By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) - President Barack Obama said Monday that congressional Republicans must put their country ahead of their party and vote to create new jobs as he used a boisterous Labor Day rally to aim a partisan barb at the GOP.
In a preview of the jobs speech he will deliver on Thursday to Congress, Obama said there are numerous roads and bridges that need rebuilding in the U.S., and over 1 million unemployed construction workers who are available to build them.
Citing massive federal budget deficits, Republicans have expressed opposition to spending vast new sums on jobs programs. But Obama said that with widespread suffering, "the time for Washington games is over" and lawmakers must move quickly to create jobs.
"But we're not going wait for them," he said at an annual event sponsored by the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO. "We're going to see if we've got some straight shooters in Congress. We're going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party."
Obama's remarks came as he has been under heavy criticism from the GOP for presiding over a persistently weak economy and high unemployment. Last Friday's dismal jobs report showed a net job change of zero in August, and the unemployment rate held steady at 9.1 percent.
Congress returns from its summer recess this week, with the faltering economy and job market promising to be a dominant theme of the session. The economy is all but certain to also be the top issue of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
Throughout the speech, the union crowd kept chanting "four more years."
Obama also said lawmakers should extend the temporary reduction in the payroll tax that workers pay, a cut that will otherwise expire on Jan. 1. Many Republicans have opposed renewing the payroll tax cut, saying it would increase federal red ink and do little to create jobs.
"You say you're the party of tax cuts," Obama said of the GOP argument. "Well, then prove you'll fight just as hard for tax cuts for middle class families as you do oil companies and the most affluent Americans. Show us what you've got."
In the speech to Congress, Obama is expected to call for a mix of individual and business tax credits and public works spending. He will also press lawmakers for swift action on those proposals.
Underscoring the political dueling on the economy under way, Obama plans to visit Richmond, Va., the day after his address to Congress as the first of several trips he will make to encourage support for his job creation plan. Part of Richmond is represented by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., one of the president's fiercest critics.
The president's broader goal is to make a sweeping appeal for bipartisan action on the economy, speaking not only to the members of Congress who will assemble before him, but to the larger American public. In that sense, the speech will mark a pivot point from a fall and summer spent dealing with long-term deficit reduction to a fall campaign devoted to boosting a foot-dragging recovery.
Aides say Obama will mount a campaign throughout the fall centered on the economy, unveiling different elements of his agenda heading into 2012. If Republicans reject his ideas, the president and his aides want to enlist the public as an ally, essentially using the megaphone of his presidency to pressure Congress and make the case for his re-election.
"People will see a president who will be laying very significant proposals throughout the fall leading up this next State of the Union," Gene Sperling, director of Obama's National Economic Council, said in an interview with the Associated Press..
While Obama has said any short term spending proposal will be paid for over the long-term, aides say the speech will not offer details on what deficit reduction measures would be used to offset immediate spending measures. The speech also is not expected to include a detailed plan for resolving the nation's housing crisis, a central cause behind the weak economy that White House aides and administration officials have been struggling to resolve.
"A lot of what will be discussed in greater detail in this economic proposal that he will be making on Thursday night will focus on many things that will have a more immediate, positive effect on getting the recovery to take hold, getting stronger growth , spurring job creation, spurring the private sector to invest more," Sperling said.
Asked specifically about housing, he said: You will also see him throughout the fall talking about other issues that are also at very much the heart of this economic agenda."
Last week's disappointing jobs report sparked new fears of a second recession and injected fresh urgency into efforts by Obama to help get millions of unemployed people back into the labor market - and help improve his re-election chances.
Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce on Monday surfaced its own jobs plan. In an open letter to Congress and the White House, the Chamber called for measures designed to immediately increase employment, including stepped-up road and bridge construction, more oil drilling and temporary corporate tax breaks.
Polls show the economy and jobs are the public's top concerns. Public approval of Obama's handling of the economy hit a new low of 26 percent in a recent Gallup survey.
The unemployment report also gave Obama's Republican critics, including those who want to challenge him in next year's presidential election, fresh ammunition to pound him with.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney called the report disappointing, unacceptable and "further proof that President Obama has failed." Romney is scheduled to outline his own job-creation plan in a speech Tuesday in the battleground state of Nevada.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said Monday that both political parties should get behind Obama's efforts to improve the hiring picture.
"We do need everyone to be on board," she said on NBC's "Today" show.
Solis said Obama "is very mindful of what the needs and concerns are of those individuals who have been out of work for so long." But she also said the jobless have a responsibility to seek training in new skills, if necessary, to better prepare themselves for the kinds of jobs available in today's economy.
Obama spent part of the holiday weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland "putting the finishing touches" on the proposals and the speech, said spokesman Jay Carney.
Obama won Michigan in the 2008 presidential election and the economically challenged state is crucial to his re-election prospects. The state unemployment rate was 10.9 percent in July, above the national average for that month. The Detroit-area jobless rate was even higher, at 14.1 percent in July.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)