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Bold action on jobs needed now: Obama aide Sperling

White House senior economic adviser Gene Sperling speaks at the 2011 Fiscal Summit on Solutions for America's future in Washington
White House senior economic adviser Gene Sperling speaks at the 2011 Fiscal Summit on Solutions for America's future in Washington

By Steven C. Johnson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The case for bold action to put Americans back to work is overwhelming, a top White House adviser said on Thursday, and opponents are turning their backs on the millions of the country's long-term unemployed.

The Senate defeated President Barack Obama's $447 billion job-creation plan earlier this week but the White House says it will keep pushing Congress to do more to help boost hiring.

Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, said opponents of the bill were "turning a blind eye" to those who have been out of work for six months or more, roughly 45 percent of the 14 million Americans without jobs.

"There is no question that the best thing for our economy right now is to get a large, bold, demand injection through the American jobs act now," Sperling said at the Financial Times' View from the Top conference in New York.

The longer people go without work, the more their skills erode and the bleaker their prospects of getting hired anew, Sperling said. He noted that the average jobless American has been out of work 40.5 weeks, the highest on record going back to 1948. In 1983, the average was 21 weeks, he said.

Republicans in the Senate objected to plans to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for some measures of the plan and favor relaxing business regulations instead.

Some have dismissed the plan as a reheated version of Obama's 2009 stimulus, which helped ease the pain of the worst recession since the 1930s but failed to bring the jobless rate below 8 percent as the White House had promised.

Sperling cited forecasts by independent economists, including at major Wall Street banks, who said the jobs initiative would add nearly 2 million additional jobs, crucial for an economy that some fear is nearing another recession.

"We don't want to look back and say we took the risk of sitting on our hands and conducting politics as usual" while letting the economy fall back into a recession, he said.

U.S. growth slowed sharply in the second quarter and nearly flat-lined in the first. Obama has said he may break up the bill to push it through Congress. Some elements that might be salvaged in another form, include extensions of a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.

Sperling, however, said the White House did not support repeating a 2004-2005 tax holiday that let firms repatriate profits from abroad, saying it would have "no discernible positive impact on job growth or investment."

U.S. Congressional investigators also concluded this week in a report the holiday was a flop and cost the Treasury $3.3 billion in lost revenue.

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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