GWEN IFILL: Now to presidential politics. A slew of new polls out today show Americans with deep and growing concerns about the president's economic leadership.
In advance of President Obama's address to Congress later this week, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney said today he can do better.
Judy Woodruff has our story.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Whether it's his overall job approval rating or his stewardship of the economy, President Obama today faced the worst polling numbers of his presidency.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 44 percent of respondents approved of the president's job performance, while 51 percent disapproved. An ABC News/Washington Post survey showed 62 percent of those questioned disapprove of the president's handling of the economy, while just 36 percent approve.
In both surveys, just a fifth of Americans said they believe the country is headed in the right direction, a record low during Mr. Obama's time in office.
At the White House this afternoon, Press Secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama was focused on jobs, not polls.
JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: He fully understands the anxiety that is out there among the American people about the economy, the frustration at the pace of growth, the frustration at the pace of job creation. And that's why he feels it's so urgent to take action now, and not to simply say, oh, well, we shouldn't do anything, and then let it all be decided next year after an election.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The poll numbers followed Friday's report that net job growth ground to a halt in August. They also raised the stakes higher still for the president's job speech to Congress on Thursday night.
Today, the two top Republicans in the House, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, sent a letter to the president. They said neither side should approach economic policy as an all-or-nothing situation.
MITT ROMNEY, (R) presidential candidate: Competition is always a good thing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In the meantime, one of the Republicans campaigning for the president's job, Mitt Romney, put forward his own plan in Las Vegas. Romney's camp released a booklet with 59 ideas aimed at jump-starting the economy.
They include lowering the corporate tax rate to 25 percent, down from the current 35 percent and cutting federal discretionary spending, except for defense and homeland security, by 5 percent immediately to reduce the annual budget by $20 billion. Romney would also make federal agencies offset the cost of any new regulations on business by dialing back existing rules.
The former Massachusetts governor insisted his plan would get the economy moving again.
MITT ROMNEY: In the first four years, this will grow the economy at approximately 4 percent per year for each of those four years. It will add 11.5 million new jobs for Americans. This is a business plan for the American economy. We have to recognize that our nation is in competition with other nations around the world. And if we want to create jobs, we have to have the best business plan in the world.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Obama re-election campaign released a statement shortly after Romney's remarks. It read, "While Mitt Romney spoke today about the struggles of the middle class, he offered a plan that would tip the scales against hardworking Americans."
Romney and his fellow Republican hopefuls get another opportunity to sell their ideas tomorrow night, when they debate in California.
And we're joined now from Las Vegas by Ari Shapiro of NPR.
Ari, good to see you again.
ARI SHAPIRO, NPR: Thanks for having me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we just highlighted a few of the points in the Romney plan. What do you think is significant about what he's put out there now?
ARI SHAPIRO: You know, the broad outlines of the plan hit some of the key themes of the Republican Party for the last several years -- cutting taxes, limiting regulations, shrinking government, new domestic oil and gas drilling.
Those broad outlines are things we have heard before. Some of the specific ways he proposes accomplishing those are new. For example, he wants to give Congress the authority to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to any regulation that's proposed by an executive agency.
Similarly, he wants any new regulation to be matched by a rollback of a regulation of equal size. Another thing he said today that we hadn't heard from the other Republican candidates is that he wants to impose sanctions on China. He called China a cheat, a currency manipulator. He said they're stealing American intellectual property.
And, so, while the broad outlines of this job creation plan look pretty familiar, some of the specific details are things that we haven't seen before.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And I was curious about the China aspect of what he proposed.
Ari, is this something that -- what have economists and other political analysts been saying about that? Is that something that people think could have the effect that Romney says it would?
ARI SHAPIRO: Well, Romney says he doesn't want to start a trade war, but he also just doesn't want to surrender right off the bat.
You know, China is the largest holder of American debt. And so when it comes to the U.S. economy, China has significant clout, significant power. That's worrisome to Americans. And I think there's some disagreement about what the best approach to China to take would be.
But the approach that Mitt Romney laid out today seems to be a bit more aggressive than the other Republicans are suggesting.
JUDY WOODRUFF: His proposals, Ari, down the line different from President Obama's?
ARI SHAPIRO: You know, what was interesting to me is that, while there is a lot of difference, there were a few areas where -- I don't think President Obama or Mitt Romney would emphasize this, but there was some commonality.
I mean, for example Romney said today that Congress needs to right away pass a free trade deal with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Those have been sitting on the shelf. Well, President Obama has been calling on Congress to pass those free trade deals. Romney said repeatedly that he believes being the lead innovator is going to be the key to America's economic future. He said manufacturing has to be the core of America's economic rebound.
Well, those are both things that President Obama has talked about as well. The key difference is that President Obama believes that government investments and government spending can be sort of the jump-start that gets the private sector going.
Mitt Romney, in contrast, says you have to shrink government, get government out of the way, and then give the private sector the room to grow.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You know, listening to the conversation -- I don't know if you were able to hear it -- that my colleague Jeffrey Brown just had on the international economy, we're reminded again there are questions about how the structural -- structure of the economy is changing.
Is that something that the people around Mitt Romney acknowledge and talk about, or are they just focused on the mistakes of the Obama administration?
ARI SHAPIRO: Well, I think they're doing both.
Mitt Romney used a metaphor today that was very effective with the audience, where he said, President Obama is taking a pay phone approach to a smartphone economy. He joked that President Obama keeps putting the quarters in the pay phone, wondering why it's not working. And he said, Mr. President, the pay phone is disconnected.
And so it was -- it resonated really strongly with the audience. It was laughing and applauding. But I think it was a way, through metaphor, to emphasize that he thinks the economy has outpaced the Obama administration and that new approaches are necessary.
Now, that said, many of the approaches that Mitt Romney suggested are approaches that the Republican Party has been suggesting for some time.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Ari, we know you have covered the White House. You have covered President Obama. Any sense right now of how they're dealing with the just sort of relentless bad news on the economy and how that is affecting their approach to this campaign?
ARI SHAPIRO: You know, President Obama has been trying for the last two years to create new jobs. And his problem now is that, on Thursday, he has to deliver a speech that needs to persuade the American people that suddenly there are more new ideas to create more jobs, and also that these ideas could conceivably get through Congress.
Well, that's at least what he has to do if the goal is to actually create new jobs. Now, if the goal is to distinguish himself from the Republican Party and argue that the Democratic Party and the Obama re-election campaign has the answer, while the Republicans do not, well, then these proposals don't have to get through Congress. They just have to win over the American people.
One way or the other, though, after two years of the Obama administration and these really difficult economic numbers coming week after week, month after month, it's a very, very tall order for him.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.
Well, Ari Shapiro, we will be watching that. And we will be watching your coverage of Mitt Romney. And we will be watching all these Republican candidates as well.
Thank you. Good to see you again.
ARI SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you.