By Sam Youngman - 09/14/11 12:32 AM EDT
President Obama returned to full-fledged campaign mode Tuesday, whipping a crowd in Speaker John Boehner’s home state into chants of “Pass this bill!” as he pressed for congressional Republicans to approve his jobs package.
With his shirt sleeves rolled up and campaign music blaring in place of “Hail to the Chief,” the president continued an assault on Congress that began weeks ago.
The confrontational tone reflects the inner thinking of a White House that believes it has gone on offense against Republicans, who have shown some caution since returning to Washington from the August recess.
Senior administration officials on Tuesday made clear the White House is cognizant that while Obama’s approval numbers have suffered, Congress’s numbers are in even worse shape.
Obama told the audience in Columbus, Ohio, that his $447 billion plan would create jobs and benefit the economy immediately.
“So my question to Congress is: What on earth are we waiting for?” Obama said.
David Axelrod, Obama’s top political adviser, offered a take-it-or-leave-it approach to the GOP on Tuesday morning.
“We’re not in a negotiation to break up the package. It’s not an à la carte menu,” he said during an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Later on Tuesday, White House officials said Obama would not veto any individual provisions from the jobs package if they were sent to the White House by Congress, but he would continue to press lawmakers to pass the whole thing.
“We’re going to take this to them every day and challenge them to pass the whole bill,” a senior administration official told the White House traveling press pool.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said he was troubled by Obama’s “take it or leave it” approach, which he said is “just not the way that anything works, and certainly not the way Washington works.”
“We’ve been there, done that, for the last eight months,” Cantor said.
The majority leader also criticized Obama’s emphasis on “stimulus spending” and his proposals to pay for his package with tax hikes on the rich.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that some of Obama’s proposed offsets have previously been opposed by Democrats, adding that the plan “is really not credible.”
During a Rose Garden appearance on Monday, Obama warned Republicans he was ready to campaign against them if they blocked his jobs bill.
Yet his actions even before that appearance showed the White House already is taking the campaign to Republicans.
The White House has been careful in selecting the battlegrounds for Obama’s campaign-style speeches on jobs. Tuesday’s trip followed a similar speech Friday to Cantor’s district, Boehner’s lieutenant. On Wednesday, the president will talk jobs in a third state he is in danger of losing next year, North Carolina.
Administration officials have raised the prospect that Obama will travel to specific congressional districts to increase the pressure on lawmakers to act.
There was nothing subtle about the overtones of the 2012 campaign in Obama’s Ohio visit Tuesday.
U2’s “City of Blinding Light,” a favorite from his 2008 presidential campaign, played as Obama took the stage, and Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” accompanied Obama’s exit.
The president’s decision to pay for his proposal with tax hikes on the rich also seems designed to put the GOP on defense. Proposals to limit itemized deductions for the wealthy and to tax hedge fund managers at higher rates could not pass Congress even when it was controlled by the president’s own party. Including them now, when Republicans run the House, suggests that Obama might expect them to be rejected but is keen to accept the opportunity the move would present to paint the GOP as siding with the rich, as he has done many times recently.
Cantor fired back on Tuesday, saying Obama’s proposals to limit deductions for households with income above $250,000 would hurt charities and job growth.
“The president also likes to talk about taxing the super-wealthy, the millionaires, the billionaires and the jet owners,” Cantor said. “Well, now, proposals just aren’t that simple. Looking at the impact of his policies in increasing taxes on people making $200,000 and up, what you see is a tax on the very people you would expect and want to create jobs.”
But Obama seems confident his effort behind the jobs proposal will be a success, and this attitude is backed up by administration officials who say House Republicans can either join Obama or face voters angry about higher taxes for the middle class and Washington dysfunction.
White House spokesman Jay Carney responded Monday to questions about whether the White House was campaigning.
“I’ve been asked this question — ‘Isn’t this a campaign?’ ” he said. “You’re absolutely right, it is a campaign. The president is campaigning for growth and jobs.”