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Obama to seek budget freeze, policies to help middle class

WASHINGTON - Declaring America's middle class is "under assault," President Barack Obama unveiled plans yesterday to help hurting families pay bills, save for retirement and care for kids and aging parents. His comments previewed tomorrow's State of the Union Address.

Obama's proposals won't create jobs, but he said they could "re-establish some of the security that's slipped away." His remarks aimed to lift the nation's dour mood and show he is in touch with the struggles of Americans as resentment runs high about lost jobs and the economy.

Long Island's congressional delegation logged mixed reactions to the proposal, but all of the legislators said they felt something has to be done to give the middle class an economic safety net - and quickly.

The initiatives amount to a package of tax credits, spending expansions and new mandates on employers to encourage retirement savings by workers. Most of them will be included in Obama's budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, and will require approval from Congress. Obama will release that budget Feb. 1. Obama will ask Congress to freeze spending for some domestic programs for three years beginning in 2011, administration officials said yesterday.

The president's latest rollout of ideas served as a preview of his prime-time State of the Union address. The economic elements of that speech will also cover Obama's plans to boost job creation and reduce swelling budget deficits - areas of concern to the public.

The White House said it is imperative to create jobs.

What matters to people, Obama said, is "whether they see some progress in their own lives. So we're going to keep fighting to rebuild our economy so that hard work is once again rewarded, wages and incomes are once again rising, the middle class is once again growing."

Less clear was how much the programs would cost or where the money would come from.

That irked Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) who said the proposal was short on details.

"These are worthwhile concepts but clearly more detail is needed," he said. "The president is ignoring the most obvious need of the middle class, which is job creation."

But Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer of New York said the plan smacks of initiatives they both have embraced in the past.

Schumer said the president needs to focus on jobs "like a laser" and suggested using bailout funds banks have paid back.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) called the plan "five or six very good suggestions that will help to enhance economic security for the middle class."

With Zachary R. Dowdy

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