CINCINNATI (AP) — President Barack Obama was marketing his massive jobs proposal Thursday from an outdated bridge that links the home states of his two chief congressional Republican rivals, a symbolic and cheeky maneuver designed to pressure the GOP and convey resolve in the face of a sputtering economy.
Obama was making his pitch for $447 billion in tax cuts, jobless aid and public works projects at the Brent Spence Bridge south of Cincinnati, an aging span that connects House Speaker John Boehner’s state of Ohio with Kentucky, home of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
The politics are clear. White House press secretary Jay Carney gladly conceded that the trip was a symbolic one designed to heap pressure on Boehner and McConnell to rally behind his plan
“We have never suggested that ground would be broken on this project immediately,” Carney said. “We’re very transparent about why we’re going to this bridge: We’re going to this bridge because it spans the river that divides two states that are represented by the speaker of the House and the Senate minority leader.”
The bridge itself, deemed “functionally obsolete” by the federal government, is already scheduled to be replaced starting in 2015, although Carney argued that passage of the president’s jobs bill could speed up that timeline.
McConnell and Boehner, both of whom have supported the bridge project, dismissed the visit as a ploy.
“I would suggest, Mr. President, that you think about ways to actually help the people of Kentucky and Ohio, instead of how you can use their roads and bridges as a backdrop for making a political point,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “If you really want to help our state then come back to Washington and work with Republicans on legislation that will actually do something to revive our economy and create jobs. And forget the political theater.”
Added Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck, “We want to work with the president to support job creation, but political stunts and empty promises bring us no closer to finding common ground.”
In the very short term, Obama’s visit was making traffic on the overloaded 1963 bridge worse, not better. Ohio and Kentucky transportation officials warned motorists to expect long delays around the time of the president’s appearance Thursday afternoon because of lane closures and a ramp shutdown. Boehner joked that stopping bridge traffic won’t win any votes.
Both Boehner and McConnell declined a White House invitation to attend Thursday’s event, because Congress is in session.
Public opinion polls show only about 1 person in 4 approves of Obama’s economic performance. The president is seeking to put his differences with Republicans into sharper focus and to shift to his political rivals some of the responsibility for the nation’s high unemployment and feeble growth rate.
The president’s defiant approach to Boehner and McConnell represents a shift from his outreach to Boehner this summer, when the two men tried to work out a deal that would extend the nation’s borrowing authority and cut long-term deficits as well.
Then, the president took Boehner golfing. Now he’s taking him to task.
Obama on Monday announced a $3 trillion deficit-reduction package, half of which consists of tax increases. It was a direct challenge to Republicans and Boehner in particular, who last week flatly ruled out tax increases as way to lower long-term deficits.
Obama’s visit will be his second to Ohio in two weeks. It’s not the first time the president has taken on Boehner in his home state. A year ago, Obama went to Parma, Ohio, just days after Boehner had delivered an economic speech to the City Club of Cleveland. Obama criticized the speaker by name for his policy proposals.