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Mr. Boehner said the president’s proposals “merit consideration,” but he should also listen to the GOP’s plans.

“It’s my hope that we can work together to end the uncertainty facing families and small businesses and create a better environment for long-term economic growth and private-sector job creation,” Mr. Boehner said in a statement.

Mr. Obama said he thinks Republicans are sincere in their desire to improve the economy by cutting spending and regulations. But in the next breath, the president implicitly accused the GOP of using the economic crisis as a subterfuge to eliminate social safety nets.

“What we can’t do — what I won’t do — is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades,” Mr. Obama said. “I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety. I reject the argument that says for the economy to grow, we have to roll back protections that ban hidden fees by credit card companies, or rules that keep our kids from being exposed to mercury, or laws that prevent the health insurance industry from shortchanging patients.

“I reject the idea that we have to strip away collective-bargaining rights to compete in a global economy. We shouldn’t be in a race to the bottom, where we try to offer the cheapest labor and the worst pollution standards. America should be in a race to the top. And I believe that’s a race we can win,” he said.

For the most part, Republicans are choosing not to engage with the president on rhetoric this time. After returning to Washington from a month of town-hall meetings with constituents, they are pledging — outwardly at least — to find common ground with Mr. Obama where possible. They are also mindful that Congress‘ job-approval ratings are even lower than that of the president.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, described Mr. Obama’s plan as “stimulus three,” but said Republicans should build on portions they can agree with. He praised the president for seeking greater deficit reduction, but questioned Mr. Obama’s need for tax increases while he’s also cutting payroll taxes.

“A tax increase never actually created a job,” Mr. Issa said.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, had measured praise for Mr. Obama’s speech, but said his former colleague in the Senate didn’t go far enough on infrastructure spending. He also worried about diverting money from the Social Security trust fund to help pay for Mr. Obama’s proposed additional payroll-tax cut for employers.

Mr. Obama again called for “modest adjustments” to Medicare, saying, “If we don’t gradually reform the system while protecting current beneficiaries, it won’t be there when future retirees need it.”

Many Republican lawmakers said Mr. Obama is offering more of the same policies that have failed to produce jobs. A handful of GOP lawmakers even skipped the speech.

“His hopeless economic policies are costing too much,” said Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican.

Mr. Cantor told reporters before the speech that the president’s proposal to extend payroll-tax cuts, worth $1,500 per household, is “certainly part of the mix as we talk about how to go forward.”

The president said his plan would repair at least 35,000 schools. “This is America,” he said. “Every child deserves a great school.”

And he said thousands of teachers would be hired with the money.

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