WASHINGTON — After criss-crossing the country for weeks pushing his jobs plan directly to the American people, President Obama turned his attention to congressional Republicans on Thursday, promising to target them in 2012 if they stand in the way of his economic agenda.
"If Congress does something, then I can't run against a do-nothing Congress," Obama said in response to a question at a morning news conference. "If Congress does nothing, then it's not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town, because they are frustrated, and they know we need to do something big and something bold."
With his confrontational news conference at the White House, Obama brought back to Washington the fiscal debate that has been the source of bruising political warfare and left the American public disillusioned with their elected leaders during the economic crisis.
The president urged passage of the $447 billion American Jobs Act and warned Republicans who oppose the measure that they will have to explain their opposition "to me, and more importantly, to their constituencies" at a time of mounting economic uncertainty. He also endorsed a proposal from Senate Democrats for a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million a year to fund the jobs package, an idea that has already drawn opposition from the GOP.
Since unveiling the jobs package last month in a speech to Congress, Obama has touted provisions of it in appearances at schools, bridges and factories in eight states, most of them electoral swing states and some in GOP territory. On Tuesday, the president spent most of the 1-hour, 13-minute news conference, just four minutes shy of the longest of his tenure, promoting the plan from a lectern in the East Room.
As he has in his more feisty and partisan appearances outside the Beltway, Obama sought to highlight what he believes is Republican recalcitrance and the GOP's role in the slowness of the economic recovery. He emphasized the support that elements of the proposal have received from both parties in the past. But the president also issued an explicit warning to Republicans that he would make any "no" vote a political issue in the emerging 2012 campaign.
"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," Obama said. "Each time, what we've seen is games-playing, a preference to try to score political points rather than actually get something done."
The president vowed that if Congress does not approve the legislation as a package, he would seek to present the elements individually and demand an explanation for Republican opposition to each.