WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is marketing his massive jobs proposal from an outdated bridge that links the home states of his two chief congressional Republican rivals, a symbolic and cheeky maneuver designed to apply pressure on the GOP and convey resolve in the face of a sputtering economy.
Obama will make his pitch Thursday for $447 billion in tax cuts, jobless aid and public works projects at the Brent Spence Bridge south of Cincinnati, an aging span that connects House Speaker John Boehner’s state of Ohio with Kentucky, home of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The politics are clear.
“The point here is that it’s not an accident that we’re headed to that area,” said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.
Strategically, the visit serves Obama’s legislative and political goals. The president is making his jobs bill the focus of his fall agenda amid broad public disapproval over his handling of the economy. The trip also raises Obama’s profile in Ohio, a state that he won in 2008 but that George W. Bush also won twice.
Public opinion polls show only about 1 in 4 people approves of Obama’s economic performance. The president is seeking to put his differences with Republicans into sharper relief and shift to them some of the responsibility for the nation’s high unemployment and feeble economic growth.
“All across those states there are roads, bridges, schools that unemployed construction workers could be building right now if the Republican leaders in Congress were willing to work with the president and the Democrats to do something that would create jobs in the economy,” Pfeiffer said.
The bridge itself, deemed “functionally obsolete” by the federal government, is already scheduled to be replaced. It is part of a major north-south artery that officials estimate carries 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product annually.
Pending environmental analyses and acquisition of rights of way mean construction won’t begin until 2015.
McConnell and Boehner, both of whom have supported the bridge project, dismissed the visit as a ploy.
“President Obama may think the best way to distract people from the challenges we face is to stand near a bridge in a swing state and pit one group of Americans against another and hope his critics look bad if they don’t go along with him,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “But I don’t think he’s fooling anybody.”
Added Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck, “We want to work with the president to support job creation, but political stunts and empty promises bring us no closer to finding common ground.”
Obama’s visit comes a day after the House rejected a measure providing $3.7 billion for disaster relief as part of a bill to keep the government running through mid-November, raising the possibility of another confrontation over a government shutdown.
The 230-195 defeat came at the hands of Democrats and tea party Republicans. The White House sided with Democrats and welcomed the outcome of the vote.
The president’s defiant approach to Boehner and McConnell represents a shift from his outreach to Boehner this summer, when the two men tried to work out a deal that would extend the nation’s borrowing authority and cut long-term deficits as well.
Then, the president took Boehner golfing. Now he’s taking him to task.
Obama on Monday announced a $3 trillion deficit-reduction package, half of which consists of tax increases. It was a direct challenge to Republicans and Boehner in particular, who last week flatly ruled out tax increases as way to lower long-term deficits.
“The speaker says we can’t have it ‘my way or the highway,’” Obama said Monday. “And then basically says, my way — or the highway. That’s not smart. It’s not right. “
Obama’s visit will be his second to Ohio in two weeks. Vice President Joe Biden has already been to the state twice this month.
It’s not the first time the president has taken on Boehner in his home state. A year ago, Obama went to Parma, Ohio, just days after Boehner had delivered an economic speech to the City Club of Cleveland. Obama criticized the speaker by name for his policy proposals.