President Barack Obama hugs West Wilkes High School Superintendent Dr. Stephen Laws after introducing him to speak to the school in Millers Creek, N.C., Monday, Oct. 17, 2011. Obama is on a three-day bus tour promoting the American Jobs Act.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
By JULIE PACE
FLETCHER, N.C. — Rolling through small Southern towns in a campaign-style bus, President Barack Obama on Monday pressed lawmakers back in Washington to start taking up pieces of his rejected jobs bill and mocked the Republicans who had shot it down in total. The Senate moved to vote soon on one part, a plan to help states hire teachers, but the proposal seemed doomed.
Deep in the mountains of politically important North Carolina, Obama soaked up the region’s autumn beauty at the same time he assailed foes of his jobs legislation, accusing them of failing to listen to the public.
Back at the Capitol, Senate Democrats announced they would act first on a single part of Obama’s plan, a longshot bid to help states hire teachers and police. A Senate vote could come as soon as the end of the week. If not, it would probably fall into November because the Senate plans to take a break next week, even as Obama urges quick action.
In North Carolina, the president directed his most pointed remarks at Senate Republicans, who last week blocked action on his full $447 billion proposal combining tax cuts and new spending.
“Essentially they said no to you,” Obama told a supportive crowd outside Asheville. Noting that Republicans will now get a chance to vote on elements of his jobs agenda one by one, he said: “Maybe they just couldn’t understand the whole thing all at once. So we’re going to break it up into bite-size pieces.”
Republicans denounced the bus trip as nothing more than a taxpayer-funded campaign trip through two must-win states to try to bolster Obama’s standing for the 2012 election.
As he traveled along on his imposing black bus, there was little denying the presidential politics at play at each stop. Over three days, Obama is covering the countryside of both North Carolina and Virginia, two traditionally GOP-leaning states that he won in 2008 on his campaign’s ability to boost turnout among young people and black voters.
Senate Democrats unveiled the first individual bill, which would spend $30 billion to create or save education jobs and $5 billion to do the same for police and firefighters.
The money would come from a new half-percent tax on income over $1 million, a proposal vigorously opposed by GOP lawmakers.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised a vote “as soon as possible.”
The outcome seemed clear: The plan is unlikely to gain the 60 votes it would need to proceed in the Senate. And it’s a non-starter in the Republican House.
More broadly, some aspects of Obama’s jobs agenda are expected to become law this fall.
The most likely include extending tax breaks for businesses that buy new equipment, and offering a $4,800 tax credit to companies that hire veterans. There’s also bipartisan support for repealing a law that requires the withholding of 3 percent of payments to government contractors.
Democrats and the White House, meanwhile, are confident that Obama’s call to extend cuts in Social Security payroll taxes will pass. A two percentage point payroll tax cut enacted last year expires at the end of the year; Obama has proposed cutting it by an additional percentage point and extending the cut to the first $5 million of a company’s payroll.
That proposal is hugely expensive — almost $250 billion by administration estimates — and it is not clear how and whether the parties would agree on how to pay for it.
Happy to be back on the road, Obama found a friendly audience that broke into a chant of “four more years.” Said the president in response: “I appreciate the four more years, but right now I’m thinking about the next thirteen months.”
Still, his travel essentially doubles as his bid for another term. His jobs bill serves as a platform to contrast himself with Republicans on both the legislation and his vision for the nation.
Obama’s poll numbers are down in both Virginia and North Carolina, languishing in the mid- to low-forties in recent polls. The numbers mirror his approval ratings nationally. Obama’s campaign is pressing to hold both Southern states, even choosing to hold next year’s Democratic convention in Charlotte.
The president’s bus tour fit into that effort, giving Obama a chance to engage in some of the retail politics that is a staple of presidential campaigns.
Obama’s sleek, $1.1 million bus rolled through North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains for more than four hours, an unusually long stretch that included unannounced stops.
At Countryside Barbeque in Marion, he shook hands and took photos, and he also had a chance of to talk to potential voters about his jobs bill. The tour took him through a blaze of bright red and orange fall colors. He later stopped at the Mast General Store in Boone, near the campus of Appalachian State University, for some Halloween candy.
Capping his public comments at a high school in Millers Creek, N.C., Obama chided Republicans again, this time in an apparent reference to the influence of the tea party. “It’s way overdue for us to stop trying to satisfy some branch of the party and take some common-sense steps to help America,” Obama said.
House Republicans were quick to point out that they originally proposed breaking Obama’s jobs plan into pieces. House Speaker John Boehner’s office said Monday that the Ohio Republican has offered to work the president on aspects of the bill Republicans agree with but the president opted for a bus trip instead.
However, Obama and his opponents on Capitol Hill don’t agree on how much they have tried to agree. Obama insisted he would work with the GOP “in any way possible.” Noting the angst within some in his own party about his willingness to compromise, Obama said: “I tried so hard to cooperate with Republicans, Democrats have been getting mad at me.”
Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor, Ken Thomas and Ben Feller in Washington, Bob Lewis in Richmond, Va., and Tom Breen in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.