Atkinson, Illinois – President Barack Obama will seek to set Washington's agenda in September by calling for new efforts to spur job growth and even deeper cuts in future federal budget deficits than called for in the widely panned deal he struck last month with lawmakers.
Speaking Wednesday at a town-hall meeting in Illinois, his home state, Obama said he'll continue to press for new tax revenue as he asks congressional negotiators to go beyond the $1.5 trillion in future deficit reductions that a special bipartisan joint congressional committee is charged with identifying.
“It doesn't require radical surgery for us to fix it,” Obama said. “It just requires us all taking an approach that says we're a family, and all of us are going to share a little bit in the burden, and those of us who are most fortunate – we can do a little bit more.”
Obama's remarks came at the close of a three-day bus trip across the Midwest. With his re-election bid shadowed by the nation's stubbornly high unemployment rate, White House officials said Obama plans to deliver a major speech on jobs and the economy when he and Congress return to Washington in September from their summer recess.
Obama was to arrive back in Washington on Wednesday and depart the next day for 10 days at Martha's Vineyard, the tony resort island off the Massachusetts coast.
Obama didn't mention his coming bid for new jobs initiatives at his first stop of the day in rural Illinois, but a senior administration official said the jobs package is likely to include a mix of tax cuts, construction projects to put the unemployed back to work and measures targeting the long-term unemployed.
Officials said Obama plans to spend the fall pushing for the measures – likely while reiterating his charge this week that “partisan brinksmanship” in Washington is hampering job growth. They said he'll offer a detailed deficit-reduction plan to the super-committee that would cover the cost of the jobs measures while cutting deficits deeper than prescribed so far.
As he has at every stop, Obama implored attendees, packed into a cavernous corn seed warehouse here, to tell Congress that it's “time to worry more about the next generation than the next election.”
The approach seems to be doing little to sway Republicans in Congress but could give Obama a foil on the campaign trail next year.
Republicans from the House of Representatives and the Senate said Wednesday that they remain dead set against any tax revenues as part of an attack on deficits, calling instead for cutting regulations and passing trade bills as a way to spur economic growth and jobs.
“The American people understand that Washington can't keep spending money it doesn't have,” House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia wrote in a USA Today essay. “They want to see less government – not more taxes.”
Self-styled progressive or liberal groups – which have been critical of Obama's deficit-reduction negotiations with Republicans – hailed Obama's coming renewed focus on jobs but said they'd press him to hold firm on paying for it through tax increases for the wealthy.
“President Obama has spent too much time pandering to a minority of tea party Republicans who will never negotiate in good faith,” Move.On.org said in an email to its members. “Instead, he needs to start listening to the vast majority of the American people who say job creation is the No. 1 priority, and the rich and corporations should be taxed more, not less.”
Still, Obama told a questioner in Atkinson that he wouldn't sign a pledge that any future deficit deals must include tax revenues.
“I don't go around signing pledges because I want to make sure that every single day, whatever it is that's going to be best for the American people, that's what I'm focused on,” he said. “That's how I think every representative in Congress should be thinking, not about some pledge that they signed for some interest group or some lobbyist or some association somewhere.”
Most Republican lawmakers have signed a pledge that they'll never vote to raise taxes.
But Obama said he'd continue to press for higher revenues as part of deficit reduction.
“It's just math,” he said, warning that the country will have to make drastic cuts in Medicare if tax revenue isn't increased. “There's no two ways about it.”
Again he invoked investor Warren Buffett, who has called for more taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
“These days the richer you are, the lower your tax rate,” Obama said. “That can't be something that is defensible, regardless of party. I don't care whether you're a Democrat or Republican, independent, that can't be the way it is.”
Although Obama has been traveling the back roads in a slick, high-tech bus equipped with up-to-the-minute security features, his stops have the flavor of small-town America. Before arriving at the seed warehouse in Atkinson – its floors groaning with pallets of seed corn in 58-pound sacks – the bus pulled into the Whiteside County Fair in Morrison, which dates to 1870, just in time for the dairy-cow judging contest.
Still, faced with the array of Ayershire and Brown Swiss bovines, Obama acknowledged: “I'm probably not the guy to judge this stuff.”
© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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