COLUMBUS, Ohio/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama warned Republican lawmakers on Wednesday against delaying action on his jobs plan until the 2012 elections even as they intensified criticism of his $447 billion proposal.
“The next election is 14 months away, and we don’t have the luxury of waiting that long,” Obama told 3,000 people in Ohio, home state of House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican.
Obama and the Republicans are now fighting their third major budget battle of the year, after a near-government shutdown in April, heart-stopping talks that produced a last-minute deal to avert a government default in July, and now negotiations over the president’s jobs plan.
Battle lines have been drawn around familiar turf: Obama wants to raise taxes on wealthier Americans and corporations to pay for his plans; Republicans want to cut spending.
But in this case, Americans are more frustrated than ever at political gridlock in Washington. This alone may motivate Democrats and Republicans to find a compromise and take steps to show they are actually doing something to try to reduce the country’s 9.1 percent jobless rate.
New government figures underscored the challenges Obama and lawmakers face in trying to trigger growth in an economy now stagnant after the worst recession since the Great Depression.
The Census Bureau said the number of Americans living below the poverty line rose to a record 46 million last year, with the national poverty rate climbing for a third consecutive year to 15.1 percent in 2010.
Obama’s plan to bring down the jobless rate with a package of tax cuts to give incentives for hiring and spending paid for entirely by tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations came under renewed fire from Republicans in Congress.
“What the president’s proposed so far is not serious. And it’s not a jobs plan,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor. Obama sent the jobs legislation to Congress on Monday.
Boehner was equally skeptical, saying, “I just don’t think that is really going to help our economy the way it should.”
Obama talked up his proposal in an important battleground state as he looks ahead to what is shaping up to be a difficult battle for re-election in November 2012.
“This isn’t about giving me a win,” he said. “It’s about giving the American people a win.”
“Pass this bill,” the obviously pro-Obama crowd cheered.
It is unclear when and how Congress will act on the president’s jobs bill and whether it will be broken up into separate pieces of legislation.
Republicans were careful not to completely declare the plan dead on arrival, and no prominent Republicans has raised the idea of putting off action until after the election. Republican leaders say they want to find a way to work with Obama.
Obama offered encouragement on Monday that he would not object if parts of the plan were approved while others were being considered.
“Obviously, if they pass parts of it I’m not going to veto those parts,” Obama said in an interview with Spanish-speaking journalists.
“I will sign it, but I will say then ‘give me the rest’ and I will keep on making that argument as long as the need is there to put people back to work.”
In the early days in the fight over Obama’s new jobs proposal, Republican leaders were clearly staking out their initial negotiating stances.
With opinion polls showing Americans deeply unhappy with the dysfunction and bickering in Washington, it is plainly in the politicians’ interests to show voters they are listening to Americans’ pleas to stimulate the economy.
The U.S. economic outlook is gloomy and any drastic action could make things worse, according to testimony before a congressional ‘super committee” that has to come up with recommendations by November 23 to cut the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion.
The Congressional Budget Office — the nonpartisan budget and economic analyst for Congress — said U.S. economic growth would slow from previous estimates and the jobless rate would basically remain stuck at 9.1 percent through next year’s presidential and congressional elections.
Additional reporting by Donna Smith, David Morgan, Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Laura MacInnis in Columbus; writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Jackie Frank and Christopher Wilson