billion in unused borrowing authority from last year's $700 billion Wall Street bailout for jobs-related legislation, House Democratic aides said.
Democrats say the Troubled Assets Relief Program money would pay for any jobs bill. But the move is largely cosmetic since tapping the bailout money would require issuing billions of dollars in new federal debt. The White House had hoped to lower deficit projections by not using the full $700 billion in TARP authority approved during last year's economic meltdown.