Susan Walsh, Associated Press
FLETCHER, N.C. — Railing against Republicans, President Barack Obama on Monday pushed for a jobs package that Congress is splintering into pieces, with Senate Democrats planning to start with a plan to help states hire teachers, police and firefighters. In campaign mode on the road, Obama accused Republicans senators of saying no to helping Americans.
With the president's plan for one big bill now dead, the Senate began moving to take up parts of it. Yet given that the Senate is likely to be consumed this week with an overdue spending bill — and then is taking a vacation next week — any votes on portions of the jobs legislation may not take place until November.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid planned to announce on Monday that the chamber would move first on the aid to states. Obama, on a bus tour through the politically crucial states of North Carolina and Virginia, made a coordinated push for that part of his bill and mocked Republicans for forcing a piece-by-piece approach to his jobs legislation.
Republicans in the Senate rejected consideration of his whole $447 billion plan last week.
"Maybe they just couldn't understand the whole thing at once, so we're going to break it up into bite-size pieces," Obama said from his first stop in western North Carolina before getting on his black-tinted bus and heading east across the state.
Obama is pitching a $35 billion proposal of aid to states, and spokesman Jay Carney said the White House anticipates action "very soon."
But the state aid package faces long odds on Capitol Hill.
It is a non-starter in the GOP-controlled House and is sure to face a vote-blocking filibuster in the Senate, which would require 60 votes to overcome. Last year, when Senate Democrats controlled 59 votes, moderate Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine voted with Democrats to pass a $26 billion state aid package. But with their numbers down to 53, Democrats appear stuck.
Outside Asheville, N.C., a supportive crowd broke into a chant of "four more years" for Obama. Said the president in response: "I appreciate the four more years, but right now I'm thinking about the next thirteen months."
Republicans denounced the bus trip as nothing more than a taxpayer-funded campaign trip through two must-win states to try to bolster Obama's standing for the 2012 election.
The president kept up his strategy of taking his case to voters, saying a recent poll showed public backing for his proposals.
He told his audience that when Republicans in the Senate voted against his bill, "essentially, they said no to you."
Obama spoke from an airport outside Asheville that he said could benefit from his $50 billion proposal to help fix airports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
After his remarks and a round of hand-shakes, Obama headed east on Interstate 40, but soon turned off to have lunch at a barbecue restaurant in Marion, population 8,075, where he ordered takeout and chatted with patrons about plans to boost U.S. exports.
From Marion, the bus caravan route took Obama uphill through Blue Ridge foothills dappled with fall reds and oranges. At a general store in Boone, near Appalachian State University, he shopped for Halloween candy, loading up on peppermint patties and candy corn. "On Halloween, the first lady doesn't mind," he explained.
Obama was traveling on the all-black touring bus he first used on a similar road trip in August, rolling through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The Secret Service purchased it for $1.1 million.
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