ASHEVILLE, N.C. — President Barack Obama on Monday launches a three-day bus tour across North Carolina and Virginia, championing his job creation package in two states that are critical to his reelection efforts.
White House officials said Sunday that Obama will use every stop of the bus trip to press lawmakers in Washington to pass parts of his $447 billion jobs package. Senate Republicans last week blocked the full package from advancing, but Obama has said he'll continue to push recalcitrant Republicans to pass individual pieces of the legislation.
"I'm going to travel all over the country over the next few weeks so that we can remind Congress that's their job," he said during his weekend radio address, taped at a Detroit GM plant. "There's still time to create jobs and grow our economy right now. There's still time for Congress to do the right thing. We just need to act."
The trip comes as recent polls show Obama with some of the lowest ratings of his presidency, but Congress polls even lower and at least one poll suggests that voters like the jobs bill — and taxing the wealthiest Americans to pay for it.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 30 percent of those polled in favor of the bill, with 22 percent opposed and 44 percent with no opinion. When the parts of the bill were explained, 63 percent favored passage.
"The American people support every single plank of that bill, and we're going to vote on every single one of them," Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod said on ABC's This week.
But House Republican Majority leader Eric Cantor, whose district Obama visited last month pushing for his jobs package, suggested on Fox News Sunday that Obama should "stop the campaigning. Let's go find the things that are in common between (the GOP) plan and his."
Obama has pressed for the bill's passage in other presidential election battleground states, including the trip to Detroit on Friday. Aides on Sunday deflected questions about whether the trip was more about politics than policy. Democrats will hold their 2012 national nominating convention in North Carolina, which Obama narrowly won in 2008, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
"There are people in Washington, D.C., and all across the country who are eager to ascribe political motivations to everything the president does," said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman. "But an important part of his job is to travel out of Washington, to talk to people about the economy and how his economic policies are affecting them."
He noted Obama had pressed for the jobs bill in states that don't figure into presidential politics, including reliably Republican Texas. Obama also plans a similar tour in Democratic-leaning California at the end of the month, Earnest said.
Vice President Joe Biden also will be on the road this week, pressing the jobs bill in York, Pennsylvania — another battleground state. White House officials said Biden on Tuesday will highlight how the jobs act would support 400,000 education jobs. It said the York school district eliminated 188 positions in the 2011-2012 school year, including almost 20 percent of its teaching staff.
Obama — who pressed for passage of the entire bill just last month in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. — will open the bus tour with an appearance at Asheville's regional airport — which Earnest said has one aging runway — to underscore a push for spending money to improve the nation's roads, bridges and airports.
He'll later visit a high school in Millers Creek, N.C., to push for a provision in the bill to assist local cities and towns with money to prevent teacher layoffs.
On Tuesday, he'll hold a roundtable with teachers in Jamestown, N.C., and make remarks at a YMCA in Emporia, Va., and at a Hampton, Va., high school.
First Lady Michelle Obama will join him Wednesday at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., to talk about hiring service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama later will visit a firehouse in North Chesterfield, Va., before returning to the White House.
"After the tour, the message will be clear: 'Pass the bills this week to protect the job of a North Carolina teacher or come down here and explain to her why protecting the tax breaks for millionaires is more important," Earnest said.
Senate Democrats have proposed — and Obama agreed - to impose a surtax on millionaires to pay for his plan. The White House says it includes measures that Republicans and Democrats alike traditionally have supported, such as a cut in the Social Security payroll tax and spending for road construction, schools and aid to the unemployed.
But Republicans have said raising taxes during an economic slump would hamper job creation and have instead pushed for cutting taxes and rolling back regulations.
The bus tour marks the second for Obama in the past three months. In August, he rolled across small towns in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois aboard one of two $1.1 million buses purchased by the Secret Service for presidential and campaign travel. He'll be aboard the same shiny, high-tech black bus for this week's trip.
(Tim Funk is a staff writer at the Charlotte Observer.)
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