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Barack Obama called on Republicans to put “country before party”, laying down a rhetorical gauntlet days ahead of a keynote address to Congress that will lay out the administration’s plan to combat the US jobs crisis.
In a speech to autoworkers and union leaders in Detroit, laden with messages pitched at the Democratic party labour base, the US president said that the country would see after Thursday’s speech “whether we have some straight shooters in Congress”.
“We will give them a plan and then we will say: do you want to create jobs?” he said. “Prove you will fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle-class families as you do for oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you’ve got.”
The president’s rousing speech belied his increasingly dire political position, as his approval ratings continued to drop alongside a stagnant economy and an employment market that added no extra jobs in August. Unemployment remains above 9 per cent.
Mr Obama gave a preview of some of the initiatives he plans to lay out in his speech, from measures to increase construction jobs through the fast-tracking of infrastructure projects and an extension of payroll tax cuts for workers.
But he must balance what he would like to push through and what the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will allow to pass through Congress.
The Republicans have so far this year steadfastly opposed any new stimulus measures, successful putting blame for the poor economy on the president while tying his hands in the search for measures to revive it.
The Republican party has tacked increasingly to the right under the influence of the Tea Party, prompting some in Mr Obama’s party to urge him to offer a large stimulus programme in his speech to pick a fight with his political enemies.
But the president has striven to paint himself as a centrist figure above the fray in Washington and is unlikely to opt for a programme with a big dollar figure attached to it.
The speech presents an opportunity for Mr Obama to return himself to centre of policymaking in Washington after being pushed aside during the last budget deal after he failed in his attempt to strike an agreement with John Boehner, the Republican house speaker.
The speech also comes at the launch of a new political season after the summer recess and the Labor Day weekend holiday.
The Republican party’s array of potential challengers to Mr Obama in next year’s presidential poll will stage a debate on Wednesday, with most attention focused on Rick Perry, the Texas governor who is now the frontrunner after only a few weeks on the campaign trail.