From NBC's Ali Weinberg
In anticipation of what will be one of the major themes of Wednesday's State of the Union address -- jobs -- President Obama today unveiled five initiaves intended to ease the economic burden among middle-class families. The plan was conceived by the Middle Class Task Force, a group of Cabinet officials and other policymembers, chaired by Vice President Joe Biden.
The White House and Congressional Democrats have been beset in recent weeks by criticism that they are focusing too much on passing health-care legislation, to the detriment of issues more pressing to some voters -- above all, the unemployment rate, which currently stands at 10%.
Today's announcement is one in a series of events intended to demonstrate the administration's committment to job creation. Addressing the roughly 20 members of the task force, Obama framed the economic woes of the middle class as a problem originating long before his administration.
"The middle class has been under assault for a long time," Obama said. "Too many Americans have known their own painful recessions long before any economist declared that there was a recession. We've just come through what was one of the most difficult decades the middle class has ever faced -- a decade in which median income fell and our economy lost about as many jobs as it gained."
Biden outlined the five initiatives:
- Expansion of the child tax credit -- doubling it among families with incomes up to $85,000;
- Increasing funding for child care;
- Broader support for families supporting elderly relatives, including counseling, training and temporary respite care;
- Limiting student loan payments to no more than 10% of their income; and
- Establishing an automatic employer-based individual retirement account plan, so that workers can establish an IRA through their workplace.
Employing some of the spirited language he used on Friday at a campaign-like town-hall meeting in Elyria, Ohio, Obama reiterated his pledge to "keep on fighting for what matters to middle-class families: An education that gives our kids a chance in life; new, clean energy economy that generates the good jobs of the future; meaningful financial reform that protect consumers; and health reform that prohibits the worst practices of the insurance industry and restores some stability and peace of mind for middle-class families."