President Barack Obama said Monday that congressional Republicans must put their country ahead of their party and vote to create new jobs as he used a boisterous rally to aim a partisan barb at the opposition.
In a preview of the jobs speech he will deliver on Thursday to Congress, Obama said there are numerous roads and bridges that need rebuilding in the U.S., and over 1 million unemployed construction workers who are available to build them. Obama spoke on Labor Day, a holiday that celebrates the American worker and marks the traditional end of summer.
Citing massive federal budget deficits, Republicans have expressed opposition to spending vast new sums on jobs programs. But Obama said that with widespread suffering, "the time for Washington games is over" and lawmakers must move quickly to create jobs.
"But we're not going wait for them," he said. "We're going to see if we've got some straight shooters in Congress. We're going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party."
Obama's remarks came as he has been under heavy criticism from Republicans for presiding over a persistently weak economy and high unemployment. Last Friday's dismal jobs report showed that employers added no jobs in August, the first time since 1945 that the government reported a net job change of zero. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, held steady at 9.1 percent.
Congress returns from its summer recess this week, with the faltering economy and job market promising to be a dominant theme of the session. The economy is all but certain to also be the top issue of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
Throughout the speech, the union crowd kept chanting "four more years."
Obama also said lawmakers should extend the temporary reduction in the payroll tax that workers pay, a cut that will otherwise expire on Jan. 1. Many Republicans have opposed renewing the payroll tax cut, saying it would increase federal red ink and do little to create jobs.
"You say you're the party of tax cuts," Obama said of the Republicans argument. "Well, then prove you'll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle class families as you do oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you've got."
In the speech to Congress, Obama is expected to call for a mix of individual and business tax credits and public works spending. He will also press lawmakers for swift action on those proposals.
Underscoring the political dueling on the economy under way, Obama plans to visit Richmond, Virginia, the day after his address to Congress as the first of several trips he will make to encourage support for his job creation plan. Part of Richmond is represented by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, one of the president's fiercest critics.
Last week's disappointing jobs report sparked new fears of a second recession and injected fresh urgency into efforts by Obama to help get millions of unemployed people back into the labor market — and help improve his re-election chances.
Polls show the economy and jobs are the public's top concerns. Public approval of Obama's handling of the economy hit a new low of 26 percent in a recent Gallup survey.
The unemployment report also gave Obama's Republican critics, including those who want to challenge him in next year's presidential election, fresh ammunition to pound him with.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called the report disappointing, unacceptable and "further proof that President Obama has failed." Romney is scheduled to outline his own job-creation plan in a speech Tuesday in the battleground state of Nevada.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said Monday that both political parties should get behind Obama's efforts to improve the hiring picture.
Solis said Obama "is very mindful of what the needs and concerns are of those individuals who have been out of work for so long." But she also said the jobless have a responsibility to seek training in new skills, if necessary, to better prepare themselves for the kinds of jobs available in today's economy.