Obama tries to rally public for his jobs plan
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RICHMOND, Va. -- The White House launched a full-court press Friday to rally public support behind President Barack Obama's new jobs plan, dispatching the president to the backyard of one of his most obstructive Republican nemeses and flooding reporters with emails praising the plan from mayors, governors, lawmakers and union and business leaders across the country.
On Capitol Hill, civility mostly reigned. Members of Congress suggested that there was room for common ground, even as some Republicans cautioned that they hadn't yet seen the details of a bill that they suggested is as much about saving Mr. Obama's job as anyone else's.
Fresh from urging Congress to "pass the bill" -- a phrase he uttered 17 times in a 33-minute speech Thursday night -- Mr. Obama pressed the crowd for help at a spirited college rally, saying he wanted them to call, email, tweet, fax, Facebook or "send a carrier pigeon" to members of Congress, urging them to back his $447 billion package.
"I want you to tell your congressperson, the time for gridlock and games is over," he told an enthusiastic crowd of 8,900 at the University of Richmond. "The time for action is now. The time to create jobs is now."
The University of Richmond sits squarely in the congressional district of one of his chief GOP sparring partners: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. The Virginia Republican -- who held his own jobs event later Friday in his district -- struck a conciliatory tone Friday. A few hours after Mr. Obama spoke, Mr. Cantor appeared at Titan America, a heavy building materials firm in Richmond, and vowed cooperation -- but also urged the president not to ask Congress to simply pass one big bill.
"Last night, the president was insistent to pass his bill -- and there is no bill yet -- but all or nothing hasn't worked in Washington over the last eight months. Let's try a better way. Let's admit that good people can disagree, but not let those disagreements get in the way of finding agreement and actually getting results," Mr. Cantor said. "I am committed to working with the president and the other party to help people get back to work here in this region, in the commonwealth and throughout the country."
Mr. Obama -- criticized by some allies for not negotiating more firmly with Republicans over lifting the federal debt ceiling earlier this summer -- welcomed Mr. Cantor's warm tone, telling the crowd that "to their credit, I was glad to hear some Republicans, including your congressman, say that they see room for us to work together."
One woman shouted, "Don't trust them."
Mr. Obama laughed. "I know that folks sometimes think they've used up the benefit of the doubt," he said. "But I'm an eternal optimist."
Back in Washington, members of Congress struck a conciliatory tone, but there was little support from Republicans, who control the House and have 47 of 100 Senate seats. Many said they weren't yet sure exactly what Mr. Obama is proposing.
"It's impossible to say how the speaker feels about the [jobs] bill until we see a bill," said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Lawmakers had lots of questions: How will Mr. Obama pay for his plan? Would his plan somehow be attached to the work of the bipartisan 12-member congressional "super committee" that has until Nov. 23 to recommend at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years in deficit reduction?
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Mr. Obama would ask the super committee tackling the deficit to cut deeper to pay for the jobs package. Mr. Obama told the Virginia crowd that he would release a more ambitious deficit-reduction plan in 10 days that would call for cutting spending, raising taxes on the wealthiest and closing loopholes.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a super committee member, suggested that it could find a way to pay for Mr. Obama's jobs plan as it identifies long-term deficit cuts. Speaking to CBS News, he noted that Mr. Obama has said the "fastest and most effective way to reduce the deficit is to get people back to work and to get the economy moving again. ...
"So we can do two things at once. We can walk and chew gum. We can move to get the economy going -- that will reduce the deficit -- and come up with a long-term deficit plan that gets above $1.5 trillion."
Later Friday, House Republican leaders sent Mr. Obama a letter saying they "look forward" to getting legislative language detailing his ideas.
"We share your desire for bipartisan cooperation, and assume that your ideas were not presented as an all-or-nothing proposition, but rather in anticipation that the Congress may also have equally as effective proposals to offer for consideration," said the leaders' letter. They pledged that the House and its committees "will immediately begin the process of reviewing and considering" his plan.
Outright resistance surfaced to some proposals. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., was unenthusiastic about plans for an infrastructure bank to help finance road, bridge and other public works projects. "I don't like the idea of a national bank," he said. "People don't need to parade to Washington on bended knee for this help."
Beneath the skepticism, though, was a tone markedly different from the anger that has characterized nearly every debate this year. Instead, lawmakers routinely spoke of the need to find common ground.
First Published September 10, 2011 12:00 am