WASHINGTON — Declaring that the middle class remains "under assault," President Barack Obama proposed new federal help on Monday for child care, elder care, student loans and retirement.
"The middle class has been under assault for a long time," Obama said at the White House. "Too many Americans have known their own painful recessions long before any economist declared that there was a recession."
The proposals are part of Obama's campaign to convince the country that he's doing all he can to ease the economic anxiety he thinks is fueling a political backlash against his party. He's expected to address those concerns in his first State of the Union speech Wednesday.
Republicans called Monday's proposals a publicity-seeking photo-op that would do nothing to create jobs.
"Americans are asking 'where are the jobs?' but none of the proposals outlined by the White House today would, in fact, create jobs," said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, his party's leader in the House of Representatives. "The American people don't need more photo-ops; they need new policies that create jobs."
Obama suggested that his new proposals aren't aimed so much at creating jobs now, as they are at helping middle-class pocketbooks over the longer term.
"Creating good, sustainable jobs is the single most important thing we can do to rebuild the middle class," he said. "But we also need to reverse the overall erosion in middle class security so that when this economy does come back, working Americans are free to pursue their dreams again."
Obama didn't say how much he would propose spending on the plans or how he would pay for them. Aides said he'd provide those details next week when he rolls out his proposed budget for federal fiscal year 2011, which starts on Oct. 1, though some scanty cost details were included in papers they gave reporters.
"We expect that we're going to be able to get some of these critical initiatives passed soon so that folks can get some help right away," he said.
Among the proposals, according to White House documents:
_ Expanding the Child and Dependent Care tax credit for families with annual incomes up to $115,000. The credit would "nearly double" for families making up to $85,000 and would increase at a lower rate for those making between $85,000 and $115,000.
For a family with two children and income of $80,000, the maximum credit would increase to $2,100 from $1,200.
_ Boosting spending by $1.6 billion for child care for about 235,000 children through the Child Care and Development Fund.
_ Adding more support for families caring for a relative, with counseling, training, transportation and temporary respite care. Vice President Joe Biden said the $102.5 million proposal would help 200,000 people now having a hard time balancing work and care for an elderly relative.
_ Capping Federal Student Loan payments at 10 percent of a person's income after a "basic living allowance," rather than the current 15 percent. For a person making $30,000 and still owing $20,000 for college loans, the monthly payment would drop from $228 to $115 under a standard 10-year payment plan.
Also, forgiving all remaining debt after 10 years for people engaged in public service work and 20 years for everyone else.
_ Making Individual Retirement Accounts automatic at places of work that do not now offer retirement, and giving workers the right to opt out of an IRA rather than requiring them to opt in.
_ Expanding and simplifying a saver's credit for people making up to $65,000, providing a 50 percent match for the first $1,000 a person saves in a retirement account. It would be refundable, meaning people who don't pay income tax would get the credit in a check.
People making between $65,000 and $85,000 would get a smaller match.
"This will not only help build up a nest egg for existing savers, but it's going to encourage workers who currently have no retirement accounts to start to save," Biden said.
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