“Now that’s just a coincidence — purely accidental,” Mr. Obama said to the laughter of an estimated 1,500 people watching him speak against the camera-ready backdrop of the 50-year-old Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River, which is slated to be rebuilt, but not before 2015.
“But part of the reason I came here is because Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, those are the two most powerful Republicans in government,” Mr. Obama said. “They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help pass this jobs bill.” The crowd responded with repeated chants of “Pass that bill!” and boos at the mention of the Republicans’ names.
This was Mr. Obama’s fourth trip outside Washington since announcing his $447 billion stimulus package of tax cuts, state aid and infrastructure financing two weeks ago. By taking the battle to his chief adversaries’ turf, the president dramatized more than ever a new, more confrontational approach to Congressional Republicans that makes good on his months-old warning to take his case to the country if they continued to obstruct him.
What is unclear is whether the new aggressiveness will work for Mr. Obama — either in legislative success or in political credit.
Both Republican leaders, but especially Mr. McConnell, delivered barbed retorts at the Capitol even before Mr. Obama arrived here. While Republicans have expressed openness to some tax cuts and infrastructure initiatives, they mostly have derided Mr. Obama’s plan and adamantly oppose the tax increases for the wealthy that he has proposed for after 2012 to offset the jobs measure’s cost and to reduce future budget deficits.
Mr. McConnell spoke on the Senate floor as if speaking to Mr. Obama. “Don’t patronize us by implying that if we just pass this second stimulus that bridges will be fixed right away,” he said.
Get back to Washington, Mr. McConnell said, adding, “and forget the political theater.”
Similarly, Mr. Boehner said at a Capitol news conference, “Now is not the time for the president to go into campaign mode.”
In keeping with Republicans’ emphasis on ending federal regulations to fix the feeble economy, Mr. Boehner released a letter to Mr. Obama from the two Republicans representing Congressional districts near the bridge, urging the president to support a bill to block regulations on cement manufacturers.
A few Democrats have balked at the tax increases in Mr. Obama’s plan as well. And while the president has made “Pass this bill” a mantra, the Democratic majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, has declined to schedule action on the jobs plan ahead of other pending legislation. That did not stop Mr. Obama from enlisting his enthusiastic audience to light a fire under Congress.
“There is work to be done and there are workers ready to do it,” Mr. Obama, coatless and sleeves rolled, nearly yelled. Underscoring the campaign-like nature of the event, when he urged them, “tell Congress to pass this jobs bill right away!” some in the crowd — construction workers, union members and employees of the concrete company where he spoke — chanted his 2008 slogan, “Yes, we can!”
While administration officials have taken issue with Republicans’ criticism that Mr. Obama is waging “class warfare” by proposing to raise taxes on the wealthy, the president virtually embraced the term.
“I’m a warrior for the middle class,” he said. “I’m happy to fight for the middle class. I’m happy to fight for working Americans.”
Mr. Obama described the Brent Spence Bridge as an example of the many bridges, roads, airports, schools and other public works that need repairs or rebuilding, projects that would create jobs especially for construction workers, who have been among the hardest hit since the housing bust three years ago. He called the bridge “functionally obsolete,” adding, “It’s safe to drive on, but it was not designed to accommodate today’s traffic,” forcing costly delays or detours for shipping companies.
Aides to Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell distributed local news accounts reporting that plans to rebuild the bridge are so preliminary that new jobs are unlikely before 2013, at the earliest. The Republicans also said the bridge had not received money from the first stimulus program in 2009, nor would it be assured of any under his new plan. Decisions about how to use federal money for transportation projects are left to state and local authorities.
Mr. Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, asked about reports that construction on a new bridge might not start until 2015, said the White House chose the site because it is “symbolic and representative of crumbling infrastructure across the country.”