President Obama speaks in front of the Key Bridge at Georgetown Waterfront… (Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Washington — Even as he takes a series of executive actions to juice the economy, President Obama said he couldn't solve the unemployment crisis alone and needed Republicans in Congress to agree to spend money on new programs to spur hiring.
Obama campaigned for his $447-billion jobs package as the Senate was set to take up the next flank of his proposal — a $60-billion effort to create construction jobs by renovating the nation's roads, highways and other infrastructure. The proposal would be paid for with a 0.7% surtax on annual household incomes above $1 million.
Senate Republicans have stood unanimously against the major provisions of Obama's proposal, and the vote Thursday is not expected to produce a different outcome.
"They hold the purse strings. It's the only way we're going to put hundreds of thousands of people back to work right now. Not five years from now, not 10 years from now, but right now," Obama said Wednesday, appearing in front of the Key Bridge, a major artery connecting northern Virginia to Washington.
Key Bridge was rated "structurally deficient" by the Federal Highway Administration. Though motorists can safely drive on it, the bridge needs significant repairs to remain "open and usable," according to the Obama administration.
Obama has bypassed Congress in recent weeks, using his executive authority to reduce student loan payments, help struggling homeowners refinance their loans and ease the shortage in prescription drugs.
But Obama conceded his strategy couldn't create enough jobs for the 14 million unemployed.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday and urged GOP senators to "put hard-core politics aside for one day, for one vote," and approve a bill that would create construction jobs.
Republican senators already have led opposition to defeat an element of Obama's plan aimed at keeping firefighters, teachers and other public employees on the job.
"It's not exactly a state secret that Republicans — and, yes, some Democrats — don't think we should be raising taxes right now on the very people we're counting on to create the jobs we need to get us out of a jobs crisis. And yet the one thing that every single proposal Democrats bring to the floor has in common is that it does just that," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Republicans are focused on an agenda that cuts corporate taxes and rolls back regulations they say are impeding growth. Republicans have found common ground with Obama on narrow slices of his proposal, including one that would halt a new tax on businesses that contract with the government and others that would relax requirements for businesses to access capital.
Obama singled out House Republicans for taking up legislation that is peripheral to America's troubles. White House officials noted that while joblessness persists, the GOP-controlled House spent time debating commemorative coins for the baseball Hall of Fame and reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the national motto.
Mentioning House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the president said: "John, you've been debating a commemorative coin for baseball? You had legislation reaffirming that 'In God We Trust' is our motto? That's not putting people back to work. I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work."