MILLERS CREEK, N.C. – Bowing to political necessity, President Barack Obama pushed Congress to pass his jobs plan in what he called “bite-size pieces” that might prove tougher for Republican lawmakers to reject than the $447 billion package voted down by the Senate last week.
Obama’s advisers had initially presented the jobs plan as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. But that strategy collapsed last week, after Senate Democrats failed to muster the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster and force a vote on a plan that has become the centerpiece of Obama’s agenda.
After weeks spent demanding that Congress “pass this bill,” Obama rolled out a new message Monday at the opening of his three-day bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia: Pass specific elements of the bill, one by one.
Speaking at West Wilkes High School, the president said that “even though they said no the first time, we’re going to give them another chance.”
“I think maybe the first time, because we had it all in one bill, they … didn’t know what they were voting against,” Obama added. “So we’re going to chop it up into bite-size pieces and give them another chance to look out for your job instead of looking out for their own jobs.”
The Senate plans to cast a vote as early as this week on the first component of Obama’s jobs plan: $35 billion to save the jobs of public school teachers, police and firefighters.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader, made the announcement Monday as Obama set out on the trip.
“We’re going to do our utmost to do this as quickly as we can,” Reid told reporters. He promised “one jobs bill a week” in the days ahead. Each would be financed by a version of a previously proposed surtax on millionaires. In this case, it would be a 0.5 percent tax on those earning beyond $1 million a year.
Senate Republicans immediately denounced the $35 billion proposal as another bailout for public-sector workers. Past efforts to ship funding to cash-strapped states did not prevent teacher layoffs, they said.
“It is disappointing that Senate Democrats are still focused on the same temporary stimulus spending that’s failed to solve our jobs crisis,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Day one of the bus tour took Obama through Republican parts of a state that will be a battleground in the 2012 presidential election. The high school sits in Wilkes County, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 2 to 1. Obama hopes that such visits will build bipartisan, grass-roots support for his jobs plan, pressuring Republican lawmakers into voting his way. He said Republicans face a stark choice: pass legislation preventing layoffs of public employees, or come home and tell constituents why teachers, police and firefighters must lose their jobs.
“If they vote against taking steps that we know will put Americans back to work right now, then they’re not going to have to answer to me,” Obama said earlier in a visit to Asheville. “They’re going to have to answer to you.”
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