Obama seeks votes on jobs, piece by piece

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FLETCHER, N.C. (AP) ? Railing against Republicans, President Barack Obama on Monday pushed for a jobs package that Congress is splintering into pieces, as the White House predicted the Senate would start taking votes soon. Obama pressed lawmakers to act first on his idea of funneling aid to states to hire teachers and other workers.

Noting that Republicans in Senate rejected consideration of his whole $447 billion plan, Obama sought anew to turn that vote against them.

“Maybe they just couldn’t understand the whole thing at once, so we’re going to break it up into bite-size pieces,” Obama said in western North Carolina, back on the road to campaign for his agenda and, in turn, his own re-election.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was expected on Monday afternoon to announce the timing of votes. White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the White House expected the Senate would move “very soon” first on a $35 billion proposal of aid to states to retain or hire teachers, police and firefighters.

But the state aid package faces long odds on Capitol Hill.

It is a non-starter in the GOP-controlled House and is sure to face a vote-blocking filibuster in the Senate, which would require 60 votes to overcome. Last year, when Senate Democrats controlled 59 votes, moderate Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine voted with Democrats to pass a $26 billion state aid package. But with their numbers down to 53, Democrats appear stuck.

Obama’s pitch came in the first stop of a three-day bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia. His goal is to keep pressure on Congress to act on individual pieces of his bill following last week’s Senate vote to shelve the plan.

A supportive crowed in broke into a chant of “four more years” for Obama. Said the president in response: “I appreciate the four more years, but right now I’m thinking about the next thirteen months.”

Republicans denounced the bus trip as nothing more than a taxpayer-funded campaign trip through two must-win states to try to bolster his standing for the 2012 election.

Obama kept up his strategy of taking his case to voters, saying that a recent poll showed public backing for his proposals.

He told his audience that when Republicans in the Senate voted against his bill, “essentially, they said no to you.”

Obama spoke from an airport outside Asheville, N.C., that he said could benefit from his $50 billion proposal to help fix airports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

After his remarks and plenty of hand-shakes, Obama was headed east on his bus ? an impenetrable-looking vehicle painted all black with dark tinted windows.

Obama first used the custom-made bus during a similar road trip in August, when he traveled through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The Secret Service purchased it for $1.1 million.

While Obama has pledged to travel the country pitching his plans to get Americans back to work, his stops have focused heavily on political swing states, underscoring the degree to which what happens with the economy is tied to Obama’s re-election prospects.

Despite Obama’s calls for urgency, it appears the lawmakers may not take up individual components of the president’s bill until November, at the earliest. The Senate is set to debate appropriations bills this week, and lawmakers have a scheduled break at the end of the month.

The president will also speak at community colleges, high schools and a firehouse as he travels through North Carolina and Virginia this week.

Both North Carolina and Virginia are traditionally Republican leaning, but changing demographics and a boost in voter turnout among young people and African-Americans helped Obama carry them in 2008.

But nearly three years after his historic election, the president’s approval ratings in both states are sagging, in line with the national trend.

A Quinnipiac University poll out earlier this month put Obama’s approval rating in Virginia at 45 percent, with 52 percent disapproving. The same poll showed 83 percent of Virginians were dissatisfied with the direction of the country. In North Carolina, Obama has a 42 percent approval rating, according to an Elon University poll conducted this month. Most national polls put Obama’s approval rating in the mid- to low-40s.

The conservative advocacy group American Crossroads planned to run television ads in both states during Obama’s trip, criticizing the president’s jobs proposals as a second round of stimulus spending.

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Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Andrew Taylor in Washington, Bob Lewis in Richmond, Va., and Tom Breen in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.