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Obama strengthens efforts to boost jobs, economy

WASHINGTON - Jobs, jobs, jobs.

If there's any path out of the mess President Barack Obama found himself in on the first day of his second year in office, more aggressive promotion of the administration's economy-boosting efforts - coupled with criticism of the Republican approach - is the one he has settled on.

The White House in the new year already had begun focusing greater attention on the nation's angst and anger over a range of economic issues, including unemployment persisting near 10 percent, government expansion, Wall Street excesses and federal deficits.

Officials said that shift will intensify now, an acknowledgment that Tuesday's stunning Senate election of Republican Scott Brown in the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts requires at least some course correction in Obama's still-young presidency.

Brown's election to the seat that had been held by Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy meant the end of a filibuster-proof majority for Obama's party in the Senate and suddenly imperiled passage of the president's marquee domestic agenda item - a sweeping health care overhaul. It also leaves the fate of other key Obama priorities unclear and prompted a series of questions about the president's political judgment, clout and popularity.

Obama and his top aides huddled with each other and Capitol Hill allies to plot how to rescue the health care legislation and to start mapping a way forward leading into this fall's midterm congressional elections.

Their conclusion was that the economy - jobs specifically, and the broader topics of the nation's fiscal and financial health - must be priority No. 1.

Among Obama's ideas:

New spending for highway and bridge construction.

Tax cuts for small businesses that increase their payrolls.

Money to retrofit millions of homes to be more energy-efficient and create "green" jobs.

Funds to help state and local governments avert layoffs of public-sector employees.

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