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Obama: Jobs bill could prevent second downturn

/ Source: staff and news service reports

President Barack Obama directly challenged Republicans Thursday to explain their opposition to his new jobs bill, arguing the $447 billion package could prevent a double-dip recession.

The new legislation, introduced last month by the president, "could guard against another downturn," Obama said, warning that "the problems Europe is having today could have a very real effect on our economy when it's already fragile."

The jobs bill is due for a vote in the Senate next week; the president challenged GOP senators to explain why they would vote against the measure when, Obama reasoned, it contains a number of proposals that Republicans had previously supported.

"Any senator out there who's thinking about voting against this jobs bill when it comes up for a vote needs to explain exactly why they would oppose something we know would improve our economic situation at such an urgent time," Obama said.

The event was Obama's first news conference since announcing his $447 billion jobs bill in early September.

Since then, Obama has been traveling the country trying to rally public support for the bill. He used Thursday's news conference to urge Congress to pass the measure.

Thursday's news conference comes against an increasingly political backdrop, as the president has pivoted to single out lawmakers for their opposition to his agenda. If they failed to pass his legislation, Obama said, political consequences await.

The president acknowledged that the economy had weakened since the beginning of the year, a stumble Obama attributed to the protracted debt ceiling fight in Congress, debt crises in Europe, the Japanese tsunami, and populist uprisings this spring in the Middle East. Obama characterized his jobs bill as an "insurance policy" against a second downturn.

Still, Obama acknowledged that the economy was "still going to have challenges," even if his bill becomes law.

Senate Democratic leaders were expected to attend a meeting at the White House early Thursday evening to discuss the measure.

Obama said he viewed it as important that Congress vote on his package as a whole, which Senate Democrats revised this week to include a 5 percent surtax on millionaires in order to secure support on their side of the aisle. Obama said he was "comfortable" with the surtax.

Republicans, especially in the House, have pushed to break the bill up into individual pieces, and vote on the measures they find more palatable. They also reject the new taxes and closed loopholes contained within the president's bill to finance its pricetag. Senate Republicans will additionally push Thursday for a vote on the president's initial jobs package, a ploy meant to underscore its lack of support in the chamber.

Obama admitted a sense of skepticism about his ability to win over Republicans, but said that if the legislation fails as a whole, the administration would continue to push for votes, "piece by piece," on separate components of the bill.

The fight in Congress comes against the backdrop of extended demonstrations in New York led by the left-leaning "Occupy Wall Street" movement. Obama nodded to the demonstrators Thursday by saying they gave a voice to broader frustration about the state of the economy and the conduct of the financial sector.

"I think people are frustrated, and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works," Obama said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.