Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Republicans reaching out to Obama before jobs speech

WASHINGTON – Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress returned from five weeks at home Tuesday pledging to seek bipartisan compromises with President Obama on the economy and jobs.
House Republican leaders wrote Obama to suggest areas of potential agreement, ranging from changes in highway spending and construction permitting to new ways of helping the long-term unemployed.
At the same time, Senate Democratic leaders said they would move ahead with changes that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to get patents and extend highway spending through next January.
The initial efforts at compromise indicated that lawmakers heard a message from constituents in August: Quit bickering and work together.
Obama is expected to propose $300billion in federal spending and tax cuts Thursday night during his address to a joint session of Congress, the Associated Press estimated. The proposals could include a one-year extension of a payroll tax cut for workers plus an extension of expiring unemployment benefits.
In their letter to Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor wrote, "While it is important that we continue to debate and discuss our different approaches to job creation … we should not approach this as an all-or-nothing situation."

The two Republican leaders requested a bipartisan leadership meeting with Obama before his Thursday address. White House press secretary Jay Carney said there has been broad consultation already.
"Consultations and preparations for his jobs and growth package were wide-ranging, both inside and outside the administration," Carney said. "And the ideas the president collected helped inform him as he made his decisions for this package."
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner, said Republicans "have had no opportunity to be consulted by the White House at all on the jobs plan."
In the weeks leading up to his speech, Obama has called on lawmakers to "put country before party" by compromising on policies that can put Americans to work. On Monday in Detroit, he said, "We're going to see if we've got some straight shooters in Congress."
His list of potential bipartisan initiatives includes passing free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Those deals have been stalled by disagreements over federal aid for workers who lose their jobs.
Obama also has called for action on patents, highway spending and other issues that enjoy some bipartisan support.
In a sign of potential progress, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is set to meet with Boehner today on the trade deals; the Senate plans to vote on patents in time for Obama's speech Thursday; and a key Senate committee will vote on a four-month extension of highway and mass transit spending.
Other initiatives will be tougher to resolve. Obama is likely to seek new federal spending on infrastructure projects — something Republicans who opposed the president's two-year, $825 billion economic stimulus plan in 2009 oppose.
"Achieving bipartisan agreement on these and other initiatives requires more than just one side declaring a proposal to be 'bipartisan,'" Boehner and Cantor wrote. "It requires that we work together."
The Republican leaders suggested doing away with a requirement that 10% of highway spending be set aside for "enhancements" such as educational activities and historical preservation. They noted Obama recently said Washington should "give states more control over the projects that are right for them."
The Republican leaders' letter came a day after Obama, in a Labor Day speech, said he would challenge them to back a package of jobs programs that had bipartisan support in the past.
That message didn't sit well with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
He said Obama's "central message" was that "anyone who doesn't rubber-stamp his economic agenda is putting politics above country."
"There's a much simpler reason for opposing your economic proposals that has nothing to do with politics," McConnell said. "They don't work."

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