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Knoxville News Sentinel - ET Republicans Differ in Reactions to Obama's Jobs Pitch

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Location: Knoxville, TN

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. sees a number of things he likes in President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs-creation package.

Tax credits for companies that hire unemployed workers, the elimination of overly burdensome regulations, a new national infrastructure bank to leverage public and private money for roads, bridges and other projects -- all are ideas Republicans in Congress could probably get behind, Duncan said.

But the devil is often in the details, the Knoxville Republican said, and so far lawmakers have seen no details -- just the broad outlines of a plan that Obama delivered Thursday night to a joint session of Congress.

"Most of the speech had things that everyone supports," Duncan said Friday. "But he kept telling us to pass the bill, and we haven't seen the bill. The American people made it very clear in the last election they don't want the Congress passing bills they haven't even had a chance to read. We've got to see the specifics."

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, put it another way: "You can't pass a speech, and that's all we have so far."

The White House said Friday it is working to get the legislation and details of the economic proposals into lawmakers' hands early next week and that Obama wants Congress to pass the package as soon as possible.

"There's no reason they can't act on it right away," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said during a meeting with reporters. "There really isn't time to wait."

Obama is hoping the economic package, which includes a combination of tax cuts and spending proposals, will provide the boost needed to persuade businesses to start hiring and get the stubbornly sluggish economy back on track.

Besides offering tax cuts for existing workers and companies, the package calls for spending $25 billion to modernize at least 35,000 public schools; making $50 billion in immediate investments on roads, rail, aviation and other transportation projects; and extending unemployment insurance benefits for one year.

House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders promised Friday to seek common ground with the White House, but the president's proposal is almost certain to run into trouble in the GOP-controlled House.

Among East Tennesseans in Congress, reviews of the package were mixed.

DesJarlais said he liked Obama's remarks about the need to protect and preserve Medicare, approve free-trade agreements, lower tax rates and make infrastructure improvements.

"Investing in infrastructure and bridges is good, and we need to do that," DesJarlais said. "But we need to do it within our means, and we've got to see where the funding is coming from."

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, derided Obama's jobs package as "Stimulus 2," a follow-up to the $787 billion spending bill Congress approved two years ago in an effort to turn the economy around.

"It's just a re-do of what we've done before," Roe said. "I don't know why anybody thinks this would work when we've done all of these things before. I don't see how this is going to create the jobs we need."

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, said Obama's proposal makes it clear he believes "government is the answer to our problems."

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Obama's policies have made the economy worse, "and, unfortunately, I didn't hear much in his speech that will change that."

Both Alexander and DesJarlais expressed reservations about further extending unemployment benefits, saying at some point they become a disincentive for people to look for a job.

DesJarlais said he has talked to employers in his district who are offering jobs that pay $10 to $14 per hour, yet "that doesn't seem to be enough to entice people away from unemployment benefits."

"Although there's an awful lot of people who need and deserve these benefits," DesJarlais said, "it seems like there's an awful lot of people who are just gaming the system."

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