Saying the fate of the economy hangs in the balance, President Obama on Thursday challenged congressional Republicans to “think long and hard” before voting against his nearly half-trillion-dollar jobs-stimulus bill when it comes up for a vote.
And the president, while saying he will maintain an open door for ideas from Congress, also said it’s time for the legislative branch to “do something” on the top issue facing the country, which he said is high joblessness and a stumbling economy.
“Any senator out there who’s thinking about voting against this jobs bill … needs to explain exactly why they would oppose something that we know would improve our economic situation at such an urgent time for our families and for our businesses,” Mr. Obama said at a hastily called news conference in the East Room of the White House. “I hope every senator thinks long and hard about what’s at stake.”
His jobs plan would cut payroll taxes, extend unemployment benefits and devote new spending on construction projects — all in an effort to lower the national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent.
Senate Democratic leaders have finally moved to schedule a vote on Mr. Obama’s plan, after scrapping the tax increases he had said would offset the $447 billion cost, and replacing them with a proposed 5.6 percent surtax on those with incomes of at least $1 million.
Mr. Obama said he was “comfortable” with the replacement tax.
Republicans have said the plan is likely to fail in the Senate and is dead on arrival in the House, where the GOP controls the chamber and has sent the president’s bill to various committees for study.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, speaking Thursday at an event at the Newseum in Washington, said Mr. Obama has “thrown in the towel” on governing in favor of campaigning for re-election.
“Nothing has disappointed me more than what’s happened over the last five weeks, to watch the president of the United States give up on governing, give up on leading and spend full-time campaigning,” the speaker said. “No leadership from the president.”
Late Thursday evening, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, tried to force a vote on the president’s original bill, but saw that effort fail when Democrats instead voted to change the traditional interpretation of the chamber’s rules and block his efforts.
The dust-up threatened to further hinder operations in the upper chamber, where relations have deteriorated this year as Democrats have blocked Republican efforts to force votes, and the GOP has responded by delaying action.
In his press conference, Mr. Obama targeted both Mr. McConnell and Mr. Boehner for criticism for holding up the legislation.
“If Mr. McConnell chooses to vote against it or if members of his caucus choose to vote against it, I promise you, we’re going to keep on going, and we will put forward, maybe piece by piece, each component of the bill,” the president said. “And each time they’re going to have to explain” why they oppose individual elements.
The president also reminded his audience that Mr. McConnell has said his main goal is to stop Mr. Obama from winning re-election, and he said Republicans have been playing partisan games with him since he took office.
“I have gone out of my way in every instance — sometimes at my own political peril and to the frustration of Democrats — to work with Republicans to find common ground to move this country forward,” Mr. Obama said. “Each time what we’ve seen is games-playing, a preference to try to score political points, rather than actually get something done, on the part of the other side. And that has been true not just over the last six months. That’s been true over the last 2½ years.”
Republican lawmakers have said they will likely approve parts of the president’s proposal, but they object to his insistence on passing all elements of the plan. House Republican leaders have said they are open to the president’s proposals on payroll tax cuts, infrastructure spending, incentives for hiring veterans and several other aspects of the plan, but they oppose raising taxes to offset the cost.
They said they can work together with the White House to pass the three free trade agreements Mr. Obama submitted Monday.
And House Republicans this week also passed measures to cut government regulations to spur growth in sectors such as the cement industry, an effort that attracted the votes of 25 House Democrats, including Assistant Majority Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina.
But in his news conference, Mr. Obama dismissed the Republican move as inconsequential to job creation.
“The answer we’re getting [from Republicans] right now is: Well, we’re going to roll back all these Obama regulations,” Mr. Obama said. “Does anybody really think that that is going to create jobs right now and meet the challenges of a global economy … that is weakening with all these forces coming into play?”
The president pointed to economists who say his plan might create as many as 1.9 million jobs, and dared Republicans to get a similar assessment of their proposals.
“I see some smirks in the audience, because you know that it’s not going to be real robust,” he said to the assembled press corps.
Asked by a CBS reporter whether he is no longer negotiating with Congress but instead campaigning “like Harry Truman” — who railed against a “do-nothing Congress” to rally from disastrous poll numbers to a 1948 re-election win — the president said he needs to make his case to the people.
“If Congress does something, then I can’t run against a do-nothing Congress,” Mr. Obama said. “If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them: I think the American people will run them out of town because they are frustrated, and they know we need to do something big and something bold.”