WASHINGTON — Defiant and frustrated, President Barack Obama aggressively challenged Republicans Thursday to get behind his jobs plan or explain why not, declaring that if Congress fails to act “the American people will run them out of town.”
The president used a White House news conference to attempt to heighten the pressure he’s sought to create on the GOP by traveling around the country, into swing states and onto the home turf of key Republican foes including House Speaker John Boehner and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Giving a bit of ground on his own plan, he endorsed a new proposal by Senate Democrats to tax millionaires to pay for his jobs program. “This is not a game,” he said.
Obama made no apologies for his decision to abandon seeking compromise with Republicans in favor of assailing them, sometimes by name. He contended that he’d gone out of his way to try to work with the GOP since becoming president, reaching hard-fought deals to raise the government’s borrowing limit and avert a government shutdown, and had gotten nothing in return.
“Each time, we have seen game playing,” the president said. “I am always open to negotiations. What is also true is they need to do something.”
He predicted dire political consequences for his opponents if they don’t go along.
“I think the American people will run them out of town because they are frustrated and they know we need to do something big.”
Yet Obama’s campaign has not swayed Capitol Hill Republicans who oppose the higher taxes he and other Democrats want to use to pay for his proposal. They accuse Obama of playing “campaigner in chief” instead of working with them.
“If the goal is to create jobs, then why are we even talking about tax hikes?” Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday.
Republicans are resolutely opposed to much of Obama’s jobs initiative, both for its tax increases for wealthier people and small businesses and its reprise of stimulus spending on roads, bridges and schools and grants to local governments to pay the salaries of teachers and first responders. They criticize his bill as another version of his $825 billion stimulus of 2009, one that this time would rely on raising taxes.
Obama did say he would support a new approach by Senate Democrats for paying for his jobs bill with a tax on millionaires rather than his plan to raise taxes on couples making more than $250,000.
The president’s strident tone underscored a difficult political predicament as he seeks re-election with the economy slowing and unemployment stuck above 9 percent. “Our economy really needs a jolt right now,” he said.
The president said that without his nearly $450 billion package of tax cuts and public works spending there will be fewer jobs and weaker growth. He said the bill could guard against another economic downturn if the situation in debt-laden Europe worsens.
With the plan expected to come up for debate in the Senate next week, he urged every senator to think “long and hard about what’s at stake.”
“If it turns out that Republicans are opposed to the bill, they need to explain to me, and mostly importantly their constituents, what they would do,” Obama said.
“What I’ve done over the last several weeks is take the case to the American people so they know what is going on.”
Obama said the economy is weaker now than at the beginning of the year. Citing economists’ estimates, he said his $447 billion jobs bill would help the economy grow by 2 percent and create 1.9 million jobs.
“At a time when people are having such a hard time, we need to have an approach that is big enough to meet the moment,” he said.
Obama addressed the disaffection with politics pervasive among the public that’s driven down his approval ratings – and even more so, Congress’ – as he seeks a second term.
Appearing fed up, Obama blamed it on Republicans who he said refuse to cooperate with him even on issues where he said they once agreed with him. He talked about the ugly debate over raising the government’s borrowing limit that consumed Capitol Hill and the White House over the summer, until Obama gave in to Republican demands for deep spending cuts without new taxes.
“They don’t get a sense that folks in this town are looking for their best interests,” Obama said of Americans in general. “So if they see that over and over again, that cynicism is not going to be proven wrong unless Congress does something different.”
“What the American people saw is that Congress just didn’t care.”
Obama also said the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrators protesting against Wall Street and economic inequality are expressing the frustrations of the American public.
He said he understands the public’s concerns about how the nation’s financial system works. And he said Americans see Wall Street as an example of the financial industry not always following the rules.