Published October 17, 2011
Against a backdrop of angry protesters and tension in the streets, President Obama embarked on a three-day bus tour Monday to scold Republicans for blocking his proposed jobs bill last week and pledge to get the legislation passed even if it's done in pieces.
"We're going to break up my jobs bill," Obama told supporters assembled at Asheville Regional Airport, where he landed to begin the tour of North Carolina and Virginia, both swing states the president won in 2008 but which could turn in 2012.
"Maybe they just couldn't understand the whole thing all at once so we're going to break it up into bite-sized pieces so they can take a thoughtful approach to this legislation."
With "Day of Rage" demonstrations over the weekend culminating in sometimes violent protests and dozens of arrests, the president's tour aims to tap into the anger of Americans dissatisfied with big Wall Street bailouts and a jobless recovery to push Congress to pass the $447 billion American Jobs Act.
The legislation resembles a larger version of infrastructure spending, tax incentives and unemployment assistance approved by Congress in 2009, but rejected as whole cloth by the Democratic-led Senate.
Republicans have said they would agree to chop up the president's proposals, but will only vote on some of his ideas, and have provided their own alternative. They say many of the president's plans do nothing to prolong economic growth.
"We saw what happened with the stimulus money. Much of that went to the states. And you know what happened? It sustained some jobs for about a year and then the states were faced with about billions of dollars in debt once that year was over it," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told "Fox News Sunday."
In Asheville, Obama warned that Republicans want to let Wall Street run amok, repeal health care legislation and allow oil drilling at home. He said all those plans would hurt middle America.
"They said no to putting teachers and construction workers back on the job. They said no to rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports. They said no to cutting taxes for middle-class families and small businesses when all they've been doing is cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans. They said no to helping veterans find jobs. Essentially they said no to you," the president said.
Obama announced Monday that the first piece of the American Jobs Act to go to a vote is the section dealing with aid for teachers and first responders. Obama said that if lawmakers oppose this provision, they will have to come to North Carolina and "tell kids why they can't have their teachers back."
The White House says as many as 280,000 teacher jobs across the nation could be at risk the coming year. A provision in the American Jobs Act is aimed at preventing this from happening and allowing states to hire back more teachers -- with about $900 million allotted for North Carolina.
Obama also tried to sell his plan by using a local example, the proposed renovation of the regional airport's sole runway. That is one project among many that could be addressed if the president's proposed $50 billion set aside for infrastructure spending were approved, the White House says.
But Cantor said the "shovel-ready" approach attempted in the last stimulus didn't work.
"We believe that there's a need for some infrastructure spending in this country, absolutely," Cantor said. "But I think what you've got to look at is the president has gone across this country and found bridges and roads where he said, 'See, this is why we need spending.' And I think what that does is remind people that the stimulus bill that he created and passed didn't address the problems."
In August, the president took a similar bus trip through Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, where he encouraged supporters to back his calls to pass his bill. But the prior bus tour unfolded before anger reached the street in the form of demonstrations against corporate America.
Sensing the dissatisfaction among the public, the White House on Sunday for the first time invoked the "99 percent" slogan that those aligned with the "Occupy Wall Street" protests have used to describe themselves. Spokesman Josh Earnest said the president would keep the interests of the 99 percent "well-represented" on the tour.
Asked about the remark Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president understands the frustrations of the middle class, and that they feel Wall Street has played by different rules than Main Street.
Obama has been cautious in offering explicit support for the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. On Sunday, he used the backdrop of the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial dedication in Washington, D.C., to suggest King would have supported the protesters, but advised social justice be reached through peaceful protest and mutual respect on the two sides.
"If (King) were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company's union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain," Obama said.
"He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other's love for this country with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is, rather, an expression of our common commitments to one another," he continued.
The president's solution said his second stimulus plan has the blessing of independent forecasters, who project it will create up to 1.9 million jobs and grow the economy.
"Independent economists, not my economists, but independent economists, have said this jobs bill would create nearly 2 million jobs," Obama said. "That's not my opinion; not the opinion of folks who work for me; the opinion of people who evaluate these kinds of things for a living. It says this bill will help put people back to work and give our economy a boost right away. But apparently none of this matters to the Republicans in the Senate."
House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman responded that the economists the White House likes to cite in support of the president's plan "a) are the same ones that supported the first stimulus; and b) have said it will provide only a short-term boost, leaving us right back here after the money runs out."
Spokesman Brendan Buck added that Congress has passed just about everything Obama has asked for in the past, and the unemployment rate is still 9.1 percent.
On Monday, Andy Card, former George W. Bush White House chief of staff, called Obama's trip a "misery tour."
"He's a very intelligent man, but that doesn't mean he has dealt with the world as it is. And he hasn't been able to make government work. He hasn't provided the real leadership that the president has to provide," Card said.
On this latest tour, the president was headed to smaller communities, including those where he did not fare well in 2008, to spend time with people in areas not easily accessible to large airports, the White House said. With North Carolina facing an unemployment rate of 10.4 percent, the president is seeing his support eroding among independents.
Obama's trip to North Carolina and Virginia is strategic in that both are politically important swing states that will have a say in the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. But the White House insists the trip is not political. In fact, the president has no fundraising events scheduled and the Democratic National Committee is not paying for any portion of the trip.