Obama: I’ll win if 2012 choice is between me and the Republican Congress

President Obama challenged Republican lawmakers Thursday to pass his jobs package and deny him a key plank in his campaign platform: running against a “do-nothing Congress.”

Obama blasted opposition to his $447 billion jobs act and demanded that opponents explain their opposition, continuing a refrain he has used on the road for the past month.

“If Congress does something, then I can’t run against a do-nothing Congress,” Obama said, smiling. “If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them, I think the American people will run them out of town. Because they are frustrated.”

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Obama did not mention the Senate Democrats who oppose the spending measures and tax hikes in his plan, and he was not asked about those opponents during a long and winding news conference.

Obama’s comments came just a day after Senate Democrats announced they were jettisoning his preferred method of paying for his jobs package — a new 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires.

The move by Senate Democrats reflected the fact that Obama’s proposal did not have the support of 50 senators in his party, let alone any Republicans. It also highlighted a break between the White House and Senate Democrats over who should pay higher taxes. Obama had wanted to pay for most of his jobs bill with higher taxes on families with annual incomes of more than $250,000.

While the tax changes are likely to bring more Senate Democrats on board, some also oppose spending measures in Obama’s plan.

Still, the movement means the Senate will move to Obama’s jobs package next week, something Obama was able to announce at the opening of his East Room news conference, the first he has held since late July, during the debt-ceiling talks.

The president acknowledged that the bill will not pass as proposed and said he could accept the Senate Democrats’ way of paying for the bill.

“We’ve always said we’d be open to a variety of ways to pay for it,” Obama said. “The approach the Senate is taking, I’m comfortable with.”

Obama also said he could accept breaking his package into smaller parts so that the Senate could try to pass it “piece by piece.”

But Obama promised he was ready to go on the attack against Republicans who hold back elements of his package, which includes infrastructure spending along with an extension and deepening of an existing payroll-tax cut. Republicans have expressed skepticism about both of those provisions.

“[I]f Mr. McConnell chooses to vote against it or if members of his caucus choose to vote against it, I promise you, we’re going to keep on going, and we will put forward, maybe piece by piece, each component of the bill,” Obama said, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“And each time they’re going to have to explain why it is that they’d be opposed to putting teachers back in the classroom or rebuilding our schools or giving tax cuts to middle-class folks ... and giving tax cuts to small businesses.”

Obama largely echoed what he has been saying while traveling around the country in an effort to sell the plan.

“The reason I keep going around the country talking about this jobs bill is because people really need help right now,” he said. “Our economy really needs a jolt right now. This is not a game. This is not the time for the usual political gridlock.”

The president indicated that he sees pressure from the American electorate as his only path to Republican cooperation.

“I would love nothing more than to not have to be out there campaigning because we were seeing constructive action here in Congress,” Obama said. “That’s my goal. That’s what I’m looking for.

“But I’m also dealing with a Republican majority leader who said that his number one goal was to beat me — not put Americans back to work, not grow the economy, not help small businesses expand, but to defeat me. And he’s been saying that now for a couple of years. So, yeah, I’ve got to go out and enlist the American people to see if maybe he’ll listen to them if he’s not listening to me.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered a blistering criticism of Obama during an appearance at the Washington Ideas Forum on Thursday. Boehner cast Obama’s drumbeat on the jobs bill as part of a reelection effort that showed the president was focused on his own political future more than the economy.

“Nothing has disappointed me more than what’s happened over the last five weeks, to watch the president of the United States give up on governing, give up on leading and spend [all his time] campaigning,” Boehner said. 

He said Obama has “throw[n] in the towel” on improving the economy. “We’re legislating, he’s campaigning. It’s very disappointing,” Boehner said.

The poor economy has beaten down Obama’s approval ratings, and polls show a minority of voters have confidence in Obama’s ability to guide the economy.

Still, even fewer have confidence in congressional Republicans, and a bright spot for the president is the jobs bill. Fifty-two percent of the public backed Obama’s bill, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week.

The same poll showed Obama holds a 15-point lead on Republicans in Congress regarding who voters trust more to create jobs.

Obama on Thursday praised his own willingness to compromise, saying he had at every turn “gone out of my way in every instance — sometimes at my own political peril and to the frustration of Democrats — to work with Republicans to find common ground to move this country forward.”

“So what I’ve tried to do is say: Here are the best ideas I’ve heard, not just from partisans, but from independent economists; these are the ideas most likely to create jobs now and strengthen the economy right now, and that’s what the American people are looking for,” Obama said. “And the response from Republicans has been: No.”

— This story was posted at 1:39 p.m. and last updated at 5:47 p.m.