WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama bluntly challenged Congress on Monday to act immediately on his new jobs plan, brandishing a copy of the legislation at the White House and demanding: "No games, no politics, no delays."
Surrounded by police officers, firefighters, teachers, construction workers and others he said would be helped by the $447 billion package, the president said the only thing that would block its passage would be lawmakers deciding it wasn't good politics to work with him. "We can't afford these same political games, not now," Obama said.
Obama will also travel across the country to build public support for the package he unveiled to Congress last week in attempt to jump start the economy and turn around his worsening political fortunes as he heads toward the 2012 presidential election.
Obama's plan has to clear a politically divided Congress, which could scuttle it entirely or enact bits and pieces of it. As envisioned by Obama, state and local governments would receive $50 billion for transportation projects, $35 billion for school, police and fire department payrolls, $30 billion to modernize public schools and community colleges, and $15 billion to refurbish vacant and foreclosed homes or businesses.
The president said he was sending the package to Congress later Monday.
The centrepiece of the plan cuts payroll taxes, giving a tax break to workers and businesses. Opposition Republican lawmakers who control the House have promised quick review of the legislation and seem open to the tax-cutting elements, but some have already rejected new spending.
The Republican leader in the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, had a measured response to Obama's comments Monday, pledging to review them carefully.
"The record of the economic proposals enacted during the last Congress necessitates careful examination of the president's latest plan as well as consideration of alternative measures that may more effectively support private-sector job creation," Boehner said in a statement. "It is my hope that we will be able to work together to put in place the best ideas of both parties and help put Americans back to work."
The House majority leader Eric Cantor, one of the president's fiercest congressional opponents, appeared to foreshadow the possibility of a fight ahead.
"For the president to sit here and say, 'It's pass my bill all or nothing,' that's just not the way things are done anywhere in Washington," he said.
In his Rose Garden comments, Obama adopted a newly sharp tone that has pleased dispirited Democrats, deriding Republican opposition at a time when the economy has stalled and unemployment stands at 9.1 per cent.
"Instead of just talking about America's jobs creators, let's actually do something for America's jobs creators," Obama said. "We can do that by passing this bill."
But despite his suggestion that the Republicans are playing politics, Obama himself has a huge political stake in success of the legislation. The 2012 presidential campaign is ramping up with Republican hopefuls attacking Obama at every turn over his stewardship of the economy, and polls showing deep unhappiness among the American public with his economic leadership.
Obama's Democratic National Committee is backing up the effort to get the jobs plan passed with a new ad campaign in politically key states urging viewers to read the plan and fight for it.