By Sam Youngman - 10/18/11 12:24 AM EDT
President Obama mocked the intelligence of Republicans on Monday while making the first stop of his three-day bus tour, implying GOP lawmakers didn’t pass his $447 billion jobs bill because they weren’t smart enough to understand it.
“Maybe they just couldn’t understand the whole thing all at once,” Obama said during an address in Asheville, N.C., that had all the trappings of a 2012 campaign event, including a crowd chanting, “Four more years.”
The new effort will start with a proposal to provide $35 billion in funding to states to prevent further layoffs of teachers, police officers and firefighters, Obama said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promised Monday to seek a vote on the aid this week, though that could prove difficult to schedule. The Senate is scheduled to take up appropriations work this week before adjourning for a one-week recess on Friday.
The president is traveling until Wednesday through North Carolina and Virginia, two critical battleground states he won during the 2008 election. Obama was the first Democrat in a generation to win the two states, and polling suggests he faces a steep challenge in keeping them in the Democratic column.
Obama’s new stump speech reflects the second phase of the president’s push for his jobs plan and another low point in a relationship with congressional Republicans that has steadily deteriorated since the summer fight over raising the debt ceiling.
The retooled speech comes after a testy phone call last week between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who took issue with public comments from the president that Republicans had not offered a jobs plan. In a Thursday phone call, Boehner pointed to the House GOP jobs bill and castigated the president for saying otherwise. Boehner also released details of the call to the media in a slap at the White House.
Obama on Monday acknowledged the Republicans’ “Real American Jobs Act” — and then mocked it. He declared it would strip people of health insurance and could be summed up as providing “dirtier air, dirtier water.”
“So I’ll let you decide which plan is the real American Jobs Act,” Obama said.
While Obama has turned more confrontational with Republicans a year ahead of his reelection bid, Republicans have emphasized their willingness to meet the president in the middle, something they again sought to point out on Monday.
“Despite the president’s ‘us versus them’ rhetoric, we continue to look for areas of common ground to help get our economy moving again and create jobs,” an aide to Boehner said Monday.
Separately, the House GOP emailed to reporters a list of bills approved by the majority-GOP House that have yet to be taken up by a Senate held by Democrats. All of the bills, the GOP contends, would create jobs.
Obama’s public remarks suggested that lingering hard feelings from the summer debt-ceiling negotiations, exemplified by Boehner’s refusal at one point to return a call from Obama, have been neither forgotten nor forgiven.
Though Republicans and Obama came together last week to end a five-year stalemate on three trade agreements, that represents a rare agreement between the two sides on the economy.
In Asheville, Obama described the economic pain many Americans are feeling, and argued his jobs package could boost short-term growth.
“But apparently none of this matters to the Republicans in the Senate — because last week they got together to block this bill,” Obama said. “They said no to putting teachers and construction workers back on the job. They said no to rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports. They said no to cutting taxes for middle-class families and small businesses when all they’ve been doing is cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
“Essentially, they said no to you because it turns out one poll found that 63 percent of Americans support the ideas in this jobs bill,” Obama said. “So 63 percent of Americans support the jobs bill that I put forward; 100 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against it. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?”
Obama traveled throughout North Carolina on Wednesday, making stops at small businesses and chatting with locals.
With his jacket and tie left behind, the president appeared to be in full campaign mode, but Obama sought to downplay next year’s election in favor of this month’s Senate action even as the crowd chanted, “Four more years.”
“Look, I appreciate the ‘four more years,’ but right now I’m thinking about the next 13 months,” Obama said. “Because, yes, we’ve got an election coming up, but that election is a long ways away, and a lot of folks can’t wait.”
This is the second campaign-style bus trip Obama has taken since the debt-ceiling talks. The first one took place in August and took him through southern Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
The administration has emphasized that this week’s trip is about selling the jobs bill, and is not a campaign trip. White House officials have noted the trip is being funded by the government, not Obama’s reelection campaign.