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Defiant Obama challenges GOP on jobs bill

By Ben Feller

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 6 2011 12:00 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama gestures during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Defiant and frustrated, President Barack Obama aggressively challenged Republicans Thursday to get behind his jobs plan or explain why not, declaring that if Congress fails to act "the American people will run them out of town."

The president used a White House news conference to attempt to heighten the pressure he's sought to create on the GOP by traveling around the country, into swing states and onto the home turf of key Republican foes including House Speaker John Boehner and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Giving a bit of ground on his own plan, he endorsed a new proposal by Senate Democrats to tax millionaires to pay for his jobs program. "This is not a game," he said.

Obama made no apologies for his decision to abandon seeking compromise with Republicans in favor of assailing them, sometimes by name. He contended that he'd gone out of his way to try to work with the GOP since becoming president, reaching hard-fought deals to raise the government's borrowing limit and avert a government shutdown, and had gotten nothing in return.

"Each time, what we have seen is games playing," the president said. "I am always open to negotiations. What is also true is they need to do something."

Obama was still at the lectern when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Republicans he would permit a test vote as early as late Thursday on the president's original measure. There was little doubt it would fail, the outcome Republicans hoped for.

The president predicted dire political consequences for his opponents if they don't go along.

"I think the American people will run them out of town because they are frustrated and they know we need to do something big, something bold."

"We will just keep on going at it and hammering away until something gets done," he said. "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."

Yet Obama's campaign has not swayed Capitol Hill Republicans who oppose the higher taxes he and other Democrats want to use to pay for his proposal. They accuse Obama of playing "campaigner in chief" instead of working with them.

"If the goal is to create jobs, then why are we even talking about tax hikes?" Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Thursday.

Republicans are resolutely opposed to much of Obama's jobs initiative, both for its tax increases for wealthier people and small businesses and its reprise of stimulus spending on roads, bridges and schools and grants to local governments to pay the salaries of teachers and first responders. They criticize his bill as another version of his $825 billion stimulus of 2009, one that this time would rely on raising taxes.

Obama did say he would support a new approach by Senate Democrats for paying for his jobs bill with a tax on millionaires rather than his plan to raise taxes on couples making more than $250,000.

The president's strident tone underscored a difficult political predicament as he seeks re-election with the economy slowing and unemployment stuck above 9 percent. "Our economy really needs a jolt right now," he said.

The president said that without his nearly $450 billion package of tax cuts and public works spending there will be fewer jobs and weaker growth. He said the bill could guard against another economic downturn if the situation in debt-laden Europe worsens.

"If it turns out that there are Republicans who are opposed to this bill, they need to explain to me, but more importantly to their constituents — who's the American people — why they're opposed and what would they do."

"What I've done over the last several weeks is to take the case to the American people so that they understand what's at stake."

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