CHATANOOGA, Tenn. -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday offered congressional Republicans a new corporate tax cut and jobs spending package he said might "help break through some of the political logjam in Washington," only to have GOP lawmakers immediately throw cold water on the idea.
The announcement and quick rejection underscored how elusive common ground on fiscal issues is between the Democratic White House and Republicans in Congress. The divide was particularly stark on the corporate tax proposal, given that both parties generally have supported overhauling the code for businesses, although the White House and Republicans have differed over specifics.
Mr. Obama outlined his proposal in a speech at a massive Amazon.com plant in Chattanooga, his latest stop on a summertime campaign to refocus his agenda on the economy. He said "serious people" in both parties should accept his offer. "I'm willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs," he said. "That's the deal."
Administration officials cast the corporate tax proposal as a new economic idea, but Republicans, including Pennsylvania's Sen. Pat Toomey, said the president hasn't budged from positions he has long held. The concept of closing loopholes is something Mr. Obama has supported since his first presidential campaign in 2008.
"He has reportedly said he felt that way," said Mr. Toomey, who expressed disappointment with the president's offer. "I thought maybe there's a chance here that we could do something really constructive for working Americans, for our economy, to help make our economy more competitive [and] create more jobs at no cost to taxpayers," the senator said. "I thought we might be able to make some progress on that."
Rather, the president is moving farther from compromise by advocating tax increases rather than revenue-neutral policy changes he once supported, said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. "One thing I have complimented the president on in the last couple of years is that ... he has said that business tax reform ought to be revenue-neutral," Mr. Portman said Tuesday. "So we were discouraged this morning to hear that now the president seems to be backtracking on that commitment."
Mr. Toomey and Mr. Portman joined Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to push back against the Obama plan during a news conference Tuesday outside the Senate chamber in Washington. Republicans want to use revenue from loophole closures to reduce tax rates, not to provide new money for the administration to spend.
The president, though, wants to invest in job creation and infrastructure improvement.
The office of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, complained that Mr. Obama's plan was simply a repackaging. "It's the opposite of a concession," said spokesman Brendan Buck, noting that Republicans also want to link a corporate tax overhaul with changes in the individual tax code.
"We've got about $2 trillion worth of deferred maintenance in this country. So let's put more construction workers back on the job, doing the work America needs done," Mr. Obama said in Tennessee. "We should have a modern air-traffic control system to keep planes running on time. We should have modern power grids and pipelines to survive a storm. We should have modern schools to prepare our kids for the jobs of tomorrow."
Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Blair, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, was glad to hear the president reiterate his support of infrastructure improvement, but was disappointed in the approach he laid out in Tennessee. "An effective transportation system is critical to the country's economic growth and competitiveness," Mr. Shuster said in a statement after the speech. "However, continuously recycling old ideas offers little substance in moving forward to address our nation's infrastructure needs."
Post-Gazette Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello contributed.