WASHINGTON (AP) - 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, what we have seen is games playing," the president
said. "I am always open to negotiations. What is also true is they
need to do something."
Obama was still at the lectern when Senate Majority Leader Harry
Reid told Republicans he would permit a test vote as early as late
Thursday on the president's original measure. There was little
doubt it would fail, the outcome Republicans hoped for.
The president 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,
"We will just keep on going at it and hammering away until
something gets done," he said. "And I would love nothing more
than to see Congress act so aggressively that I can't campaign
against them as a do-nothing Congress."
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.,
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
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.
"If it turns out that there are Republicans who are opposed to
this bill, they need to explain to me, but more importantly to
their constituents - who's the American people - why they're
opposed and what would they do."
"What I've done over the last several weeks is to take the case
to the American people so that they understand what's at stake."
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
"At a time when so many people are having such a hard time, we
have to have an approach, we have to take action 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 out
for their interests," Obama said of Americans in general. "So if
they see that over and over again, that cynicism is not going to be
reduced until Congress actually proves their cynicism wrong by
"What the American people saw is that the Congress didn't
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
Asked why there hadn't been more prosecutions in the financial
sector, Obama said that many of the activities that precipitated
the financial crisis in 2008 were not necessarily illegal. He said
many financial schemes were probably immoral, inappropriate or
reckless and required new regulations.
Obama criticized efforts in Congress, led by Republicans, to
roll back some of the financial rules approved last year. He
defended the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by that
the legislation against GOP efforts to weaken it.
Obama also said that some banks are now using new regulations as an excuse to charge consumers more. It was a reference to a fee some banks are imposing to make up for restrictions on debit card fees they charge retailers.
"It's not necessarily fair to consumers," he said.
Obama also said the European Union has to act fast to deal with
its debt crisis, but he said he is confident that European leaders
are ready to take the necessary steps.
He said he hopes that European leaders have a "very clear,
concrete plan of action that is sufficient to the task" by next
month's meeting of the Group of 20 rich and developing nations.
Obama said the European debt crisis had already affected the U.S.
On other topics, Obama:
-Said he was concerned by the Pakistani military and
intelligence community's ties to "unsavory characters." But he
said he is not inclined to cut off U.S. aid to Pakistan because he
has a great desire to help the Pakistani people.
The president's comments follow just-retired Joint Chiefs
Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen's claim that the Haqqani insurgent
network acts as "a veritable arm" of Pakistan's intelligence
agency. While Obama did not endorse Mullen's assertion, he did
acknowledge that Pakistan engages with individuals the U.S. finds
troubling. However, Obama said Pakistan has been a valuable partner
in U.S. efforts to go after al-Qaida.
-Criticized China for "gaming" the trading system by keeping
its currency undervalued but expressed concern that bipartisan
Senate legislation to penalize China could conflict with
international agreements. Still, he did not say whether he would
veto the legislation.
-Defended his administration over two brewing controversies. One
concerns a multimillion-dollar federal loan guarantee to a
California solar company, Solyndra, that has declared bankruptcy
and that Obama's administration supported despite warnings over its
solvency. The other involves a Justice Department program aimed at
building cases against major weapons traffickers in Mexico that
lost track of numerous guns.
On Solyndra, Obama said the loan guarantee program carried
inherent risk, and the administration knew not every company would
succeed. And he said continuing the program was crucial in order to
counter China's aggressive investments and subsidies to boost its
own clean energy industry.
On the gun program, called Operation Fast and Furious, Obama
said he has confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder, who's come
under criticism from Republicans. The president said both he and
Holder would be "very unhappy" if guns were allowed to pass
through to Mexico in a way that could have been prevented.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)