Obama To Deliver Speech On Economy

Sandwiched between his speech on the Afghanistan troop build-up last week and two international speeches later this week, President Obama will deliver an economic policy address Tuesday. Patience with the pace of government action is running short on Capitol Hill, and many Democrats fear the public is starting to question whether Obama feels their pain.

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The White House says there's no silver bullet to solve the nation's unemployment problem. So tomorrow, President Obama will try a little buckshot. In a speech in Washington, the president is expected to spell out several proposals designed to encourage hiring. The measures could be funded in part with money left over from last year's bank bailout. We'll hear more about that money in just a moment.

But first, NPR's Scott Horsley has this preview of the president's address.

SCOTT HORSLEY: With one in six Americans now out of work or underemployed, the jobs problem touches everyone, even the first family. President Obama spoke in unusually personal terms about unemployment during a visit last week to Allentown, Pennsylvania.

President BARACK OBAMA: I know times are tough. Michelle and I were talking the other day, there are members of our families that are out of work. You know, we're not that far removed from struggling to pay the bills.

HORSLEY: Telling people you feel their pain is one thing. Tomorrow, the president will try to show it. He's proposing a number of additional steps the government can take to encourage companies to hang out the Help Wanted sign.

Pres. OBAMA: We need to do everything we can right now to get our businesses hiring again so that our friends and our neighbors can go back to work. So...

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: The White House insists this is nothing new, that jobs have been a top priority for Mr. Obama since the day he took office. Last week, there were signs his earlier efforts are beginning to bear fruit. Big job losses have been tapering off. And Friday, the unemployment rate unexpectedly inched down. That may buy the president a little breathing room, but it will take a lot more to satisfy the millions of people who are still looking for work. Larry Mishel, who heads the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, says lawmakers are getting impatient.

Mr. LARRY MISHEL (Economic Policy Institute): You know, over the last five weeks, there's been a tremendous renewed focus on generating jobs. There's real fire in the Congress to doing something on this right now. And I think the administration has been a little bit slow, but I think they'll catch up.

HORSLEY: White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs cautions the president will not propose another large-scale stimulus effort. Instead, economic adviser Christina Romer says Mr. Obama is looking relatively modest steps the government could take that would serve as a catalyst for additional hiring.

Ms. CHRISTINA ROMER (Chief Economic Adviser, Obama Administration): At a time when firms are sort of starting to dip their toe into the hiring pond, that might be a time where small actions by the government could get them to just jump right in. So I think that's really what he's looking for. What are the things we can do soon, targeted, really trying to mainly bring the private sector in from the sidelines.

HORSLEY: That might include a tax credit for companies that expand their payrolls or additional efforts to steer bank loans to cash-strapped small businesses. At a White House jobs forum last week, Mr. Obama hinted he's also likely to propose more incentives for homeowners to weatherize houses and improve energy efficiency - an idea some call cash for caulkers.

Ron Saxton, who was at the forum, likes that idea. He's with an Oregon company called JELD-WEN that makes high-efficiency windows. And he says a boom in replacements could help offset the big drop in new home construction.

Mr. RON SAXTON (JELD-WEN): America has literally a billion, with a B, of single pane inefficient windows. Replacing even a fraction of those produces huge energy savings, as well as creating jobs, and those jobs can be created immediately.

HORSLEY: The administration may have found a window to pay for these programs using funds left over from the $700 billion bank bailout. Spokesman Gibbs says it's likely Mr. Obama will try to use some of that leftover money to encourage job creation. And while the bailout itself was unpopular, Gibbs suggests the reuse of the money should not be.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Spokesman): Help is on the way. It sends the message that your economic vitality is just as important as anybody that lives or works or breathes on Wall Street.

HORSLEY: Some Republicans have criticized that idea, saying any and all leftover bailout money should go to reduce the federal deficit.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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