Obama takes jobs fight to Boehner’s turf
Calls on speaker and McConnell to help pass bill
CINCINNATI - President Obama pitched his jobs plan yesterday from the turf of the top Republicans on Capitol Hill, combatively calling them out by name to demand action. There was no sign his confrontational approach was changing any minds in Congress.
Obama stood in front of an aging bridge that links House Speaker John Boehner’s home state of Ohio with Kentucky, home to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, to call for passage of his $447 billion package in tax cuts, jobless aid, and public works projects.
“Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge,’’ Obama said. “Help us rebuild America. Help us put construction workers back to work. Pass this jobs bill right away.’’
It amounted to one of Obama’s most direct and defiant challenges to leaders of the opposition party. And the incursion into the Republicans’ territory illustrated a new White House aggression and a desire by the president’s advisers to distinguish him from Republicans and to get them to share some of the blame for the struggling economy.
It also was a shift from the president’s outreach to Boehner this summer, when the two men tried to work out a deal that would extend the nation’s borrowing authority and cut long-term deficits.
“Part of the reason I came here is because Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell - those are the two most powerful Republicans in government,’’ Obama said. “They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help pass this jobs bill.’’
Obama said his legislation would put construction workers back to work around the country on projects such as the Brent Spence Bridge, but the White House gladly conceded that the choice of the aging span south of Cincinnati was symbolic. The bridge is scheduled to be repaired starting in 2015, although White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president’s job bill could speed up that timeline.
The trip also raises Obama’s profile in politically important Ohio, a state that he won in 2008 but that George W. Bush won twice. It was his second trip to the state in two weeks.
McConnell and Boehner, both of whom have supported the bridge project, dismissed the visit as a political ploy.
“If you really want to help our state, then come back to Washington and work with Republicans on legislation that will actually do something to revive our economy and create jobs. And forget the political theater,’’ McConnell said on the Senate floor.
Said Boehner: “I am pleased the president is bringing attention to this much-needed project. But you know now is not the time for the president to go into campaign mode.’’
Both McConnell and Boehner oppose Obama’s plans to pay for his jobs measures with new taxes, and his jobs package faces a tough fight on Capitol Hill.
The trip illustrated the various ways a president can use the power of his office and the megaphone it provides to push for his initiatives and score political points. Presidents often use their travel to get beyond the Washington debate and try to build support. Though it’s not common for presidents to brazenly challenge opposition leaders in their backyards, Obama has shown no qualms about venturing into Republican territory. His first speech after announcing his jobs bill this month was in Richmond, in the congressional district of House Republican leader Eric Cantor.
Presidents also often take local politicians with them on Air Force One when they travel. In this case, both Boehner and McConnell declined a White House invitation to attend yesterday’s event, because Congress is in session. Obama did travel with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Republican who is pushing an alternative proposal for bridge and road projects.
“I know these men care about their states. And I can’t imagine that the speaker wants to represent a state where nearly one in four bridges is classified as substandard. I know that when Senator McConnell visited the closed bridge in Kentucky, he said that ‘roads and bridges are not partisan in Washington,’ ’’ Obama said.
“Well, if that’s the case, then there’s no reason for Republicans in Congress to stand in the way of more construction projects. There’s no reason to stand in the way of more jobs.’’