Democrat Presidential candidate Barack Obama proposed immediate steps to heal the nation's ailing economy including a 90 day moratorium on home foreclosures at some banks and a two-year tax break for businesses that create new jobs. With the economic turmoil weighing down his Republican presidential rival, Obama also proposed allowing people to withdraw up to $10,000 from their retirement accounts without any penalty this year and next.
The Democratic presidential candidate said his proposals, with a price tag of $60 billion over two years, can be enacted quickly, either through the government's regulatory powers or legislation that Congress could pass in a special session after the election.
"I'm proposing a number of steps that we should take immediately to stabilize our financial system, provide relief to families and communities and help struggling homeowners," Obama told a crowd of 3,000. "It's a plan that begins with one word that's on everyone's mind, and it's spelled J-O-B-S."
Obama delivered his economic message in Toledo, a struggling blue-collar city in a state that could be critical to Obama's presidential hopes. Polls show a close race between Obama and Republican John McCain in Ohio, which decided the 2004 presidential election. At stake are 20 electoral votes.
His call for action comes just two days before the final debate of the presidential race and at a time when McCain is sending mixed signals about how he'll address the economy. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a key McCain adviser, said Sunday the Republican candidate was considering a proposal to reduce taxes on investment, including a possible cut in capital gains taxes, but McCain offered no new economic proposals when he gave a new stump speech Monday morning promising a change in direction from the economic policies of President Bush.
McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds accused Obama of planning to raise taxes if elected, something that would "have a devastating effect" on the troubled economy. Obama's plan calls for raising taxes only on the 5% of people who make more than $250,000 a year. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that under Obama's approach the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers would see their taxes go up on average by $93,709 in 2009, For McCain, those same wealthy taxpayers would see an average reduction of $48,860.
Obama is proposing tax cuts for those making less than $200,000 a year. Obama's latest proposals are in addition to other policies the Illinois senator has already offered as the stock market struggles, financial institutions wobble and tight credit chokes the economy. Obama supported the $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan and endorsed the latest twist on it: the government buying ownership in major banks and partially nationalizing them to keep them afloat. He also calls for tax breaks for most families, cutting capital gains taxes for investment in small business and extending unemployment benefits.
Obama proposed Monday that banks participating in the federal bailout should temporarily postpone foreclosures for families making good-faith efforts to pay their mortgage.
"We need to give people the breathing room they need to get back on their feet," he said, adding that families living beyond their means share some of the responsibility. Part of the reason this crisis occurred, if we're honest with ourselves, is that everyone was living beyond their means, from Wall Street to Washington to even some on Main Street," Obama said.
He also called for a $3,000 tax credit for each additional fulltime job a business creates. That means a business that adds five jobs would get a $15,000 break. That would end after 2010 and would cost $40 billion, the campaign estimates. Obama proposes letting people withdraw up to 15% of their retirement funds, to a maximum of $10,000, without the penalty that now applies to early or excess withdrawals. The change would apply retroactively to all of 2008, as well as 2009. People would still have to pay normal taxes on the money. He said letting people dip into their IRAs and 401(k)s would help them get through tough times when money is tight.
State and local governments face a money crunch, too, and Obama called for new federal short-term loans to help them through the crisis. He called it a "funding backstop" to ensure that states and cities can meet payroll or keep projects moving. He ended the speech with a call for people to unite and make sacrifices, as America did during the Great Depression, until the economy is back on track.
"Together, we cannot fail. Not now. Not when we have a crisis to solve and an economy to save. Not when there are so many Americans without jobs and without homes," Obama said. "We can do this because we've done it before."