President Obama urged passage of his top jobs initiatives on Friday, warning Congress not to "muck up" the economic growth reflected in Friday's positive jobs report.
Obama said the drop in the unemployment rate, from 8.5 to 8.3 percent, in January shows “the recovery is speeding up,” and that in order to keep it going, Congress should pass long-term extensions of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance, programs that are otherwise set to expire at the end of February.
“Do not slow down the recovery we're on. Don't muck it up,” Obama said, addressing Congress while speaking at a firehouse in Arlington, Virginia this morning.
He added that both measures need to be passed “without drama, without delay, without linking it to some ideological side issue.”
That comment seemed intended, at least in part, as a warning against lawmakers' push for add-ons like the Keystone oil pipeline project, which House Republicans tied to the short-term extension of the tax cut in December, requiring the president to either approve the pipeline within 60 days or declare it not in the national interest.
While the Keystone language was included in the final legislation, the White House originally threatened to veto any bill containing it, saying it introduced “ideological issues into what should be a simple debate about cutting taxes for the middle class.”
Obama seemed most forceful Friday when talking about the tax cut extension but he also pushed for passage of his new veterans’ employment program, which he said could be funded by money saved from troop drawdowns in Iraq and eventually Afghanistan.
“Congress should take the money that we're no longer spending on war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building here at home,” he said.
Obama’s new plan would create a New Deal-style “Veterans Jobs Corps” intended to put 20,000 post-9/11 veterans back to work restoring national parks and infrastructure. The program would require Congress to approve $1 billion over five years.
The plan would also add $5 billion to existing programs that spur police officer and firefighter hiring, as well as create new training programs for veterans transitioning out of the armed forces, both of which also need Congressional permission.
During his speech, the president emphasized how qualified veterans are to join the civilian workforce.
“Our veterans are some of the most highly trained, highly educated, highly skilled workers that we've got. These are Americans that every business should be competing to attract.”