WASHINGTON - Republicans sparred with President Barack Obama over proposals to create jobs in dueling radio addresses Saturday, highlighting the difficulty of reaching bipartisan solutions in a political climate marked by partisan bickering.
Obama pushed Congress to use $30 billion that had been set aside to bail out Wall Street to start a new program that provides loans to small businesses, which the White House calls the engine for job growth. Republicans, meanwhile, taunted Obama with a familiar refrain: Where are the jobs the president promised in exchange for the billions of dollars already spent?
The barb came a day after the government reported an unexpected decline in the unemployment rate, from 10 percent to 9.7 percent. It was the first drop in seven months but offered little consolation for the 8.4 million jobs that have vanished since the recession began.
"Even though our economy is growing again, these are still tough times for America," Obama said. "Too many businesses are still shuttered. Too many families can't make ends meet. And while yesterday, we learned that the unemployment rate has dropped below 10 percent for the first time since summer, it is still unacceptably high -- and too many Americans still can't find work."
To help the recovery, Obama asked Congress to use leftover money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, to provide to small banks so they can make more loans to small businesses. Republicans have criticized the move, arguing any money leftover from the bailout should be used to reduce the budget deficit.
In the weekly GOP address, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas chided Obama for proposing a budget on Monday that would increase spending, taxes and the national debt.
"Americans are still asking, 'where are the jobs?' but all they are getting from Washington is more spending, more taxes, more debt and more bailouts," Hensarling said.
The Republican attack came even as key Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are working on a bipartisan jobs bill. The senators hope to unveil legislation as early as Monday that would provide tax breaks to businesses that hire unemployed workers, extend unemployment payments for those whose benefits have run out, and renew a program that offers the jobless a subsidy for health insurance premiums.
Senate passage of a bipartisan jobs bill would mark an important political victory for Obama. But Saturday's radio and Internet addresses showed that bipartisanship won't be easy.
The White House has repeatedly argued that the $787 billion economic stimulus package enacted in February helped save the economy from complete collapse. On Friday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told ABC News there is a much lower risk of a double-dip recession "than at any time over the last 12 months or so."
Hensarling, however, said the stimulus package and the growing government debt have added to the country's economic problems.
"Democrats chose to go it alone and jam through their stimulus," Hensarling said. "What did the American people get? A bill for $1.2 trillion and 3 million more jobs lost."