Susan Walsh, Associated Press
President Barack Obama listens as a reporter asks a question at the start of a Cabinet Meeting at the White House in Washington, Monday, Oct. 3, 2011.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama demanded Monday that Congress vote on his jobs legislation package this month despite signs that the full measure faces stiff resistance. "I'm ready to sign it," the president said.
A leading House Republican, however, says that while lawmakers will vote on elements of the president's jobs bill, his broad $447 billion proposal will not be considered in its entirety.
"This all or nothing approach is unreasonable," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.
The White House says it is not prepared to bargain away aspects of the bill at this point, and senior administration officials seemed intent on putting Republicans on the spot by insisting on a vote on the complete Obama bill. Since introducing the bill three weeks ago, the president has mounted a steady public campaign on behalf of his bill, trying to cast Congress and Republicans in particular as obstacles.
"What we don't see the need to do is negotiate away aspects of the bill that are non-controversial, are broadly supported by the American public, broadly supported by Democrats and Republicans, before there is a chance to vote on the bill," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Underscoring that point, Obama told reporters at the start of a Cabinet meeting Monday that Republicans must spell out what aspects of his plan they agree with and which they reject. "They should tell us what it is that they're not willing to go for," he said.
Republicans did detail what elements of Obama's plan they would support in a Sept. 16 memorandum. And on Monday, Cantor identified legislation that the House would act on this month, including repealing a law requiring the government to withhold 3 percent of nearly all payments made to contractors, ratifying trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, eliminating burdensome regulations and boosting the ability of small businesses to obtain capital.
In a letter to the president Monday, House Republican leaders said Obama's jobs bill "represents opportunities for common ground between Democrats and Republicans." The letter asked Obama to consider their regulatory measures and "that in the spirit of putting country before party, you will call on the Senate to follow the House in passing these measures, and commit to signing them into law should they reach your desk."
Obama's jobs plan would reduce payroll taxes on workers and employers, extend benefits to long-term unemployed people, spend money on public works projects and help states and local governments keep teachers, police officers and firefighters on the job. He would pay for the plan with tax increases on wealthier Americans and by closing corporate loopholes.
But officials said there have been no high-level discussions to narrow the bill to areas of common ground.
Republicans have opposed the spending initiatives and, along with even some Democrats, have rejected the tax increases that Obama would use to pay for the expense of the bill.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said the president's bill lacked the 60 votes that are typically needed to overcome procedural obstacles. The Illinois senator said some of the tax measures faced resistance within his own party. And some Senate Democrats, including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, have raised questions about the size of the $447 billion package.
Manchin and Casey face re-election next year.
Senior administration officials dismissed those concerns, however, saying it was unclear how those Democrats would eventually vote.
Those officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss strategy, said that while the White House may not be able control the actions of congressional Republicans, they can try to portray the GOP as a scapegoat if the jobs bill doesn't pass.
The administration's goal, they said, it to present a picture of the Democrats unified in pushing for the jobs bill and the Republicans in opposition.
Asked whether the president would also share in the responsibility if his bill didn't pass, the officials argued that the public separates the president from Congress, and sees him as someone who is willing to work with the other party.
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"I have to tell you that I can't imagine any American that I've been talking to that's not interested in seeing construction workers back on the job rebuilding roads and bridges, schools, airports; putting teachers back in the classroom to make sure that our kids are getting the very best education; making sure our vets get help when they come home and that small businesses have further incentive to hire them," Obama said Monday.
In an interview with ABC Monday, he added: "What I think the American people cannot abide by is us doing nothing."