Contours of Obama jobs package coming into focus

Tax credits for firms hiring more workers being considered
By Laura MacInnis
||Last Updated: 08/25/2011

VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. (Reuters) — United States President Barack Obama is finalizing a jobs package that could include a program to refurbish school buildings nationwide and tax breaks to encourage firms to hire workers.

The package, to be unveiled in early September, is Obama's chance to convince skeptical voters he can bring down the 9.1 per cent unemployment rate and steer the U.S. away from another recession — ahead of next year's election.

Critics say the president, who bailed out the auto industry and spent US$860 billion to revive the economy after he took office in 2009, has few jobs-boosting options and will have a hard time getting Republicans to accept any new spending plan.

But economists and advisers familiar with his strategy say Obama will argue next month that the financial crisis was worse than anyone thought at the time and say more stimulus is needed to make any real dent in the unemployment rate.

The details are still being discussed during the president's annual vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

But the broad contours of the jobs package are quickly coming into focus.

The president is widely expected to repeat his calls for an extension of a payroll tax cut, push for patent reform and bilateral free trade deals, and suggest an infrastructure bank to upgrade the country's roads, airports and other facilities.

Retrofitting schools with energy efficient technology would allow the government to directly hire for labour-intensive work and also give a boost to the clean energy sector that Obama has said could be an important U.S. economic motor.

Other measures being considered, according to economists who have advised the White House, include tax credits for firms hiring more workers, funds for local governments to hire teachers and retraining help for the long-term unemployed. Steps to boost the ailing housing market are also under review.

"What's going to be included in this plan are some reasonable ideas that could have a tangible impact on improving our economy and creating jobs ... the kinds of things that Republicans should be able to support," Earnest said. "These are bipartisan ideas that the president is going to offer up."

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