Obama pairs a push for jobs with proposed spending cuts

President Obama wants Congress to quickly approve a jobs bill in the range of $100 billion, a top White House official said Sunday, reflecting the growing political anxiety among Democrats about stubbornly high unemployment in an election year.

The push for jobs-creation legislation, on top of the $787-billion stimulus measure that Obama signed into law one year ago, comes as Republicans have accused the party in power of pursuing a costly and ineffective economic recovery strategy.

In advocating the new spending at a time when the federal budget deficit has reached once-unimaginable levels, Obama on Monday will propose a $3.8-trillion budget that would freeze spending on many domestic programs in fiscal year 2011, which begins Oct. 1.

Obama, for example, proposes to cut funding for NASA programs that were supposed to send astronauts to the moon by 2020 and replace the space shuttle with a new rocket. Instead, he will direct the agency to concentrate more on Earth science projects, such as researching and monitoring climate change.

In all, Obama will propose cutting or eliminating some 120 programs for $20 billion in savings, senior administration officials say.

Other programs will grow. Spending for the Pell Grant program for needy college students would nearly double what it was when Obama took office last year.

Reflecting his oft-stated priority on creating more clean-energy jobs, Obama is expected to seek $54 billion in additional loan guarantees for nuclear power plants, a proposal that has drawn criticism from a usual ally -- environmental groups.

A number of his proposals are likely to face resistance on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers fiercely guard their power over the purse.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R- Ohio), appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” called the proposed spending freeze a “good first step,” but added, “I think we can do much better.”

Congress rejected a number of spending cuts that the White House sought last year, including an Obama administration effort to end federal payments to states for jailing illegal immigrants convicted of crimes. California is the largest beneficiary of those payments.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, meanwhile, told CNN’s “Late Edition” that the president favors a jobs package “in the $100-billion range” and expressed hope that it would be the next order of business before the Senate.

“We need to recognize what’s on the mind of the American people, which is jobs,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who heads the House Democrats’ campaign effort, said on " Fox News Sunday.”

In December, the House approved a $154-billion jobs bill without a single Republican vote. Senate Democratic leaders are expected to unveil their plans on jobs legislation this week and are looking to pass a series of measures in coming months rather than one large package.

Final legislation is expected to include money to fund infrastructure projects, promote green jobs and keep teachers, police officers and other public workers employed.

Democrats hope to win Republican support for the measure by including tax cuts for small businesses, a GOP favorite. The tax credit is designed to encourage businesses to hire workers.

But while the Democratic president and congressional Republicans held an unusually frank exchange before TV cameras last week in the hope of promoting bipartisanship, little of it appeared Sunday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on “Late Edition” that as long as the legislation creates jobs, “we’re willing to take a look at it.” But he and other Republicans suggested that Democrats could improve economic recovery by dropping their healthcare overhaul and extending the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, which expire at the end of the year.

“The best thing that we could do with respect to jobs is put that massive healthcare expansion on the shelf,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.C.) said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” He added that lawmakers also should “make it clear to small businesses that we’re not going to raise their taxes in the middle of a recession,” a reference to the upcoming expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

Obama favors extending the tax cuts for the middle class but ending them for the well-to-do, which he defines as families earning at least $250,000 a year.

“If borrowing and spending all this money led to more jobs, then we’d be at full employment already,” Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, top Republican on the House Budget Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”