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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

Obama said the economy is weaker now than at the beginning of the year. Citing economists' estimates, he said his $447 billion jobs bill would help the economy grow by 2 percent and create 1.9 million jobs.

"At a time when so many people are having such a hard time, we have to have an approach, we have to take action that is big enough to meet the moment," he said.

Obama addressed the disaffection with politics pervasive among the public that's driven down his approval ratings — and even more so, Congress' — as he seeks a second term.

Appearing fed up, Obama blamed it on Republicans who he said refuse to cooperate with him even on issues where he said they once agreed with him. He talked about the ugly debate over raising the government's borrowing limit that consumed Capitol Hill and the White House over the summer, until Obama gave in to Republican demands for deep spending cuts without new taxes.

"They don't get a sense that folks in this town are looking out for their interests," Obama said of Americans in general. "So if they see that over and over again, that cynicism is not going to be reduced until Congress actually proves their cynicism wrong by doing something."

"What the American people saw is that the Congress didn't care."

Obama also said the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrators protesting against Wall Street and economic inequality are expressing the frustrations of the American public.

He said he understands the public's concerns about how the nation's financial system works. And he said Americans see Wall Street as an example of the financial industry not always following the rules.

Asked why there hadn't been more prosecutions in the financial sector, Obama said that many of the activities that precipitated the financial crisis in 2008 were not necessarily illegal. He said many financial schemes were probably immoral, inappropriate or reckless and required new regulations.

Obama criticized efforts in Congress, led by Republicans, to roll back some of the financial rules approved last year. He defended the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created by that the legislation against GOP efforts to weaken it.

Obama also said that some banks are now using new regulations as an excuse to charge consumers more. It was a reference to a fee some banks are imposing to make up for restrictions on debit card fees they charge retailers.

"It's not necessarily fair to consumers," he said.

Obama also said the European Union has to act fast to deal with its debt crisis, but he said he is confident that European leaders are ready to take the necessary steps.

He said he hopes that European leaders have a "very clear, concrete plan of action that is sufficient to the task" by next month's meeting of the Group of 20 rich and developing nations. Obama said the European debt crisis had already affected the U.S. economy.

On other topics, Obama:

—Said he was concerned by the Pakistani military and intelligence community's ties to "unsavory characters." But he said he is not inclined to cut off U.S. aid to Pakistan because he has a great desire to help the Pakistani people.

The president's comments follow just-retired Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen's claim that the Haqqani insurgent network acts as "a veritable arm" of Pakistan's intelligence agency. While Obama did not endorse Mullen's assertion, he did acknowledge that Pakistan engages with individuals the U.S. finds troubling. However, Obama said Pakistan has been a valuable partner in U.S. efforts to go after al-Qaida.

—Criticized China for "gaming" the trading system by keeping its currency undervalued but expressed concern that bipartisan Senate legislation to penalize China could conflict with international agreements. Still, he did not say whether he would veto the legislation.

—Defended his administration over two brewing controversies. One concerns a multimillion-dollar federal loan guarantee to a California solar company, Solyndra, that has declared bankruptcy and that Obama's administration supported despite warnings over its solvency. The other involves a Justice Department program aimed at building cases against major weapons traffickers in Mexico that lost track of numerous guns.

On Solyndra, Obama said the loan guarantee program carried inherent risk, and the administration knew not every company would succeed. And he said continuing the program was crucial in order to counter China's aggressive investments and subsidies to boost its own clean energy industry.

On the gun program, called Operation Fast and Furious, Obama said he has confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder, who's come under criticism from Republicans. The president said both he and Holder would be "very unhappy" if guns were allowed to pass through to Mexico in a way that could have been prevented.

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