Frustrated by congressional inaction on a bill that he says has the potential to create upwards of 1.9 million jobs, 26,000 of them in Minnesota, President Barack Obama laid down an ultimatum Thursday for Capitol Hill lawmakers.
"Any senator out there who's thinking about voting against this jobs bill, when it comes up for a vote, needs to explain exactly why they would oppose something that we know would improve our economic situation," he said.
Republicans in the House "should love this plan" because it includes tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses, he said.
Obama's effort has practical repercussions: Unemployment is still above 9 percent nationally, and the $447 billion package would be paid for in part through tax increases. But his rhetoric also foreshadows the 2012 election.
For the next year-and-a-half, voters can expect to hear Obama and the Democrats highlight their attempts to create jobs, while criticizing Republicans for resisting tax increases on the nation's wealthiest.
DETAILS OF THE BILL
Obama's plan focuses on creating jobs by investing in public works construction projects, by giving businesses a payroll tax cut, and by giving states money to keep and create jobs. It would also expand a payroll tax cut for workers and extend unemployment benefits, among other things.
Initially, Obama proposed paying for his bill by increasing taxes on oil and gas companies and putting a cap on deductions for wealthy earners, among other things - ideas that Republicans and Democrats are wary of. This week, Senate Democrats announced an alternative that would involve a 5 percent surtax on those making more than $1 million.
In Minnesota, more than 215,000 Minnesotans are out of work, according to the most recent data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
The administration estimates that its bill could improve Minnesota's job market by giving the state roughly $1.6 billion to create or keep more than 26,000 jobs. An additional 71,000 Minnesotans could be put back to work by restructuring how unemployment benefit dollars are used, according to the White House.
The jobs bill would mean about $608 million for the state to support 7,900 public works construction jobs. And Minnesota would get an additional $274.5 million to upgrade schools, which the White House says would create 3,600 jobs, though it is unclear how many institutions would benefit from the cash. Part of a separate $504 million would be used to prevent and reverse teacher layoffs.
The bill would be a boon to the state's construction industry, which has seen double-digit unemployment in recent years, says Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council.
"We're somewhat of a nomadic group. We go where the work is," Melander said. "If in fact this effort actually happens, Minnesotans can stay home and stay with their families rather than earn wages in other parts of the country."
General contractors are also pleased that the focus in Washington is on job creation, but they're not sold on some aspects of the bill. For instance, they'd rather see the $50 billion Obama plans to dedicate infrastructure improvements nationally put toward a multi-year highway bill, said Jeff Shoaf, the government affairs director for the Associated General Contractors of America, which has a chapter in Minnesota.
POLITICS OF JOB CREATION
Since he announced his bill in September, Obama's surrogates have been rallying support for the legislation among those who stand to benefit from it. For instance, U.S. Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis spoke to union workers in Minneapolis last month.
Obama's been talking up the bill as well, particularly in Republican-leaning districts and states. In September, he spoke about the proposal in front of an aging bridge that connects Cincinnati, Ohio, and Kentucky. House Speaker John Boehner represents Cincinnati and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell hails from Kentucky.
"Part of the reason I came here is because Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell are the two most powerful Republicans in government," Obama said. "They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help us pass it."
While Republicans say there are aspects of the legislation that could secure bipartisan support, including relief for businesses and provisions that deal with international trade, House leader Eric Cantor, who holds sway over what bills get floor debate, has said voting on the entire legislation is a no-go.
For their part, Senate Democratic leaders have promised a vote on the bill before the end of the month, but are still searching for enough votes to move the bill forward.
Given the proximity of the campaign, it's no coincidence that Obama's highlighting Republican opposition to his legislation, said Steven Billet with the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The gains are two-fold. He's trying to his base "revved up for the campaign, and this is probably a good way to do it," Billet said.
But he's also trying to highlight Republican opposition to tax increases, Billet said. "They're teeing this up to characterize a Republican rejection of taxes as sort of a sell-out to big money," he said.
It's a tough position for Republicans to be in because polls show majority of the population thinks that we should be funding some sort of jobs bill using an increase in taxes for the wealthy, Billet said.