After his jobs plan hit a roadblock in Congress, the president hit the road.
During a two-day bus tour of North Carolina and Virginia, President Barack Obama urged locals to pressure their congressmen to vote for the American Jobs Act. In his last stop in North Carolina, Obama visited Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, N.C., Tuesday to rally bipartisan support for the plan.
“One poll found that 63 percent of Americans support the ideas in this jobs bill, but 100 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against it,” Obama said. “So the majority of the American people think it makes sense for us to put teachers back in the classroom and construction workers back to work and tax breaks for small businesses and tax breaks for folks who are hiring veterans. But we got a 100 percent ‘no’ from Republicans in the Senate—that doesn’t make any sense.”
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The $447 billion American Jobs Act was blocked by Senate Republicans Oct. 11. After the failed attempt to pass the legislation in its entirety, Obama has deconstructed the bill into its component parts in order to allow Congress to decide where it stands on each element of the bill.
“It may be that just the bill was too big the first time—there was just too much stuff, and they weren’t clear about what the Jobs Act would do. It was confusing to them,” Obama said. “So what we’re going to do is we’re going to break it up into separate pieces, and we’re going to let them vote on each piece, one at a time.”
The first vote on the new separate legislation—a $35 billion package to local and state governments—is scheduled for later this week, Obama said. The aid package will be funded by a new half-percent tax on income greater than $1 million.
Pitting the Republicans’ opposing Real American Jobs Act against his proposed plan, Obama said the Republicans’ plan is unable to effectively stimulate the economy and get Americans back to work. The White House’s act emphasizes job creation, Obama said, noting that in contrast, the Republicans’ plan focuses on limiting financial regulations on corporations and repealing the current health care law.
“You can’t pretend that creating dirtier air and water for our kids and fewer people on health care and less accountability on Wall Street is a jobs plan,” Obama said.
‘In this together’
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Bob Kollar, a member of the Guilford County Democratic Party, said the United States is facing one of its most critical conditions since the Great Depression. Worried about the future of the country given strong partisan divides, Kollar said there is no hope for economic stimulation unless bipartisan agreements are achieved.
“We are at one of the more dangerous times because of this gridlock and the attitude that people are taking toward cooperation,” he said. “People used to sit around the table and talk and come to some sort of conclusion, but now we are too polarized.”
The president pointed out that the ideas in his current jobs bill are ideas that have previously gained bipartisan support.
“I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, because we’re all Americans, and we are in this together,” Obama said. “We don’t need a Republican jobs act or a Democratic jobs act—we need a jobs act. We need to put people back to work right now.”
Obama transitioned his remarks to discuss education. The president said his proposed plan would bring about 13,000 education jobs to North Carolina. Contrasting South Korea’s greater resources invested in public education with American cutbacks, Obama added that the United States needs to make the necessary commitments to education in order to ensure that American students can compete on a global level.
“Our teachers build the good parts of our economy,” he said. “It gives our children the skills they need to compete. It gives our children a future that is bright.”
Jennifer Arberg, a middle school math teacher and Guilford County teacher of the year, said she was pleased to hear that the president understands the problems in education, adding that she is hopeful that Obama’s plan will benefit schools in North Carolina.
“I’m hoping that we stop losing teachers from the classrooms—it happens to all of us. Our class sizes are getting bigger, and ultimately the ones suffering are the kids,” Arberg said. “It’s just amazing in our little town especially. I live here in Jamestown. Who would think [Obama] would [speak] here?”
Poised for battle
Despite Arberg’s surprise, recent political trends suggest that North Carolina could swing either way in the upcoming presidential election, making it a key campaign battleground in 2012, said Pope McCorkle, visiting lecturer in public policy. Obama, who won North Carolina by fewer than 14,000 votes in 2008, has visited the Tar Heel State three times since June.
North Carolina is a crucial state for the president in his quest for re-election, McCorkle said. Obama’s decision to tour North Carolina to promote the American Jobs Act works in tandem with efforts to win the state in 2012, McCorkle added.
“It doesn’t matter if Obama tours North Carolina, Ohio or Michigan to put pressure on Congress, particularly Republicans in Congress,” he said. “His message can be anywhere as long as it is out of Washington talking to the American people.... It seems like this is a very good event for him, being in a swing state like North Carolina, and he has a very specific item that makes sense for people.”
An October poll conducted by Elon University marked Obama’s approval rating in North Carolina at 42 percent—a sign that the state could go red or blue come election day.
Kollar said Obama appreciates North Carolina’s loyalty and understands he has to carry states like North Carolina in order to win in 2012.
Regardless of the upcoming election, Obama said he will continue to fight for his jobs plan until it gains the 60 votes it needs to break the current Republican filibuster on the Senate floor.
“There are too many Americans who are hurting right now for us to just sit by and do nothing,” Obama said. “Now is the time to act. Now is the time to say, ‘Yes, we can.’ We can create jobs. We can restore the middle class. We can reduce our deficits. We can build an economy that works for everybody. We are not a people who just sit around doing nothing when things aren’t right.”