WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s top Republican foes in the US Congress closed ranks Tuesday to assail his $447 billion jobs plan, as startling new figures painted a bleak picture of US economic woes.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said his party has no greater goal that defeating Obama in November 2012 elections, dismissed the blueprint as “more of a reelection plan than a jobs plan.”
And McConnell, who on paper at least has the votes to block the legislation, rejected the president’s call for raising taxes on the richest Americans and wealthy corporations to pay for the legislation.
“The president knows raising taxes is the last thing you want to do to spur job creation. He’s said so himself,” said McConnell, apparently referring to Obama’s warning in August 2009 that “you don’t raise taxes in a recession.”
“We see permanent tax increases put into effect in order to pay for temporary spending. I just don’t think that’s really going to help our economy the way it could,” said Republican House Speaker John Boehner.
Boehner said “hopes springs eternal” of finding “common ground” to revive the US economy as it struggles to recover from the global meltdown of 2008, while McConnell stopped just shy of flatly declaring Obama’s plan dead on arrival.
Swiping back at his Republican critics, Obama traveled to Boehner’s home state and declared that Americans had a simple choice between further enriching billionaires or keeping teachers in schools.
The US leader stepped up the rhetoric in what aides said will be a months-long, countrywide trek to sell his legislative strategy to reduce 9.1 percent unemployment and restore trust in his economic leadership.
“Do you want to keep tax breaks for multi millionaires and billionaires or do you want to put teachers back to work?” he roared in full campaign mode at a school in Columbus, Ohio, a key swing state in the 2012 election.
“(Do) you want to keep tax loopholes for oil companies, or do you want to renovate more schools … so that construction workers have jobs again?” he shouted, as a partisan crowd chanted “Pass this bill.”
“We know what’s right. We know what to do to create jobs now and in the future,” Obama said.
The back-and-forth came as the US Census Bureau reported that a record 46.2 million people in the United States lived in poverty in 2010, with the nation’s poverty rate at 15.1 percent, the highest since 1993.
The data, covering the first full year since the recession officially ended in June 2009, showed real media incomes down 6.4 percent from pre-recession levels in 2007 and were 7.1 percent below the peak in 1999.
The number of people in poverty was the highest since data collection began in 1959, although the rate was 7.3 percentage points lower than in 1959.
The US definition of poverty is an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four, and $11,139 for a single person in 2010.
The poverty rate for blacks and Hispanics was much higher than for the overall population at 27.4 percent and 26.6 percent, respectively. Among regions, the South had the highest poverty rate at 16.9 percent and the highest percentage without health insurance, 19.1 percent.
“If the president is truly interested in growing the economy and putting Americans back to work, then he’ll leave the temporary proposals and the half-measures — and the tax hikes — aside,” he added.
McConnell pushed Obama to seek instead “a permanent reform of our broken tax system, reducing out-of-control federal regulations” and to push ahead with passage of free trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.
The three accords seem on track to clear the US Congress, but only after lawmakers renew an assistance program for US workers who can show they lost their jobs to overseas competition.