WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama called for bipartisan cooperation on his plans to boost U.S. jobs on Wednesday, but Republicans sounded skeptical and the White House made no mention of the eventual cost of the package.
“My hope is that as we move forward, we can do so together,” Obama told reporters after meeting with congressional Democrats and Republicans, one day after he laid out fresh measures to combat double-digit U.S. unemployment.
“I’m confident we can put our economic troubles behind us. But it’s going to require some work and cooperation and a seriousness of purpose here in Washington,” he said.
Democrat Obama on Tuesday unveiled a series of initiatives to boost job creation and called for the extension of unemployment insurance to ease the plight of the more than 15 million Americans who are now out of work.
Critics say the plans were deliberately modest in scope, reflecting his need to also focus on the deficit, while sending a message he understands the concerns of ordinary Americans.
Unemployment levels of 10 percent, the highest in 26 years, are sapping American optimism and have contributed to a decline in Obama’s public approval ratings, potentially dimming the Democrats’ prospects in November congressional elections.
Republican leaders who attended the White House meeting said that they also wanted to lift employment, but were quick to complain that Obama’s key domestic priorities of climate change and healthcare reform would be an obstacle to hiring.
“All of us, felt that the core problem here is his big initiatives — the things that he wants to do most are in direct conflict with creating jobs and opportunities,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
While Obama negotiates a tricky political landscape, where some Democrats want him to do much more to ease unemployment, he must also balance investor concern over the prospect of more government spending on top of his $787 billion stimulus bill.
Democrat leaders say a jobs package they are now shaping in Congress might cost $150 billion, but some in the party are pushing for measures that would nudge that up to $200 billion.
The White House has carefully avoided putting a price tag on its proposals, which must be thrashed out in conjunction with the Democrat-controlled Congress, and on Wednesday it repeated that the costs will only become clear once the process was underway and more was known about the specific measures that would get turned into law.
“I don’t know what that ultimate figure is. Obviously, part of what the president wanted to discuss with leaders today was what might be in that package,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told a media briefing.
But he also emphasizes that the worst recession in 70 years has gouged a gaping hole in the country’s economy and labor market that now had to be filled.
“We have to have a plan for addressing in the medium- and long-term fiscal responsibility,” Gibbs said, when asked if there was a cost for job creation which would be too high for this administration.
“The president also reiterated that we are not going, though, to solve that problem of our long-term fiscal health if our growth rate is where it was in the first quarter of this year, which is in excess of negative 6 percent,” he said.
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, editing by Anthony Boadle