President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress and television viewers across the country last night, presenting a $447 billion package of tax cuts and new government spending meant to increase jobs in America. Obama urged Congress to "pass this jobs plan right away." We asked our listeners to submit questions they have about the jobs plan, and the likelihood that it will pass.
Michael Shear, political reporter for The New York Times, answers listener questions. Listener Gordon Kirk, an unemployed hotel facilities manager living in Florida, asks Shear a few questions of his own.
In President Barack Obama's address to a joint-session of Congress last night, he repeatedly urged lawmakers to pass his jobs bill right away. Here’s what he said: “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.”
We wanted to know what your questions are from the speech. This morning, we were joined by Michael D. Shear, political reporter for our partner The New York Times, who endeavored to answer answer some of your questions on the president's speech, the GOP field, and the 2012 elections. The following is a transcript from this morning’s conversation.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY: Good morning, Michael.
MICHAEL SHEAR: Good morning.
HOCKENBERRY: There was a lot of detail in the speech last night, and a lot more detail we’re learning this morning. The President is in Richmond, Virginia today, talking to real Americans on both sides of the aisle. He’s politically stumping for this plan, which he said more than a dozen times to Congress: “Pass now.”
I’ve got my own question, Michael. A 50 percent reduction in payroll taxes: does that actually mean if Congress passes this in a couple weeks, that myself and others would look at their paychecks and see their withholding is cut by 50 percent?
SHEAR: Well, I don’t know that it would actually be cut by 50 percent from what you see now. Remember there’s already been a payroll tax cut in effect in the current year that the President and Congress passed, which was a somewhat smaller cut in your payroll taxes. It’s going to go even further. My understanding of this plan is that if it were to go into effect tomorrow, everyone would see that withholding shrink even more.
HOCKENBERRY: So here’s a question: “Doesn’t the payroll tax cut diminish the Social Security Trust Fund?” That’s from Robert, who wrote in to the New York Times website. ”To me, that’s a bad thing,” says Robert.
SHEAR: Well, and it does. Basically the payroll tax that we all pay is the amount that’s deducted that goes into Social Security to use ultimately for when we retire. What the President has proposed is that the amount of money that is reduced coming into the trust fund from us, from our payroll taxes, be put into the trust fund from other monies in the government. That’s why it costs the government money: because the President is saying, “Keep the same amount of money flowing into Social Security -- but essentially have the government make our payroll tax payments for us.”
HOCKENBERRY: So, in essence, the answer to that question from Robert at the New York Times website is it’s in the 450 billion dollar price tag: keeping Social Security at the same level. Gordon Kirk was on the show yesterday. He’s an unemployed hotel facilities manager. He listens to us on member station WLRN in South Florida. Good morning Gordon, you have a question for Michael?
GORDON KIRK: Good morning. In your opinion Michael, do you think Congress is just going to start waffling around on this? As the president said, the population does not have 14 months of luxury and time to wait for this to happen
HOCKENBERRY: That’s the 450 billion dollar question, isn’t it?
SHEAR: It really is. I think that Gordon and everyone else are wondering the same question. One of the things that was interesting was the immediate reaction after this, which, from the Republicans, was not “absolutely not,” as one would have expected. House Speaker John Boehner, Eric Cantor, the majority leader -- both of them offered somewhat positive responses to some of it, suggesting, at least, that they recognize that there’s some popularity here -- that the President has picked things that may very well prove to be very popular with an awful lot of people. They risk political danger if theyjust reject all of it out of hand. Having said that, having been in Washington for the entire two and a half years of the Obama presidency -- the relationship he has with Congress is so bad and they are so much at odds, and the partisanship is so great, that I suspect, unfortunately, that it isn’t going to pass quickly or right away.
HOCKENBERRY: Well, Michael Shear, nobody got in trouble being cynical about Congress, that’s for sure. Let’s get a couple of other questions in here. This is from Daniel in Baltimore on the New York Times website: “Why do employers need a cut in payroll taxes? They are flush with unspent cash already!” True or false, Michael?
SHEAR: Well that’s true, and there’s been an awful lot of criticism, especially of big business, but even of others, that they’re sitting on cash essentially, that they’re hoarding cash and not spending it, not hiring workers. Having said that, I think what the President’s plan is trying to do is to offer up new incentives, especially for small businesses. The cut on payroll taxes is aimed mostly at smaller businesses, and the idea is to say, “Look, if you hire an extra worker, every extra worker that you hire costs you money not only in salary, but you have to pay 50 percent of the payroll tax and we’re going to reduce that.” So, the idea is to give them one more incentive to hire people, not so much to give them a little extra cash.
HOCKENBERRY: All right, we’ve talked about political incentives for Congress, we’ve talked about incentives for small business. That’s Michael Shear, Political Reporter for our partner the New York Times. This next question perhaps is the biggest of all. It comes from one of our listeners, an American citizen, Alexandra Jarrin, who is unemployed. She was on the program this week. Very direct question, Michael, and I suspect Gordon Kirk could echo this sentiment as well. First let’s listen:
JARRIN [ON TAPE]: “President Obama, what about me? What about the people that I’m representative of? I have nothing. I have no home to go home to. I live in a motel! I am supported by people that I don’t know. What are you going to do for me so that I can be gainfully employed and get my dignity back?”
HOCKENBERRY: Michael Shear, what tangible in that program last night would respond to those sentiments of Alexandra?
SHEAR: It’s a terrible thing that’s happening all over the country. There’s one specific in the bill, which would be an extra 50 billion dollars for unemployment insurance to expand that program that might help Alexandra. But at the end of the day, the only thing that’s really going to help is a significant increase in the number of jobs across the country. Whether this program (a) gets passed and (b) does that, I think it’s anybody’s guess.
HOCKENBERRY: Michael Shear, from our partner The New York Times. Thank you.