President Barack Obama goes before Congress on Thursday to argue for his new plan to urgently create jobs for the millions of out-of-work Americans, a way forward that some opposition Republicans have rejected before hearing the details and members of the Democratic base view as too timid.
The nationally televised speech to a joint session of the legislature, where Republicans control the House of Representatives, was expected to chart a middle ground, part of Obama's continuing strategy to win the backing of independent voters who hold the key to his hopes for re-election next year.
Obama is expected to outline a series of measures _ including temporary tax cuts _ that Republicans have supported or even called for in the past. The tactic is designed to either bring Republicans along to join in owning the problem, or to force their hand and attempt to lay blame with them for failing to act.
A Republican rejection of the proposals would allow the White House to argue that Obama opponents had rejected their own ideas in favor of harming the president politically while also undercutting the needs of Americans desperate to find work.
Also, should the House block his ideas, the Obama plan would not be tested and, therefore, could not be found wanting. What's more, it would provide a perfect vehicle for campaigning against the Republicans as obstructionists.
As a sign of top Republican thinking, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that Obama seemed determined to simply reintroduce economic policies that haven't worked.
"It's time the president starts thinking less about how to describe his policies differently and more time thinking about devising new policies," McConnell said.
The unemployment rate, which stood at 5 percent at the start of the deep recession and 7.8 percent when Obama took office, is at 9.1 percent. Most troubling is the trend line. After a period of steady if modest job creation, employers have stopped hiring. There was no net change in jobs in August.
Even so, Obama came out of a bitter summer-long fight over deficit spending in better shape politically, according to the polls, than Congress. But the president's approval numbers are sagging badly as Americans cast blame on both branches of government for continued high unemployment and the stumbling recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In his speech Thursday, Obama is likely to offer at least a $300 billion package of ideas _ tax relief, unemployment insurance, spending to support construction jobs, aid to states to keep people in their jobs. Businesses would get their own tax breaks. And he will outline plan to pay for it all without, in the long term, raising the nation's spiraling debt.
As official Washington got back to work this week, Obama was forced to squeeze the speech in between a Wednesday night debate among Republican candidates battling for the party nomination to challenge Obama in 2012 and the Thursday opening of the popular National Football League season that will be televised at 8 p.m. EDT Thursday (0000 GMT Friday).
The White House said Obama would begin speaking at 7 p.m. and will be finished before game time.
Even before the speech, the White House was trying to put pressure on Congress.
White House chief of staff Bill Daley said Thursday morning that Americans were demanding action to reduce unemployment.
Daley said that with Congress' summer break over, lawmakers must "do something and not say 'no' to everything."
The president's plan to pay for his ideas is a political necessity in a time of fiscal austerity. Deficit-boosting stimulus spending is out. But here, too, he is banking on a lot of help.
Obama plans to cover the cost by asking a new congressional supercommittee debt panel to go beyond its target of finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by the end of November, so the extra savings can pay for short-term economic help. That debt panel meets for the first time Thursday.
In one upbeat sign for those looking for a Washington compromise, House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have told Obama they see potential areas of agreement on jobs _ for example, infrastructure, which Obama has pushed repeatedly. Cantor also signaled to reporters Wednesday that he might support a payroll tax cut.
At the heart of Obama's plan will be extending, by one more year, a payroll tax cut for workers that went into effect this year. The president wants the payroll tax, which raises money for the federal Social Security pension program, to stay at 4.2 percent rather than kick back up to 6.2 percent. That tax applies to earnings up to $106,800.
Obama is expected to seek continued unemployment aid for millions of people receiving extended benefits. That program, too, is set to expire at year's end.
Since Obama took office in January 2009, nearly 2 million Americans have lost jobs. Almost 14 million people are out of work.
Associated Press White House correspondent Ben Feller contributed to this report.