WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said Thursday his plan to create jobs and rebuild U.S. highways, bridges and schools was an "insurance policy" against the slowing economy falling back into recession and challenged Republicans to explain to the American people why they are opposed to those measures.
The embattle president also implied that he was changing course in his dealings with Congress, saying he had learned that he got no where by trying to find a middle ground in the huge partisan divide that now splits the American political system.
Facing a tough re-election battle in 2012 and declining approval ratings, the Republicans see Obama as vulnerable and have refused to compromise on any legislative proposal he has sent to Congress since the party regained a majority in the House of Representatives in November 2010.
Therefore, Obama said: "I think it's fair to say that I have gone out of my way in every instance — sometimes at my own political peril and to the frustration of Democrats — to work with Republicans to find common ground to move this country forward.
That tactic has not worked, he said.
"Each time, what we've seen in games-playing, a preference to try to score political points rather than actually get something done on the part of the other side."
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.
With the plan expected to come up for debate in the Senate next week, he urged every senator to think "long and hard about what's at stake."
"Any senator out there who's thinking about voting against this jobs bill when it comes up for a vote needs to explain exactly why they would oppose something we know would improve our economic situation at such an urgent time," Obama said at a White House news conference.
"Our economy really needs a jolt right now," he said.
Obama dodged a question on whether he would sign a bill that is working through the Senate on trade with China. He refused to say if he supported the measure that would punish Beijing for its practice of keeping the value of its currency artifically low. That gives China a huge trade advantage by making its goods less expensive while inflating the prices of American exports.
While Obama's new tougher tone, his campaign to sell the jobs proposal has not swayed congressional Republicans who oppose the higher taxes he and other Democrats want to use to pay for the 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 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.
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.
Obama attempted to use Thursday's news conference to increase pressure on his congressional opponents heading into the first vote on the jobs bill that he proposed a month ago. He has been promoting it around the country ever since, often travelling into swing states or the home states of key Republicans such as the leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner.
"If it turns out that Republicans are opposed to the bill, they need to explain to me, and mostly importantly their constituents, what they would do," Obama said.
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 per cent and create 1.9 million jobs.
"At a time when people are having such a hard time, we need to have an approach 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.
Clearly frustrated, Obama blamed it on Republicans who he said refuse to co-operate 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 Congress and the White House over the summer, until Obama gave in to Republican demands for deep spending cuts without new taxes.
"What the American people saw is that Congress just didn't care."