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Obama says nation needs 'bold action' from Congress on jobs

November 02, 2011|By Peter Nicholas, Washington Bureau
  • President Obama speaks in front of Key Bridge to help emphasize a piece of his jobs package that would spend $50 billion updating roads, bridges and ports.
President Obama speaks in front of Key Bridge to help emphasize a piece of… (Win McNamee/Getty Images )

Reporting from Washington   — Even as he takes a series of executive actions to juice the economy, President Obama said Wednesday that he alone can't solve the unemployment crisis and he needs Congress to spend money on major new programs to dent the jobless rate.

In recent weeks, Obama has been trying to bypass Congress, using his own executive authority to reduce student loan payments, help struggling homeowners refinance their loans and ease the shortage in prescription drugs. He has been acting under a new battle cry: "We can't wait."

But in an appearance at a bridge connecting northern Virginia to Washington, D.C., Obama conceded that his strategy has limitations. On his own, he can't create enough jobs to find work for the 14 million unemployed, he said.

"The truth is the only way we can attack our economic challenges on the scale that's needed is with bold action by Congress," the president said. "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's appearance at the Key Bridge was meant to pressure Congress into approving a piece of his jobs package, a proposal that would spend $50 billion updating roads, bridges and ports.

Key Bridge is a major artery in and out of the nation's capital. It was rated "structurally deficient" by the Federal Highway Administration. While motorists can safely drive on it, the bridge needs "significant repair and maintenance in order to remain open and usable," according to Obama administration.

Senators are expected to take up the measure on Thursday. The bill would be financed by a surtax on people earning more than $1 million a year.  

Senators have already voted down Obama's $447-billion plan in its entirety. They have also defeated an element of the plan aimed at keeping firefighters, teachers and other public employees on the job.

The outcome is expected to be no different this time around, with Republicans united in their opposition.

Obama, showing a more confrontational face, singled out House Republicans for taking up legislation that is peripheral to America's troubles. White House officials have ruefully noted that while joblessness persists, the Republican-controlled House has spent time debating commemorative coins for the baseball Hall of Fame, and reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the national motto.

"And if Congress tells you they don't have time, they've got time to do it," said Obama, who had taken off his suit jacket for the occasion. "In the House of Representatives, what have you guys been debating?"

Mentioning House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), he continued: "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."

Republicans had a ready reply. Last month, Obama hosted a ceremony at the White House for the 1985 Chicago Bears, honoring the team's Super Bowl victory.

"Apparently President Obama spent more time with the Chicago Bears from 1985 than Congress did debating coins," a Republican National Committee aide wrote in a tweet.

The impasse between the White House and Congress may have reached a new low point. The two sides aren't doing much talking. In the last two days, Obama has hosted meetings of Democratic lawmakers to hash out strategy. He seems in no hurry to consult Republican leaders.

At a news briefing Tuesday, Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked if the president had invited GOP leaders to the White House.

Carney said he had nothing to announce on that score.

Asked if Obama might bring in Republicans at some future point, Carney said: "Anything is possible."

Boehner, for his part, spoke at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Tuesday and said that Obama is "disengaged" from the business of passing legislation, a GOP aide said.

There's nothing haphazard about presidential visits, even when the focus is a bridge. In September, Obama flew to Cincinnati to highlight an aging bridge connecting Ohio and Kentucky — states represented by Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, respectively.

This time, he chose a bridge that connects districts represented by two Democrats — Jim Moran of Virginia and Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C. But that wasn't really the point.

For Obama to recapture Virginia in the 2012 election, he'll need a strong showing in voter-rich northern Virginia — where the Key Bridge is a fixture of the daily commute.

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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