Daring Republicans to cast a vote that could be seen as anti-military, President Obama called on Congress to approve a piece of his jobs package that would give employers a tax break for hiring veterans.
Obama was joined by his wife on the third and final day of his bus tour through Virginia and North Carolina, stopping at an air base to make a case for hiring unemployed veterans.
The first couple, after a couple of days apart, took turns addressing about 2,400 people, many wearing military camouflage. After detailing Michelle Obama's work, the president ad libbed: "She does all this and she looks cute. That's right."
The pair later stopped at a pumpkin patch in Hampton, picking up about 10 pumpkins for the White House.
"How many are you going to buy?" the president asked her. "You want anything else?”
"No," she said, "we'll have enough trouble getting these back."
Obama's $447-billion jobs act includes a "returning heroes" provision that awards tax credits to businesses that hire veterans. Employers stand to receive credits ranging from $5,600 to $9,600, according to the White House.
The overall package is stalled as a result of a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate. Hoping to salvage the plan, Obama and Democratic lawmakers will instead carve the bill into pieces and submit each for a vote. The various components would be financed through a surtax on households earning more than $1 million a year.
One advantage of breaking the bill into pieces, as proponents see it, is that it forces Republicans to cast a series of difficult votes. Republicans face two choices: Vote with Obama, or defeat a measure aimed at finding jobs for out-of-work vets.
The strategy has drawn fierce criticism from Republicans.
In a floor speech Wednesday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said: "It's completely preposterous at a time when 14 million Americans are looking for a job in this country for the president to be riding around on a bus saying we should raise taxes -- on the very folks who create jobs."
Obama's rhetoric shows the distance he has traveled since the summer, when he made futile attempts to compromise with Republican leaders over a plan to lift the debt ceiling. The White House's new strategy is not so much to accommodate Republicans as to subject them to maximum pressure.
Obama said Wednesday that he first laid out his jobs-for-vets idea in a speech last month to a joint session of Congress. Lawmakers from both parties stood and applauded, he said.
"So when it comes for a vote in the Senate I expect to get votes from both sides of the aisle," he said. "Don't just applaud about it. Vote for it! Vote for it!"
He added: "Standing up for veterans is not a Democratic responsibility or a Republican responsibility. It's an American responsibility."
The Virginia leg of the bus tour has left some Democratic strategists puzzled. Obama is bypassing the populous Northern Virginia region that reflects the changing demographics of Virginia: the influx of suburban voters who were receptive to his message and helped him carry the state in 2008.
Obama's first stop was in a southern Virginia county, Greensville, with a population of only 12,000, according to 2010 census figures. Today he spoke at a military base near the southeastern coast.
That event had a distinct military theme: the president also announced an initiative in which manufacturing companies pledged to hire 25,000 veterans and spouses by the end of 2013.
Still, some Democrats said they were surprised the White House did not set aside time to visit northern Virginia, home to enormous population growth over the last decade.
Prince William County, with more than 402,000 people, grew 43% from 2000 to 2010.
Fairfax County alone has about 1.1 million people – 14% of the state's total population. Obama won the county over Republican John McCain in 2008. But a warning sign came one year later, when the county swung back to the Republicans with Bob McDonnell's victory over Democrat Creigh Deeds in the governor's race.
"He has to win Fairfax County," said one Democratic strategist familiar with Virginia politics. "If you're going to do a multi-stop swing through Virginia, you can never not go to northern Virginia. It's a must-stop every single time. I don't think they can do enough work in northern Virginia."
White House aides said the president has been to northern Virginia many times since taking office and will make return trips in the coming months. They have said that the purpose of a bus tour is to hit smaller towns that aren't as accessible by presidential plane and motorcade.