President Obama urged the public to support his new jobs bill Friday, hitting the road to build momentum for his proposal a day after his address to a joint session of Congress.
Obama’s effort was bolstered by congressional Democrats, who called on House Republicans to schedule immediate work on the $447 billion plan, which includes tax cuts, new spending measures and an extension of federal unemployment benefits.
Democrats and the White House are demanding that Republicans give the package an up-or-down vote, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Friday said it was unrealistic to think the entire package could be approved.
Reports indicated that the markets fell amid doubts that Obama’s jobs proposal would help the economy, and doubts that Congress would pass it.
Speaking to a supportive crowd at the University of Richmond in Virginia, Obama implored Congress to move his legislation immediately.
“Let’s pass this jobs bill right away,” he said, leaning into the microphone for emphasis.
Obama called on the audience, both those present and those watching, to call, email, tweet, use Facebook and “send a carrier pigeon” to Congress.
“The time for gridlock is over, the time for action is now,” he said.
Obama earned a standing ovation as he repeated the rallying call also used in the previous night’s speech: “Pass this bill.”
Obama previously called on the public to urge Congress to pass the debt-ceiling deal in August, a successful move that crashed servers in the House the following day.
The main piece of Obama’s proposal is an employee payroll-tax cut that would extend and expand an existing measure. The White House argues it would put $1,500 into the pockets of an average household.
Obama said Republicans should be able to support the measure given their opposition to raising taxes. A 2-percentage-point cut in the payroll tax was implemented earlier this year. It would expire in December if Congress does not extend it. Obama wants to expand it to a 3.1-percentage-point cut.
“You guys promised you would never raise taxes on anybody ever again,” Obama said Friday. “You can’t make an exception when the tax cut’s going to middle-class people.”
The legislation would also set up a national infrastructure bank and provide $50 billion in immediate spending on roads, waterways, bridges and rails. It would extend federal unemployment benefits scheduled to end in December and would introduce some reforms to the unemployment system.
Cantor has suggested Republicans are willing to consider the payroll-tax cut, but that the White House could not expect the House to just swallow Obama’s entire proposal.
“Insisting that this body and the two sides here agree on everything is not a reasonable expectation,” Cantor said on the House floor.
“I feel, and have said so many times since the president’s speech, that this is an opportunity for us to set aside the differences that we have, because good people can differ, and begin to focus on things like allowing for tax relief for small businesses, like allowing for the rollback of regulatory impediments that stand in the way of small-business growth.”
Democrats, for their part, tried to raise the pressure on Cantor. Senior Democrats implored GOP committee chairmen to take up the jobs legislation, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) went to the Senate floor to blame the Tea Party movement for holding back the economy.
Obama’s jobs proposal is critical to his reelection prospects next year. The president has seen his poll numbers fall as worries about the economy intensified over the summer. The nasty fight over raising the debt ceiling also appeared to hurt the president’s poll figures.
Yet House Republicans also saw their popularity fall during that debate, as Democrats criticized them for putting the national economy at risk.
With unemployment higher than 9 percent and the nation adding zero new jobs in August, both sides have plenty to lose if the economy does not pick up.
Obama on Friday continued his effort to characterize Congress as part of the problem with the economy. He suggested lawmakers have been too focused on politics and not jobs.
“The next election’s 14 months away,” he said. “Now’s not the time for people in Washington to be worrying about their jobs, it’s time for them to be worrying about your jobs.”
Republicans have used a similar tactic recently in blasting Obama for preoccupation with “just one job — his own,” as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus put it last week.