Portion Of Obama Jobs Bill Would Update Schools

Sep 14, 2011
Originally published on September 14, 2011 6:07 am
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President Obama says he has a way to create more jobs, and he'll go to North Carolina to talk about that. It's the third election battleground state the president has visited in less than a week. He's promoting the plan he first announced last week before Congress. He wants to prop up the economy with $447 billion in tax cuts and new government spending. Some of that money would go to refurbish outdated school buildings, and Mr. Obama stressed that idea yesterday during a stop in Columbus, Ohio. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School sits - as the name suggests - on an old military base in what's now downtown Columbus. Along with its Civil War heritage came leaky roofs, drafty classrooms, and inadequate ventilation. A multi-million dollar renovation fixed all that. After touring the campus yesterday, President Obama said Fort Hayes is now ready for 21st century learning.

BARACK OBAMA: I wouldn't mind taking a few classes here.


HORSLEY: Mr. Obama told supporters outside the school by adding music rooms, installing computers and building state-of-the-art science labs, the Fort Hayes makeover had also created much needed jobs for more than 250 construction workers.

OBAMA: For masons and concrete workers and carpenters and plumbers and electricians, and many of those jobs are filled by the good people of Columbus, Ohio.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama wants to duplicate that success by renovating some 35,000 schools nationwide. The jobs plan he sent to Congress this week includes $30 billion to modernize schools, plus another 35 billion to prevent layoffs of teachers, firefighters and other government workers. Local governments have already cut more than half a million employees over the last three years. Schoolteacher Portia Boulger recently lost her job in Ross County, Ohio, just south of Columbus. She was among those cheering the president's jobs bill and thinks it might help her get rehired.

PORTIA BOULGER: I would hope it doesn't, but if it doesn't help me I know it'll help some teacher. And that's what our kids need, teachers in a classroom, not on the unemployment line.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama's urging people like Boulger to call or write their members of Congress and demand swift passage of the jobs bill. Boulger says she's ready to spread that message.

BOULGER: I think we have a lot of responsible-minded people in Congress. They've just got to push back against the Tea Party and focus on what America needs.

HORSLEY: The biggest single piece of the president's jobs plan is a cut in payroll taxes that would benefit every worker along with a similar tax break for employers. Linda Freeman Walker works part-time in customer service because she can't find a full-time job. She says every extra dollar of take-home pay would make a difference.

LINDA FREEMAN WALKER: Feeling the pinch at the grocery store, the gas station. Everything is going up, but our incomes aren't.

HORSLEY: The proposed cut in payroll taxes would replace a smaller tax break that's due to expire in a few months.

OBAMA: If Congress refuses to pass this bill, then middle-class families will get hit with a tax increase at the worst possible time. Now, we can't - we can't let that happen. Some folks have been working pretty hard to keep tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Tell them they need to fight just as hard, they need to fight harder for middle-class families. Tell them to pass this jobs bill.


HORSLEY: Tax cuts are the part of the president's plan that are probably most likely to appeal to Republicans in Congress. But the GOP has been openly critical of the president's call for new government spending, especially after Mr. Obama explained how he wants to pay for the jobs bill: primarily by limiting tax deductions to 28 percent for things like mortgage interest and charity contributions. That means America's wealthiest families would pay higher taxes.

OBAMA: Here's the other thing, Columbus: We've got to make sure that everybody pays their fair share, including the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations.


HORSLEY: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday Mr. Obama's proposal is more of a reelection plan than a jobs plan, designed not so much to pass a divided Congress as to give Democrats an issue to campaign on. Campaigning for the jobs bills continues today in North Carolina. We're going to take this to them every day, said a White House official, and challenge them to pass the whole bill. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Columbus, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.