Imploring Congress to follow his lead, President Barack Obama on Tuesday lobbied lawmakers to adopt his nearly $450 billion jobs plan, promising it would help workers in the construction industry and rebuild schools in crumbling condition. Said Obama: "My question to Congress is, what on earth are we waiting for?"
From a high school in the critical electoral state of Ohio, Obama delivered a fiery speech to plug his plan. The outdoor audience was receptive to the point of adopting his refrain and chanting it back to him, shouting: "Pass this bill!"
The event had the feel of an Obama re-election event, right down to the music that played as Obama came out to speak, suit coat off and sleeves rolled up on a sunny day. He tailored his latest pitch to how his proposed legislation would help education, built around a $25 billion spending initiative for school renovations.
In Ohio alone, Obama said, the bill would create jobs for tens of thousands of constructions workers.
Yet Republican lawmakers who control the House flatly oppose his plans to pay for his plan by raising taxes on wealthier Americans.
In trying to win over the voting public and build pressure on Congress, Obama has made his pitch in Virginia, the home state of House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, and Ohio, home of House Speaker John Boehner. He will travel on Wednesday to North Carolina.
Republicans on Capitol Hill say the president is merely repackaging ideas they have already rejected. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Obama was essentially daring Republicans to vote against his ideas again. "I think most people see through all this," McConnell said.
Obama's jobs package would offer tax cuts for workers and employers by reducing the Social Security payroll tax. Spending elements include more money to hire teachers, rebuild schools and pay unemployment benefits. There are also tax credits to encourage businesses to hire veterans and the long-term unemployed.
He proposes to cover most of the cost, nearly $400 billion, by limiting the deductions on charitable contributions and other items that wealthy people can take. There's also $40 billion from closing oil and gas loopholes, $18 billion from hiking taxes on certain income made by fund managers, and $3 billion from changing the tax treatment of corporate jets.
"We've got to make sure that everybody pays their fair share including the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations," said Obama outside Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School. "We've got to decide what our priorities are."
Boehner and other Republicans grew notably more skeptical Monday once the White House announced plans to pay for the costly measure entirely with tax increases on the rich and corporations. In turn, Obama renewed his attack on the GOP, contending they're standing in the way just to deny him a political win.
The crowd booed.
"This isn't about giving me a win, it's about giving the American people a win," Obama said.
On the public works projects, Republicans have made clear they're eyeing such new spending askance, but Obama said such the money is needed to repair aging classrooms and bring students high-tech equipment, as well as employ construction workers and others.
The Fort Hayes campus that includes the high school underwent a $60 million renovation adding improvements including modern graphic design classrooms, one of which Obama toured before making remarks.
For Obama, some progress on the economy has become a political imperative as he approaches his re-election campaign with the economy stalled, unemployment at 9.1 percent and polls showing the public unhappy with his stewardship of the issue.
Obama's top campaign strategist, David Axelrod, said Tuesday that the White House wants Congress to act on the entire bill rather than approaching it piecemeal. "We're not in a negotiation to break up the package," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "It's not an a la carte menu."
But later Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney made clear that the president would sign elements of the package into law in pieces, if needed, if that's what lawmakers send him. He said the White House would prefer the bill is not changed but that "we understand how Congress works."