Obama to Congress: Pass My Jobs Bill - Or Explain Yourself
Updated 12:08 p.m. Eastern Time
President Obama called on Congress to pass his $447 billion jobs bill Monday, stating that "this is not a game."
"Our economy really needs a jolt right now," he said during a White House news conference.
Mr. Obama said the bill would guard against the economic threat posed by the European economic crisis and said independent economists overwhelmingly say it would help boost the struggling American economy. He said it was made up of proposals that both parties have traditionally supported.
"Any senator who is thinking about voting against this jobs bill when it comes up for a vote," he said, "needs to explain why they would oppose something that we know would improve our economic situation at such an urgent time for our families and for our businesses."
Mr. Obama derided critics who call his proposal "class warfare," saying Congress must choose between helping the rich and the people who are "hurting in this country."
"I hope every senator thinks long and hard about what's at stake when they vote next week," he said.
The news conference reflects Mr. Obama's latest push for passage of the American Jobs Act he introduced in September -- a $447 billion package of spending measures and middle-class tax cuts designed to stimulate the economy. The proposal includes $250 billion in tax cuts, including reduced payroll taxes on both workers and employers, $60 billion in extended unemployment benefits and $140 billion in spending on education, transportation projects and public workers, including police officers.
Mr. Obama seeks to pay for it largely by increasing taxes on corporations and high-earning Americans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday called for a five percent surtax on Americans making more than $1 million to help pay for the bill, something Mr. Obama said Thursday he was open to accepting. A recent CBS News poll showed that 64 percent of Americans believe those making a million dollars or more should pay more in taxes.
The Senate is expected to vote on the plan next week. Mr. Obama focused his comments Thursday largely on the Republicans who appear likely to vote against the plan -- but as Republicans have been quick to point out, he does not appear to have the unified support of Senate Democrats for the proposal. On Wednesday, the Republican National Committee emailed reporters comments from 16 Senate Democrats expressing varying levels of skittishness about the bill.
Mr. Obama, who has taken a more confrontational tone in recent weeks, plans a bus tour in support of the proposal later this month, and has already given a dozen speeches on the legislative package in seven states.
"What I've done over the last several weeks is take the case to the American people so they know what is going on," he said.
He has taken on Republican critics of the bill by name, challenging House majority leader Eric Cantor, who has vowed not to let the bill come up for a vote. He even suggested that conservative icon and former president Ronald Reagan would have supported his proposal to ensure that the highest-earning Americans pay tax rates that at least match those who make less.
Cantor hammered the plan in an interview with Bloomberg Television, saying, "Here we go again, continued insistence in Washington -- raise taxes on job creators right now. That's not what we need. Most people in America think it's counterintuitive to raise taxes if you want economic growth."
The plan is seen on Capitol Hill as having little chance of passage, and critics have suggested Mr. Obama is essentially using the proposal as a campaign tool. Speaking shortly before Mr. Obama, House Speaker John Boehner accused the president of having "given up on the country," suggesting he has "decided to campaign full time instead of doing what the American people sent us all here to do and have to find common ground the deal with the big challenges that face our economy and our country."
Asked by CBS News' Bill Plante if his push for the bill is really about campaigning, Mr. Obama says he is "ready and willing" to negotiate with Republicans, but that they haven't shown serious interest in doing so. He said the "big ideas" being pushed by the GOP -- trade deals, patent reform -- are "ones we're already doing."
Republicans oppose his plan but "have not given a good reason why they are opposed to putting construction workers back on the job or teachers back in the classroom," Mr. Obama said.
He derided Republican claims that rolling back regulation would spur the economy.
"So their big economic plan to put people back to work right now is to rollback financial protections and allow banks to charge fees on consumers?" he asked incredulously. He then called on reporters to reach out to economists to compare the expected impact of his plan to any plan put forth by their opponents.
"I see smirks in the audience because you know it's not going to be real robust," he said, referring to the impact of his opponents' plan.
"The election is 13 or 14 months away," he said. "I would love nothing more than to not have to be out there campaigning because we are seeing constructive action here in Congress. That's my goal. That's what I'm looking for. I'm also dealing with a Republican majority leader who said his number one goal was to beat me. Not put Americans back to work. Not grow the economy. Not help small businesses expand, but to defeat me. He's been saying that now for a couple of years. So, I have to go out and listen to the American people to see if maybe he'll listen to them if he is not listening to me."