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Obama dares Republicans to block his coming jobs package

The president, visiting the Midwest, pledges to send Congress a plan in September and challenges Republicans to block it. Not all Democrats are comfortable with his hard-line stance.

August 16, 2011|By James Oliphant, Washington Bureau
  • President Obama, visiting Decorah, Iowa, as part of his Midwest bus tour, hugs a woman who told him it was her birthday.
President Obama, visiting Decorah, Iowa, as part of his Midwest bus tour,… (Jason Reed / Reuters )

Reporting from Davenport, Iowa — After pledging to send a job-creation package to Congress next month and daring Republicans to block it, President Obama offered few specifics Tuesday about the form the plan might take as he stuck to a broad outline of how to improve the economy.

On the second day of Obama's three-day bus tour of the upper Midwest, the president worked off the blueprint he had used the day before, offering proposals such as extending a payroll tax cut, spending money to repair roads and bridges, and ratifying pending trade agreements.

And he continued to hammer away at Republicans in Congress, suggesting they stand in the way of economic growth, even as some Democrats expressed discomfort with what they saw as a potentially divisive stance.

"We could do even more if Congress is willing to get in the game," Obama said to a gathering of small-business owners, community leaders and rural development experts at a small college in Peosta, Iowa.

"There are bipartisan ideas — common-sense ideas — that have traditionally been supported by Democrats and Republicans that will put more money in your pockets, that will put our people to work, that will allow us to deal with the legacy of debt that hangs over our economy," he said.

Republicans pushed back by escalating their criticism of Obama's trip, calling it nothing more than a glorified campaign swing at taxpayer expense.

"This week taxpayers made a donation to the Obama reelection campaign. No matter what the president says, his Midwest bus tour is nothing but a campaign trip," said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. "He's talking about campaigning against Congress and doling out talking points, not policy plans."

Congressional Democrats and former administration officials gave a mixed review of Obama's declaration. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) welcomed the president's feistier tone.

"I heard more of that approach yesterday than I've heard in a while, and I think it's very important," she said in an interview. "He needs to say now, 'I've tried it your way, and now we have to create an aggressive approach to creating jobs.' "

But one Senate Democrat, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the White House, was troubled by the president's gambit.

Voters are tired of the partisan back-and-forth and it would be a mistake for Obama to present Congress with a large-scale, high-stakes jobs bill and challenge them to pass it, the senator said. A more sensible approach would be for Obama to roll out a series of smaller proposals, the senator said, adding that the public "has very little patience for anything that looks like you're beating up on the other side."

Jared Bernstein, a former economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, said it was futile for Obama to try to accommodate Republicans determined to block the White House agenda. "If the president frames his jobs agenda based on what Republicans will accept, I don't think he's going to end up with much," he said. "He has to prescribe what he and his team believes the country needs and fight for it."

White House spokesman Jay Carney wouldn't comment on the shape or the scope of the plan or say whether it would take the form of legislation.

But Carney reiterated the president's threat that if Congress failed to act, Obama would not hesitate to leverage that failure politically.

"If they don't do it," Carney said, "he will take his arguments to the American people."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Republicans were waiting to act on pending trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, but he complained that the White House hadn't sent them to Capitol Hill.

Carney said the administration was working with Senate leaders on an agreement for submitting the treaties for ratification.

Obama didn't spend his entire day in Iowa talking economic policy. He stopped at a high school in Maquoketa and visited a volleyball practice, bought ice cream cones for his aides in DeWitt and shopped at an antique store in LeClaire.

The president will wrap up his tour Wednesday with two town hall events in Illinois before he returns to Washington.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

Lisa Mascaro and Peter Nicholas in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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