WASHINGTON -- The high political stakes of winning the debate on jobs was on prominent display Wednesday -- and will be again Thursday -- as both parties fought in multiple forums to convince Americans that the opposing side is doing nothing and playing politics.
The Democrats' marquee proponent was President Obama, who made the case for the Senate's $60 billion infrastructure bill at an aging bridge connecting Washington to Virginia.
Pointing to a recent CNN poll that found large majorities support federal spending to repair infrastructure and create jobs, Obama ripped the GOP for standing in the way.
"When 72 percent of the American people support the ideas in this bill -- 72 percent of Americans agree with this, Republicans, Democrats and independents -- there's no excuse for 100 percent of Washington Republicans to say no," Obama said, noting that the bridge is structurally "deficient."
"That means that the Republicans in Washington are out of touch with Republican voters," Obama said, hitting a note that Democrats think has struck a chord -- and which Republicans answered aggressively.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointed to 15 bills that the House has passed aimed at jobs, saying that every one of them was bipartisan, and that the Senate Democratic leadership is the only thing holding them up.
"What we're witnessing in Washington right now is two very different styles of governance: a Republican majority in the House that believes we should actually do something about the problems we face," McConnell said in a floor speech that House leaders later distributed.
He argued that action was blocked by "a Democratic Majority in the Senate that's teamed up with the White House on a strategy of doing nothing -- all for the sake of trying to score political points and spread the blame for an economy that their own policies have cemented into place."
"What we're saying is let's stop the political games," McConnell added. "The problems we face are too serious to ignore."
Democrats scoffed at McConnell's argument, saying the 15 bills were a bunch of small-bore gifts to lobbyists that will do little for the economy.
"Who would believe that this hodgepodge of bills will do more for jobs than the traditional way we get out of recessions: infrastructure building," Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "Most of the ideas cited by the minority leader have next to nothing to do with jobs at all. Many of these ideas belong more on a lobbyists' wishlist rather than any serious jobs agenda."
"Many of these bills are items that Republicans would be seeking to pass even if we were in a boom and had full employment," Schumer added. "Many are just ideological priorities dressed up as job solutions -- it's laughable for the House leadership to act like these proposals would address the jobs crisis."
As evidence of political motive, Democrats again pointed to McConnell's old vow to make Obama a one-term president. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared that much of the politics being played by Republicans is aimed at appeasing the extreme right and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist.
"Republicans have obstructed and opposed every Democratic effort to create jobs this year. How did they do that? Fear," Reid said. "The truth is they are terrified to violate the infamous Grover Norquist tax pledge, even though they know Norquist is wrong, or if they don't know, they should know."
"They're in a thrall, my Republican colleagues," Reid added. "They're in submission to a man whose singular focus is keeping taxes low for the very, very, very wealthy no matter what the effect is on this nation. They fear his political retribution."
The Senate bill would raise its $60 billion by levying a 0.7 percent tax on earnings above $1 million, effectively targeting only the very rich.
Republicans in turn sent out a statement accusing Reid of hypocrisy because he once opposed McConnell over a measure that affected revenue, arguing that the Senate shouldn't vote on it because it was certain to die since revenue bills are supposed to come from the House. Reid had argued it had no chance of passing the House.
"Strange that he will force a vote anyway [on the jobs bill]," said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart. "But don't worry, it's not political."
The jobs bill is scheduled to face a vote in the Senate on Thursday. The ongoing word war is likely to remain heated, with Democrats repeatedly invoking rhetoric from Occupy Wall Street, even though many in the party are reluctant to embrace it directly.
Republicans also pointed to letters from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that oppose the Senate plan because of the tax. The Chamber argues that the wealthy already face various surtaxes, and that another 0.7 percent would only add to the burden.
Obama also took a potshot at the House Republicans for spending time voting on a measure to reaffirm "In God We Trust" as the country's motto.
"That's not putting people back to work," Obama said. "I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work."
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