October 17, 2011
Against a backdrop of angry protesters and tension in the streets, President Obama is embarking on a three-day bus tour beginning Monday, aiming to tap the anger of Americans dissatisfied with big Wall Street bailouts and a jobless recovery to push Congress to pass his $447 billion jobs plan.
With “Day of Rage” demonstrations over the weekend culminating in sometimes violent protests and dozens of arrests, the president plans to use the trip to North Carolina and Virginia to acknowledge complaints about corporate greed and economic inequality.
In August, the president took a similar bus trip through Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, where he encouraged supporters to back his calls to pass his American Jobs Act, a nearly $450 billion plan of infrastructure spending, tax incentives and unemployment assistance.
But the prior bus tour unfolded before anger reached the street in the form of demonstrations against corporate America.
Obama has been cautious in offering support for the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which has turned sharply against corporate America, from which members of his own Cabinet came.
On Sunday, Obama used the backdrop of the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial dedication in Washington, D.C., to suggest King would support the protesters, but advise social justice be reached through peaceful protest and mutual respect on the two sides.
“If (King) were alive today, I believe he would remind us that the unemployed worker can rightly challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing all who work there; that the businessman can enter tough negotiations with his company’s union without vilifying the right to collectively bargain,” Obama said.
“He would want us to know we can argue fiercely about the proper size and role of government without questioning each other’s love for this country with the knowledge that in this democracy, government is no distant object but is, rather, an expression of our common commitments to one another,” he continued.
The president’s solution to the disgruntled masses is his second stimulus plan, which the White House says independent forecasters project will create up to 1.9 million jobs and grow the economy.
“The president will challenge Congress to get to work this week, passing every element of the American Jobs Act piece by piece — starting with the proposal to prevent teacher layoffs, keep police officers on the beat and keep firefighters on the job,” a White House aide said in advance of the trip Sunday.
But with 9.1 percent unemployment the outcome of the president’s prior stimulus plan, and North Carolina in particular facing an unemployment rate of 10.4 percent, the president will try to shore up support in a red state that he was able to win in 2008, but where he now sees his support eroding among independents.
Republicans are providing their own alternative to the jobs plan, and say they will agree to chop up the president’s proposals into digestible pieces, but only vote on some of his ideas.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Sunday that Republicans agree that some infrastructure projects are necessary, but regulatory red tape makes it possible for only pet projects to get funding. Cantor added that stimulus money used to pay salaries does nothing to prolong economic growth.
“We saw what happened with the stimulus money. Much of that went to the states. And you know what happened? It sustained some jobs for about a year and then the states were faced about with billions of dollars in debt once that year was over it,” he told “Fox News Sunday.”
White House officials say they can live with passing the plan in multiple pieces as long as it all passes.
On his latest tour, the president is going to smaller communities, including those where he did not fare well in 2008, in an attempt to spend time in areas not easily accessible to large airports.
While in Asheville, the president will sell his plan by using a local example, the proposed renovation of the regional airport’s sole runway. That is one project among many that could be addressed if the president’s proposed $50 billion set aside for infrastructure spending were approved, the White House says. The president also plans to propose more spending — including $900 million for North Carolina — to keep or hire teachers.
The White House says as many as 280,000 teacher jobs across the nation could be at risk the coming year. A provision in the American Jobs Act would prevent this from happening and allow states to hire back more teachers.
Obama will also discuss the importance of keeping cops and firefighters on the job, and he is expected to propose tax incentives for small businesses to hire veterans, an idea that is supported by Republicans.
On Monday, Andy Card, former George W. Bush White House chief of staff, called Obama’s trip a “misery tour.”
“He’s a very intelligent man, but that doesn’t mean he has dealt with the world as it is. And he hasn’t been able to make government work. He hasn’t provided the real leadership that the president has to provide,” Card said.
Obama’s trip to North Carolina and Virginia is strategic in that both are politically important swing states that will have a say in the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. But the White House insists the trip is not political. In fact, the president has no fundraising events scheduled and the Democratic National Committee is not paying for any portion of the trip.