A frustrated President Obama pressed Congress to pass jobs legislation Thursday, warning that the economy is “fragile” and that politics must not “get in the way of action.”
But during much of his 73-minute White House press conference, Mr. Obama put his clashes with Republicans in Congress front and center, calling out GOP leaders by name. He reasserted a willingness to negotiate on the specifics of his $447 billion plan, and he said he was “fine” with a proposal by Senate Democrats to pay for the jobs package with a 5 percent surcharge on millionaires. The Senate is to vote on the plan next week.
Republicans call the plan another tax-and-spend scheme that a debt-strapped nation can’t afford. Obama is just campaigning for reelection, and nothing more, they say. As he has been doing in appearances around the nation, Obama hammered at congressional Republicans for “game playing” and inaction. And he made clear that President Truman’s 1948 campaign line against a “do-nothing Congress” – a successful strategy – is in his playbook.
“We will just keep on going at it and hammering away until something gets done,” Obama said in the final flourish of the news conference. “And I would love nothing more than to see Congress act so aggressively that I can't campaign against them as a do-nothing Congress.”
Earlier, he suggested he had no choice but to be out in the country campaigning, trying to get the American people to exert pressure on Congress, because he hasn’t seen constructive action from the Republicans.
“I think it is very clear that if members of Congress come in and say, ‘All right, we want to build infrastructure; here's the way we think we can do it; we want to put construction workers back to work; we've got some ideas,’ ” Obama said, “I am ready, eager to work with them.”
But, he complained, the Republicans’ “big ideas” are things that Washington is already doing, such as free-trade agreements and patent reform. And, he added, even though those measures are important, they’re not going to create jobs immediately.
“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, and they know we need to do something big and something bold,” Obama said.
When asked about the Occupy Wall Street protests, which have blocked streets in New York and spread to other cities, Obama offered his analysis: “It expresses the frustrations that the American people feel that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street, and yet you're still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place.”
When asked why his administration has not been very aggressive in prosecuting the people who brought about the financial and subprime lending crises, Obama said that a lot of the actions were not necessarily illegal – just immoral, inappropriate, or reckless.
“That's exactly why we needed to pass Dodd-Frank [financial-reform legislation], to prohibit some of these practices,” he said.
Obama agreed that the American people had grown cynical and frustrated by Washington’s inability to act – a sense that was reinforced during the high-stakes debt-ceiling debate in the summer – and he placed the blame squarely on Congress, where Republicans hold the majority in the House and a powerful minority in the Senate.
“That cynicism is not going to be reduced until Congress actually proves their cynicism wrong by doing something that would actually help the American people,” the president said.
The reality, though, for Obama is that the American people blame both him and Congress for the nation's weak economy. Opinion polls show both him and Congress, Republicans and Democrats, in low esteem.