Obama, Cantor clash on jobs plan

  • Article by: JIM KUHNHENN and JULIE PACE , Associated Press
  • Updated: October 3, 2011 - 11:01 PM

The president wants a vote on the whole package, but the GOP says no way.

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

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WASHINGTON - Seeking to gain political advantage, President Obama insisted Monday that Congress vote on his entire $447 billion jobs plan this month, a step promptly rejected by Republicans who called for both sides to find common ground in their competing proposals to stimulate growth.

Obama demanded that Republicans spell out their objections to his plan, expressing confidence that the public supports his call for more spending on public works projects and to keep public servants on the job.

"Ultimately, they've got to do the right thing for the American people," Obama said of lawmakers.

Republicans have already specified which pieces of Obama's plan they could support, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Monday that some of those measures would get a vote this month. But he said the Republican-controlled House would not act on the president's jobs bill as is.

"The president continues to say, 'Pass my bill in its entirety,'" Cantor said. "... The all-or-nothing approach is just unacceptable."

The differing approaches highlighted the challenges facing both a president eager to deflect blame for a weak economic recovery and congressional Republicans seeking to counter by projecting an air of cooperation.

Since introducing the bill three weeks ago, Obama has mounted a steady public campaign, traveling to politically important states and to districts of key Republican leaders to press for passage. On Tuesday, Obama planned to stump for the bill in the Dallas suburbs.

What's in the Obama plan?

His jobs plan would extend a payroll tax cut for workers and employers, extend benefits to long-term unemployed people, spend money on public works projects and help states and local governments keep teachers, police officers and firefighters on the job. He would pay for the plan with tax increases on wealthier Americans and by closing corporate loopholes.

In a letter to the president Monday, House Republican leaders said Obama's jobs bill "represents opportunities for common ground between Democrats and Republicans." The letter asked that Obama consider GOP regulatory measures and "that in the spirit of putting country before party, you will call on the Senate to follow the House in passing these measures, and commit to signing them into law should they reach your desk."

White House officials said the president it is not prepared to bargain at this point.

"We're not going to start off by saying, well, let's negotiate this first piece, when in fact we've written the legislation," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The tone of the day, however, signaled an opening for passage of some economic proposals this fall. Cantor identified legislation that the House would act on this month, including repealing a law requiring the government to withhold 3 percent of nearly all payments made to contractors. Republicans also have been open to Obama's proposed payroll tax cuts for workers and employers.

Also Monday, the White House sent U.S. trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress for ratification, a step that House Speaker John Boehner said would "overcome a crucial hurdle to helping put Americans back to work."

Still, the White House pressed for action on Obama's complete bill. And in an interview with ABC on Monday, Obama said he was gratified by the bipartisan support for the trade agreements. "But it's not enough by itself," he said.

The president's position is delicately balanced. He wants Republicans to share responsibility for the poor economy, but he cannot show himself to be helpless in the face of congressional pushback.

Underscoring his difficulties, Obama conceded in his interview with ABC that Americans are not better off today than they were four years ago. "What we've seen," he added, "is that we've been able to make steady progress to stabilize the economy, but the unemployment rate is still way too high."

Senior administration officials said the White House planned to employ a communications strategy that uses the GOP as a scapegoat if the jobs bill doesn't pass.

Focus on moderate districts

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss political strategy, said the administration would focus in particular on Republican House members in moderate districts. The administration's goal, they said, it to present a picture of the Democrats unified in pushing for the jobs bill and the Republicans in opposition.

But even some Democrats have balked at Obama's plan. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, told a radio interviewer last week that the president's bill lacked the 60 votes that are typically needed to overcome procedural obstacles. The Illinois senator said some of the tax measures faced resistance within his own party.

Other Democrat, including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, have raised questions about the size of the $447 billion package

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