The Washington Post

Obama pushes Congress ‘to-do list’ in Albany speech


President Obama speaks after touring the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering 's Albany NanoTech Complex at the State University of New York May 8, 2012 in Albany, New York. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

President Obama called on Congress on Tuesday to support a five-point “to-do list,” which features job creation and mortgage relief measures, in his latest effort to paint the legislative body as an obstructionist force during an election year.

Obama has proposed all of the measures before. But as Washington has grown more polarized during the presidential campaign season, he has been trying to use Congress as a foil to highlight his administration’s efforts to pass legislation to stimulate the economy.

“In this make-or-break moment for the middle class, there is no excuse for inaction, no excuse for dragging our feet. None,” Obama told the crowd at a nanotechnology facility at the State University of New York at Albany.

During Obama’s remarks, two flat-screen television monitors showed a graphic in the form of a green Post-it Note titled “Congress To-Do List” and laying out the five items with un-checked squares next to them.

The president told the crowd that everyone could see the list on the White House Web site.

“It’s about the size of a Post-it Note, so every member of Congress should have time to read it,” he quipped, drawing laughs.

Since the start of the year, Obama has pushed Congress to support his economic agenda, casting Republicans as opposing him for political gain. The president hopes to link presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney to congressional Republicans at a time when Congress’s approval rating is 17 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Republicans pushed back against the White House, noting that they have supported several of Obama’s initiatives, including the payroll tax cut, long-term unemployment insurance and several free-trade agreements.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Tuesday that he welcomes Obama’s focus on job creation but that the GOP remains opposed to a White House plan to give income tax cuts of 10 percent to firms that create new jobs or dole out raises this year.

“We believe that we ought to let the investors decide on how best to allocate their capital so that we can see small business grow again,” Cantor said. “But these are differences that we can overcome and differences we can resolve if the president will just join us in saying we’ve got to solve these problems.”

In his remarks, Obama pressed Republicans to support his proposals for a 20 percent tax cut for businesses that bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas and a 10 percent tax credit for companies that hire workers and increase wages. He used the backdrop of the high-tech facility to emphasize the need to invest in new technologies that will help the nation remain competitive in a quickly changing global market.

Another initiative on his to-do list would allow homeowners to refinance at lower interest rates, a proposal he will highlight during a stop this week in Reno, Nev., where foreclosures are at the highest rates in the country. The president also is calling for a Veterans Jobs Corps to help service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan get jobs as police officers and firefighters.

Obama challenged Republicans who contend that his government is “bloated,” saying that his administration has created private-sector jobs even as public hiring remains sluggish. He contrasted that to his Republican predecessors, who he said increased government hiring as part of their economic recoveries.

“I made this point so you don’t buy into this whole bloated-government argument,” he said.

Wrapping up his speech, Obama ad-libbed two more items, demanding that Congress not allow federally subsidized student loan interest rates to double this summer and to approve a transportation bill that would provide funding for construction projects. The Senate defeated a measure Tuesday that would have kept the low rates for another year.

House Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the president should instead press Senate Democrats to pass a budget: “How can you continue to run a business or a country with no budget? Three years in a row, a trillion-dollar deficit year over year and no budget.”

The trip marked a rare recent venture for the president into a state that is not an electoral battleground, but New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, one of the nation’s most popular Democratic governors, joined him at the event. And Obama is eager to appeal to working-class voters in the Northeast and the Rust Belt.

In his introductory remarks, Cuomo lauded the president and New York’s economic turnaround and even employed Obama’s campaign slogan, “Forward.”

“Mr. President, I can promise you this: Because of your leadership, this state is not going backward, this state is going forward,” Cuomo said to applause.

The White House initially was going to send Obama to Asheville, N.C., but scuttled that plan two weeks ago and announced that he would instead speak in Albany. The Raleigh News & Observer noted Tuesday that North Carolina was holding a vote on a controversial amendment to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. Obama has not supported such unions, saying his views are “evolving,” a position that has drawn heat from liberal supporters.

Staff writer Ed O’Keefe in Washington contributed to this report.

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

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