Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
President Barack Obama gave a jobs speech today at Manchester Central High School in New Hampshire, where he was heckled by Occupy Wall Street supporters.
All told, there were three memorable things about today's speech: the heckling, Obama's doubling down on a payroll tax cut extension, and the fact that he made not one reference to the deficit reduction super committee, which announced its failure just the day before.
Just as President Obama was beginning his speech, a chorus of people began shouting "Mic check!" and employed the same "human megaphone" tactic that Occupy Wall Street protesters used to deliver speeches in Zucotti Park. "Mr. President," they shouted together, "over 4,000 peaceful protesters have been arrested..." before their words became unintelligible due to other audience members booing. Eventually the OWS chorus was drowned out by a majority of the audience chanting "Obama" over and over.
Obama remained calm, although the speech was derailed for almost a minute. "I appreciate you guys making your point," he said. "Let me make mine. I'll listen to you, you listen to me."
Video courtesy of Business Insider.
The centerpiece of Obama's speech was his call on congressional Republicans to agree to extend a payroll tax cut through 2012. The administration says the extension would save a typical family almost $1,000.
The measure was included in the president's American Jobs Act, which as a whole was heavily opposed by the GOP. However, Republican leadership indicated to the president that the payroll tax cut itself was a specific area on which the two sides were more likely to find common ground.
Just this morning, Vice President Joe Biden sent an e-mail touting the administration's payroll tax calculator, which allows users to input their taxable income and compare what their tax bills would look like with or without the extension.
Many Republicans oppose extending the cuts because they fear Democrats will call for higher taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for it. The debate over extending the payroll tax could be a reprise of the one we've seen all year; today the president painted Republicans as unwilling to continue tax relief for 160 million middle-class Americans in order to preserve low taxes for the rich.
It's a Free Country counted exactly zero mentions of the deficit reduction super committee, their failure, or what could happen next in the name of fiscal austerity. Instead, the president said that since Congress has been dragging its feet, his administration has been pursuing economic solutions "on our own." Obama cited initiatives during the past month to reform the student loan system and provide more mortgage assistance to homebuyers.
But critics have also seized on Obama for turning his attention to these reforms; some feel he did not spend enough time at the table with the super committee. With the president's jobs bill and now the super committee both getting dismantled, the speech today was a sign that Obama would rather pressure Congress to act on individual proposals for job creation, rather than press them to come up with a long-term deficit reduction plan.