Obama plans to take his jobs program on the road

WASHINGTON -- President Obama's high-stakes economic address to Congress tonight will be just the opening salvo in a partisan debate likely to last through the fall and into the 2012 presidential campaign.

Some of his proposals — such as extending this year's payroll tax cut for workers through 2012, expanding it to employers, and offering tax credits to companies that boost hiring — stand a chance of winning bipartisan support.

Others — such as doling out billions of federal dollars for highway and school construction — are more likely to become political issues as a result of Republicans' philosophical opposition to more government spending.

Depending on last-minute decisions, Obama's package could cost in the range of $300 billion. It's divided between tax cuts intended to spur consumer spending and federal spending designed to get employers hiring.

"He will make the case very aggressively that measures he puts forward … are the kinds of things that will help spur economic growth," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

What's clear is Obama's intention to redefine the terms of the jobs debate. Rather than playing the role of embattled president with a 9.1% unemployment rate and 40% approval rating, he wants to take the initiative and cast Republican opponents as naysayers unwilling to rescue the economy from potential disaster.

As he did in 2009 on health care, Obama will make his case to a joint session of Congress. That's already twice the number of single-issue addresses given by his most recent predecessors. President George W. Bush addressed a joint session after 9/11. President Clinton did so on health care.

Then Obama will travel the country promoting his job-creation proposals, beginning Friday in Richmond, Va.

"This is an opportunity for the president to frame the issue that is most important to the American people, and that's jobs," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

House GOP leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who will hold his own jobs event in Richmond on Friday, said Republicans won't be cast as obstructionists.

"We have to focus on areas of commonality, and try to transcend differences here," Cantor said.

Democrats in Congress and White House allies such as organized labor have been cheered by Obama's rhetoric on the issue, including a fiery Labor Day speech in Detroit on Monday.

"I hope he keeps that same pattern of speaking," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said. "He said he was going to. He said, 'We're in a new day here.'"

White House officials have told allies, "We think you'll be pleased," said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president at the NAACP. The group has argued for programs to bring down the nation's 16% jobless rate among African Americans.

Still, some Democrats worry the package may not be big enough to reduce the jobless rate.

"We should start with this and argue whether it should be bigger, not whether it should be smaller," said Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee.