ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - President Barack Obama challenged Republican leaders on Tuesday to put his entire $447 billion jobs plan to a vote, rather than breaking it up, to show American voters “exactly where members of Congress stand.”
Obama, a Democrat facing a tough re-election battle in November 2012, sent bills for trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to a seemingly receptive Congress on Monday but the mood in Washington has otherwise been fractious as his jobs package comes apart at the seams.
Republicans say the proposal -- a mix of stimulus spending and tax cuts for workers and small businesses plus an end to some tax breaks for corporations and the rich -- will never pass as a whole but that certain parts are worth considering.
On the Texas leg of his “pass this bill” tour, Obama chided Eric Cantor, Republican leader in the House of Representatives, for saying he would not allow a vote on the measure. The White House said the plan could save or create about 400,000 education jobs, including 39,500 in Texas.
“I’d like Mr. Cantor to come down here to Dallas and explain what exactly in this jobs bill does he not believe in,” Obama said at a college after speaking at fund-raising events in the city.
“And if you won’t do that, at least put this jobs bill up for a vote so that the entire country knows exactly where members of Congress stand. Put your cards on the table.”
Cantor’s office fired back, asking whether Obama would promise not to veto Republican job plans in their entirety.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, testing the resolve of Democrats on the floor of the chamber, called for an immediate vote on the jobs bill as Obama visited Texas.
But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid blocked the move, mindful that he may not have enough votes to pass the jobs program as his colleagues explore more ways to pay for it, including other tax hikes or savings through spending cuts.
Reid, who says he will bring up the bill later this month, called the demand for an immediate vote a “stunt” and the White House reinforced that criticism.
“What we saw in the Senate today was a political stunt essentially by the Senate minority leader to attach the jobs bill to the China bill without debate,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters traveling with Obama.
“SIMPLY ISN‘T GOING TO WORK”
Obama, who pushed through an $800 billion stimulus package in 2009, has taken a hit to his approval ratings over high unemployment and fears of a return to recession. Americas are even less impressed with Congress, opinion polls show.
“President Obama needs to understand that his ‘my way or the highway’ approach simply isn’t going to work in the House or the Democratic Senate, especially in light of his abysmal record on jobs,” Cantor’s spokesman, Brad Dayspring, said in a statement.
“Republicans are trying to work together despite our disagreements -- why isn’t the president?”
At the fund-raising events in the home state of Texas Governor Rick Perry, a leading Republican contender for president, Obama extolled the benefits of his financial and healthcare reforms while criticizing his opponents for undermining his efforts at recovery.
“The stakes are enormous in this upcoming election,” Obama told supporters. “You’ve got the other side presenting a very different vision of where America should be.”
Even as Obama presses lawmakers to pass the whole jobs package, he faces resistance from some Democrats over tax hikes he proposed to pay for it, including the end of tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jet owners.
That means the plan does not have the 60 votes it needs to pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate, let alone in the House where Republicans have a majority.
The bill could be broken up to ease passage of the parts Republicans could support, such as extending a tax break for businesses allowing them to write off new equipment purchases.
Additional reporting by John O'Callaghan and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Cynthia Osterman