Obama pushes jobs plan in key election states
Updated at 11:30 a.m. ET
President Obama on Monday hit the road to visit schools, a transportation hub, a military base and a firehouse over the course of three days -- all places that could benefit from his $447 billion American Jobs Act. The White House says the president's bus tour is strictly about promoting policy -- but the places Mr. Obama will visit this week happen to be carefully selected small towns in two states that will be critical to his re-election -- North Carolina and Virginia.
After Senate Republicans blocked Mr. Obama's jobs package with a filibuster last week, the president and Democrats vowed to hammer Republicans for blocking proposals that are popular with the public and force them to take votes on the individual elements of the plan.
At his first stop in Asheville, North Carolina on Monday, the crowd assembled at the Asheville Regional Airport didn't seem to distinguish much between the president's argument for his jobs package and the argument for his re-election. At one point, they began chanting, "Four more years!"
"I appreciate the 'four more years,' but right now I'm thinking about the next 13 months," Mr. Obama said in response. "Yes, we've got an election coming up... but a lot of folks can't wait" 14 months for the economy to turn around.
In Asheville, Mr. Obama made the case for renovating the airport -- exactly the type of project that would receive funding from his jobs package.
"We could be doing some work right here in the Asheville airport," he said. "There are things we should do right now to give the economy the jolt it needs."
Later Monday, he'll travel to West Wilkes High School in Millers Creek, North Carolina. On Tuesday, the president goes to a technical community college in Jamestown, North Carolina, followed by a visit to a high school in Emporia, Virginia. Part of the president's plan includes $35 billion in state aid to keep public workers like teachers on the payroll.
"Next week, I'm urging members of Congress to vote on putting hundreds of thousands of teachers back in the classroom, cops back on the streets, and firefighters back on the job," Mr. Obama said in his weekly address on Saturday. "And if they vote 'no' on that, they'll have to tell you why. They'll have to tell you why teachers in your community don't deserve a paycheck again."
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will hold an event at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia, where they'll talk about elements of his plan intended to boost the hiring of veterans. After that, he'll visit a firehouse in North Chesterfield, Virginia.In his address Saturday, the president cast Republicans as obstructionists more interested in advancing an ideological agenda rather than a jobs plan. "They're stirring up fights over a woman's right to make her own health care choices," he said. "They're not focused on the concrete actions that will put people back to work right now."
Indeed, House Republicans spent a better part of Thursday working to pass a bill that bars federal funding for abortions, fulfilling a 2010 campaign promise. However, they've also built up their own jobs agenda that focuses largely on rolling back regulations they say put too much burden on businesses.
In Asheville Monday morning, Mr. Obama mocked the Republican agenda. The GOP plan "boils down to a few basic ideas: they want to gut regulations, they want to let Wall Street do whatever it wants, they want to drill more, and they want to repeal health care reform," he said. "So far, at least, I feel better about my plan."
But the GOP also says they're willing to work with the president on some parts of his agenda and points to the recently-passed free trade deals as an example of that. On Fox News Sunday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Republicans support "unemployment insurance reform." He also said Republicans back infrastructure spending -- so long as some of the red tape that comes with such projects is cut.
"Let's go about redoing the permitting process so we can actually get those shovel-ready jobs that he speaks -- the money that they need," he said. Cantor went on to suggest that federal funding that typically goes to lower-priority projects in the states should be redirected to infrastructure projects.
The president will be directing his message at the voters he'll need to energize 2012, CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante reports -- African Americans, white working class voters, and liberals. And he'll do it in two states that he surprisingly carried in 2008. Mr. Obama won North Carolina by less than 1 point in his first presidential run, and he took Virginia by 6 points.
Polls show that voters in those states are on the fence about the president -- a recent Quinnipiac poll shows his approval rating is 45 percent in Virginia, while a recent Elon University poll shows his approval rating is 42 percent in North Carolina.