Reporting from Columbus — Standing before a school with buildings constructed during the Civil War, President Obama Tuesday afternoon decried the state of crumbling American schools and led a chanting crowd in calling on Congress to fix them.
Obama waved a copy of his new jobs plan, which proposes pumping money into the economy partly by spending $30 billion to upgrade schools and spur the building trades.
"There are millions of unemployed construction workers looking for work," Obama told the crowd in the courtyard at Fort Hayes Arts high school. "So my question to Congress is, 'What on earth are we waiting for?'"
The crowd, made up partly of students and teachers of the public magnet school, repeatedly interrupted the president by chanting, "Pass this bill! Pass this bill!"
The response is just what Obama is looking for as he pioneers his new sales pitch on behalf of the American Jobs Act. Republicans are responding carefully to the proposals, waiting to see how the public will respond to the overall plans to cut taxes, invest in infrastructure and extend unemployment benefits.
Advisers to the president aren't sure yet if the public will help them pressure Republicans in Congress to pass some or all of the jobs act. As a backup, though, Obama is appearing in swing states, simultaneously making a parallel argument: that his vision for the economy is better than that of Republican presidential hopefuls.
Tuesday's visit was in the home state of Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who has been treating Obama's proposal carefully and indicating he is willing to work with the Democratic president. On Tuesday, he issued a statement saying he disagrees with some of Obama's ideas about how to pay for his jobs plan, especially tax increases.
Boehner warned against using "permanent tax increases ... to pay for temporary spending," according to a transcript of remarks delivered in Washington. "The House is going to continue to work to create a better environment for economic development and job growth in our country."
A day before, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, offered support for one provision of the president's jobs plan, the reduction in payroll taxes.
"This is not a time for partisanship," Kasich said Monday. "This is a time to figure out a way in which we can get things moving in the country."
Obama, meanwhile, is clearly on the campaign trail. Instead of playing the pomp and circumstance of presidential entrances, the speakers at Fort Hayes blared Obama's signature campaign music. The president's appeal was aimed at the immediate audience, in addition to those back in Washington.
"Some of the buildings here were built during the Civil War," he said. "When buildings are that old they start falling apart … No heat in the winter, no air conditioning in the summer … How do we expect our children to do their very best in a situation like that?"
Speaking to reporters before the event, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus repeated his charge that Obama is "the consummate campaigner-in-chief."
"I don't think anyone should be surprised that he's not stopping in North Dakota, Montana and Nebraska to sell his Stimulus 2 package," he said.
Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.