CINCINNATI — The fight between President Obama and his rivals got personal Thursday over the administration’s $447 billion jobs bill, as the president called out the nation’s two most powerful Republicans by name in an appearance on their home turf.
Obama visited the dilapidated Brent Spence Bridge that connects the home states of House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Standing in a gravel pit in the shadow of the well-traveled bridge, Obama acknowledged that he chose the location because of its political symbolism.
“Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell are the two most powerful Republicans in government. They can either kill this jobs bill, or they can help pass this jobs bill,” Obama told a feisty crowd of about 1,500. “Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge. Help us rebuild America. Help us put this country back to work.”
Obama also took on Republican charges that his proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy to reduce the deficit and pay for the American Jobs Act amounted to “class warfare.”
The president called himself a “warrior for the middle class . . . because the only class warfare I’ve seen is the battle that’s been waged against the middle class in this country for a decade.”
The trip marked Obama’s second visit to Ohio in as many weeks, making clear that his jobs package, which includes a mix of tax cuts and spending proposals, is as much a political gambit as a policy proposal. Ohio is a key state in any 2012 electoral calculus, and the president’s rivals have accused him of using the legislation as a campaign platform for his reelection bid.
Before Obama arrived in Ohio, Boehner and McConnell blasted his visit as a “political stunt” and “political theater.”
In a scathing speech on the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell charged that the Obama administration had wasted taxpayer money on a previous stimulus package that failed to deliver on the economic promises he made two years ago.
As an example, McConnell cited the Solyndra solar manufacturing company that suspended operations in August despite having spent a $535 million guaranteed loan from the administration.
“Politically connected companies like Solyndra ended up with hundreds of millions in taxpayer-backed money, and bridges like the one the president’s at today still need to be fixed,” McConnell said. “It’s worth noting, in fact, that this one company blew through more taxpayer money than the first stimulus allocated for every road and bridge in the entire state of Kentucky — combined.”
The personal barbs from both sides added a new layer of tension between the White House and congressional Republicans as they sell their competing visions to the public.
In Ohio, the pro-Obama crowd responded to his rallying cry, chanting “pass this bill.” When Obama told them that the federal government had declared the bridge “functionally obsolete,” someone shouted: “Sounds like Boehner.” They booed when Obama introduced Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who had accompanied Obama on Air Force One.
Afterward, Paul said he told the president that “we’ve got to get away from the spin of D.C. and get to the reality of Main Street. Main Street knows we have to rebuild bridges. Main Street knows we have to invest in roads. Main Street knows we’ve got to create jobs.”
The Brent Spence Bridge, built in 1963, carries more than 150,000 vehicles a day, well above the 85,000 it was designed to accommodate. Federal and state highway officials have developed a $2.4 billion renovation plan to improve the bridge and connecting highways.
But the renovation is not expected to begin until 2015, meaning it would not immediately create the kind of “shovel-ready jobs” that the president is championing.