Obama Pushes Congress To Pass Jobs Bill

President Obama held a news conference in the East Room of the White House Thursday, pushing Congress to pass his jobs bill. Again, the president challenged Republicans to support his plan or to seek compromise on an alternative. He also took aim at the nation's banks for rising fees — and their efforts to fight financial reform.

GUY RAZ, host: Today, President Obama held his first formal news conference since July. He used the occasion to keep the pressure on Congress to pass his jobs bill. Mr. Obama said he was willing to negotiate with Republicans on changes to the bill, but he also said that so far he hasn't found any willing partners. NPR's Mara Liasson has our story.

MARA LIASSON: President Obama has been disciplined and relentless as he pushes his jobs bill. He's held rallies around the country challenging Congress over and over again to pass this bill. So much so, that Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner accuse the president of giving up on governing, of campaigning instead of sitting down with them in Washington. Asked today why he didn't stay home to negotiate, Mr. Obama justified his new strategy this way.

President BARACK OBAMA: I think it's fair to say that I have gone out of my way in every instance, sometimes at my own political peril and to the frustration of Democrats, to work with Republicans to find common ground to move this country forward.

LIASSON: And each time, said the president...

OBAMA: ...what we've seen is games-playing, a preference to try to score political points rather than actually get something done on the part of the other side. And that has been true not just over the last six months; that's been true over the last two and a half years.

LIASSON: Mr. Obama did say that he was open to changing the way his jobs bill was paid for, including a new proposal from Senate Democrats to add a 5.6 percent surtax on millionaires, and he said he was open to Republican alternatives if there were any. But the president made it clear that if Congress didn't pass his plan or its individual components, he would campaign against the Republicans - Harry Truman style - for doing nothing to help a faltering economy.

OBAMA: The question, then, is, will Congress do something? If Congress does something, then I can't run against a do-nothing Congress. If Congress does nothing, then it's not a matter of me running against them; I think the American people will run them out of town, because they are frustrated, and they know we need to do something big.

LIASSON: The president was also asked about the administration program that gave a loan guarantee to the solar energy company Solyndra, which later went bankrupt. Mr. Obama said he was confident the project had been vetted properly.

OBAMA: The process by which the decision was made was on the merits. It was straightforward. And of course there were going to be debates internally when you're dealing with something as complicated as this. But I have confidence that the decisions were made based on what would be good for the American economy and the American people and putting people back to work.

LIASSON: And the president clarified comments he'd made earlier in the week about Bank of America's new $5 a month debit card fee.

OBAMA: Banks and any business in America can price their products any way they want. That's how the free market works. As long as there's transparency and accountability, and consumers understand what they're getting - and there are going to be instances where a policy judgment is made that, you know what, there are certain practices that just aren't fair.

LIASSON: But the overriding purpose of the press conference was the same as every public appearance the president has made lately: to push his jobs plan, even though it seems to be going nowhere in Congress. He acknowledged that public pressure was probably the only leverage he has.

OBAMA: We have a democracy. And right now, John Boehner is the speaker of the House and Mitch McConnell is the Republican leader. And all I can do is make the best arguments and mobilize the American people so that they're responsive. So far, they haven't been responsive to not just me but public opinion. We saw that during the debt ceiling vote. But we're just going to keep on making the case.

LIASSON: So, the president plans to keep hammering away on his jobs bill and attacking those he says are standing in its way. With the economic recovery faltering and the president's own approval ratings weak, the White House has to start from scratch. First, the president needs to convince voters that he does have a plan to create jobs and that he's ready to fight for it. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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