President Obama exhorted a bitterly-divided Congress on Thursday to stop the “political circus” and help suffering Americans by jumpstarting the sputtering economy.

With his political survival and leadership cred hanging in the balance, Obama told a joint session of lawmakers “you should pass right away” his American Jobs Act, which he’ll send to Capitol Hill next week.

“There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation,” he said. “Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans – including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything.”

“The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities,” Obama said. “The question tonight is whether we’ll meet ours …whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy.”

His $447 billion formula would sweeten the popular payroll tax cut for workers and extend it to small business owners. It also creates more jobs for teachers, construction workers and the long-term unemployed.

He claimed it will repair and modernize 35,000 schools and “jumpstart thousands of transportation projects across the country.

“No more earmarks, no more boondoggles, no more bridges to nowhere,” he pledged to skeptical Republicans who want more oversight on such spending.

Obama argued his package will “provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled” and increase the consumer spending businesses say they need to start hiring again.

“Those of us here tonight cannot solve all of our nation’s woes,” he said. “But we can help. We can make a difference. There are steps we can take right now to improve people’s lives.”

While he stitched in a few favorite populist lines about ending the tax coddling of billionaires, Obama’s tone was muted and conciliatory as he sought to showcase his commitment to job creation.

It was no coincidence that he mentioned “jobs” 37 times.

“Pass this jobs bill” was a frequent refrain – underscoring its need and Obama’s commitment.

“Regardless of the arguments we’ve had in the past, regardless of the arguments we’ll have in the future, this plan is the right thing to do right now,” he told Republicans.

Obama and his strategists hope that last summer’s debt debacle chastened the GOP-dominated Congress – whose abysmal job approval ratings are far worse than his – into meeting him halfway instead of rejecting anything he proposes.

In effect, the speech was a high-stakes moment for both Obama and the Republicans that could determine whether the cratering economy has forced combatants to curb their mutual vitriol.

Still, a presidential election is just 14 months away, and Republicans are salivating over the prospect of retiring Obama.

But the GOP reaction was split in its reaction to the speech.

House Speaker John Boehner said Obama’s proposals “merit consideration. We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well.”

But a Republican National Committee statement was dismissive: “President Obama’s latest rehash of failed proposals proves that he is devoid of solutions and unfit to lead.”

Obama and Eric Cantor deliver dueling speeches on the economy today in Richmond, the House minority leader’s hometown. Obama’s road trip will be the first of regular trips into the heartland to sell his jobs program and remind frustrated voters he’s doing everything he can to revive the economy.

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