A day after presenting Congress with legislation for his $447 billion jobs proposal, President Barack Obama used an Ohio high school as a backdrop to promote the plan that includes $25 billion in public school renovations.
“It puts people back to work and it puts more money in the pockets of working Americans,” Obama said at Fort Hayes Arts and Academic High School in Columbus, where he spoke outdoors to a crowd estimated by local officials at 3,250 people. “My question to Congress is, ‘What on earth are we waiting for?’”
Showcasing a renovated school in the home state of House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, Obama pressured Republican congressional leaders who say the U.S. can’t afford more stimulus spending.
The president urged lawmakers to “pass this bill” as soon as possible, reprising the theme of his speech to a joint session of Congress last week. The audience of supporters, including some who said they were invited through their churches or a teacher’s union, chanted the demand in unison.
Obama repeated his promise that measures he proposed would be paid for, and said the plan would employ “tens of thousands of construction workers” in Ohio and could save the jobs of 14,000 teachers, police officers and firefighters in the state.
Obama said working Americans can’t wait for the 2012 presidential election before Congress acts. “They need action, and they need action now,” he said.
The event’s staging, with loudspeakers blaring music by Stevie Wonder, evoked Obama’s campaign rallies before the 2008 election except that Obama, seeking re-election, now faces a 9.1 percent unemployment rate and a Republican-led House of Representatives.
Ohio could get $985 million for work at elementary, middle and high schools, supporting an estimated 12,800 jobs, said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “This is not a partisan issue,” Duncan said on a conference call.
Duncan said school modernization is “the right plan at the right time” as the administration looks for ways to reduce the nation’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate.
A multimillion-dollar upgrade at the Fort Hayes school improved the students’ learning environment and created local jobs, said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman. The administration estimates the school plan would create hundreds of thousands of construction, engineering and maintenance jobs and help as many as 35,000 public schools.
‘Bad Before He Came’
Evelyn Johnson, 70, a retired hospital worker who volunteered for Obama in 2008 and came to the Columbus event with her church group, said the economy isn’t the president’s fault. “It was bad before he came,” she said.
Obama yesterday proposed offsetting the price tag of his jobs plan by increasing taxes for high earners, private equity managers and oil and gas companies starting in 2013. Those provisions have been rejected by congressional Republicans in the past and the party’s leaders in the House said their opposition hasn’t changed.
Release of the jobs plan sets the stage for a political fight with Republicans in Congress that will frame Obama’s strategy for a re-election campaign next year.
“If Congress refuses to pass this bill, middle-class families will get hit with a tax increase,” Obama told the crowd today.
In unscheduled remarks yesterday to a forum of majority black community organizations, faith groups and college students, Obama sought to enlist his supporters behind the jobs proposal.
‘Pump This Up’
“I want you guys to pump this up,” Obama told the group at the White House. “I need people to be out there promoting this and pushing this and making sure that everybody understands the details of what this would mean, so that one of two things happen: Either Congress gets it done, or if Congress doesn’t get it done people know exactly what’s holding it up and we’re able to continue to apply pressure.”
Tomorrow, Obama will go to Apex, North Carolina, to speak at a small business that the administration says would benefit from Obama’s proposals.
While Obama won Ohio and North Carolina in 2008, the states will be battlegrounds for both parties next year. Obama carried Ohio with 51.5 percent of the vote in 2008, after Republican George W. Bush won it in 2004 and 2000. He narrowly won in North Carolina in the last election with 49.7 percent of the vote to Republican John McCain’s 49.4 percent. Before 2008, North Carolina last was won by the Democratic presidential candidate in 1976.
The job-promotion package Obama first outlined in a Sept. 8 speech to a joint session of Congress is weighted toward tax cuts, which account for more than half the dollar value of the plan.
The centerpiece is a cut in the payroll tax, which covers the first $106,800 in earnings and is evenly split between employers and employees. Obama would reduce the portion paid by workers next year to 3.1 percent from 4.2 percent now. The rate was reduced by two percentage points under the terms of a tax deal reached last year. That cut is set to expire Dec. 31, which would push the tax rate back to 6.2 percent.
The plan also would provide money for improving roads, bridges and railroads, modernizing schools and helping states keep teachers and emergency workers on the job.
Obama’s proposal would spend $30 billion on schools, with $25 billion going to public schools and $5 billion to community colleges.
The details of Obama’s proposals drew criticism from House Republican leaders, who last week had sought to strike a posture of bipartisan cooperation with the president’s efforts to jump-start job creation. Republicans focused on the provisions intended to offset the cost of the payroll tax cuts and spending by raising levies on higher income individuals and oil and gas companies.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, of Virginia, said today he expects the tax increases Obama is proposing to pay for his plan will be split off from measures to cut taxes for workers and small businesses. The more contentious parts of the legislation may have to be put off until after the 2012 election, he said.
‘Agree to Disagree’
“We’ll have to agree to disagree on some of the things that will have to be decided on in public debates surrounding the next election,” Cantor told reporters after giving a speech in Washington. “Republicans are not going to accept tax increases if the goal is to grow the economy.”
White House budget director Jack Lew said yesterday that the debate pits tax breaks for investment fund managers, the oil and gas industry and corporate jet owners against spending on infrastructure and teachers, and tax cuts for middle-income people.
“That is not a hard choice for most Americans,” he said.
The Democratic National Committee is airing ads in Columbus, Cleveland and in seven other states to promote Obama’s plan. The first round of ads, entitled “14 Months,” features clips from Obama’s speech to Congress last week saying the nation can’t wait until the next election for action, the DNC said in a release.
Ohio Republicans have argued that Obama’s policies haven’t helped the economy.
State Republican Chairman Kevin DeWine said Obama went to Columbus to pitch the 2009 stimulus, saying it would keep unemployment below 8 percent. “The failure of the first stimulus plan couldn’t be more apparent” to the 528,000 Ohio residents who are unemployed, he told reporters on a conference call today.
The state’s unemployment rate was 9.0 percent in July, compared with 8.6 percent in January 2009 when Obama took office and 9.1 percent in February 2009 when the stimulus bill was passed, according to the Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information. The state lost a net 65,900 jobs from February 2009 through July, or 1.27 percent, federal labor data show.
Governor John Kasich, a first-term Republican, said he likes the idea of a payroll-tax reduction and hopes the president and Congress can work out a deal, he said.
“The country’s really struggling economically, there’s no doubt about it,” Kasich told reporters after an event yesterday in Columbus. “This is not a time for partisanship. This is a time to figure out a way in which we can get things moving in the country.”