September 14th, 2011
12:06 PM ET
Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN)- In a trip that seems to be as much about the 2012 presidential election as pushing his jobs plan, President Obama heads to North Carolina today, visiting a small business he says would benefit from his jobs plan and addressing a crowd of thousands in the basketball stadium at North Carolina State University. The Tar Heel state is a must-win for his Republican challenger next year and it's ripe for the picking: Mr. Obama beat John McCain in 2008 by a mere 0.3 percent, capturing less than half the popular vote. White House officials deny this is a politically motivated stop but it is the president's third in six days to swing states he won in 2008 (he was in Virginia Friday and Ohio yesterday) and is hoping to hold onto next year.
On this trip, Mr. Obama will again wave the powerful card he's prepared to play against House Republicans. If they don't swallow his $447 billion jobs plan whole he's going to paint them as obstructionists, standing in the way of getting Americans back to work. And make no mistake, the House of Representatives won't pass the jobs bill the White House wrote up themselves and delivered to congress Monday. Even Senate Democrats I've spoken with, prepared to carry water for the president by promoting the bill on their side of the Capitol, concede it doesn't have a chance of passing. This is especially true because the president proposes paying for his plan predominantly with tax increases on individuals making $200,000 or more and joint-filers earning $250,000 or more, a proposal that historically lacks support from congressional Republicans and Democrats alike.
That isn't stopping President Obama from urging Congress to pass his plan and pass it now. "Maybe there's some people in Congress who'd rather settle our differences at the ballot box than work together right now. But I've got news for them: The next election is 14 months away. And the American people don't have the luxury of waiting that long," Mr. Obama told a crowd in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday. By some people, he means Republicans, though he's made a habit of not calling them out directly.
It's quite the role reversal. As the president tries to play hardball, House Republicans – who were downright obstinate in their opposition to the president during the debt ceiling negotiations – are calling for compromise, unexpectedly reticent to be drawn into another bruising battle. House GOP leaders say they're open to the biggest part of the president's plan: giving employees already receiving a break on their payroll taxes an even bigger break and cutting in half the payroll taxes employers currently pay. Those provisions account for $245 billion of the overall cost, according to the White House, more than half of the price tag of the plan.
Republicans aren't on board with other provisions like infrastructure spending, which they say would amount to more stimulus spending that they claim doesn't help the economy, but publicly they're focused on areas of agreement, not differences.
"I hope he'll listen to our ideas. And I hope that he'll work with us to find common ground, to get our economy, and to create jobs again," House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Tuesday.
So what's with the change in tone? Republicans got an earful from constituents while they were in their home districts this summer. Americans are gravely concerned about the economy and disgusted by the way Washington carried on before the break.
"We've been on August recess with our constituents for four or five weeks and the fear I heard from people and saw in their faces is very real and they are scared. They don't have enough money. Businesses are worrying about getting through the month," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told me in Richmond on Friday when I interviewed him shortly after the president's speech there. "It's time for us to really do something," he said.
But President Obama won't settle for just something, his advisors say. He wants everything.
"We believe that if Congress were to send a portion of the American Jobs Act, the President would, of course, not veto it," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.
Conventional wisdom dictates that would undercut the president's demand for congress to take up his entire bill, but senior administration officials insist it does not. "He would sign it, and then we would return to press the Congress to get the rest of the job done," Carney said. "They would will still have a significant amount to explain if they only took some of the measures they could have taken, but not all of the ones."
It's a calculation by Mr. Obama and his top advisers that, while he is politically vulnerable (his disapproval rating is at an all-time high and his approval rating is at a near low – 43 percent according to a CNN/ORC International survey released just yesterday), so are House Republicans. Congress' approval stands at just 15 percent in the same poll, and the White House is betting that will leave many House Republican challenged in primaries by more moderate GOP candidates.
Senior administration officials say this is a glaring weakness the president plans to exploit in the coming months, getting out of Washington as much as possible to appeal directly to the American people that he is trying to do something to get them back to work, only to have House Republicans blocking him. There's a lot at stake. Mr. Obama doesn't have the political capital he used to, failing to get any noticeable bump in the polls from his primetime unveiling of his jobs bill last week. But with great risk comes great reward, and on this wager it appears the President Obama is going all in.