Obama Bus Tour Stokes Anger Over Jobs-Bill Battle

Three-day tour through North Carolina and Virginia -- states Obama narrowly won in 2008 -- marks his latest effort to generate support for a $447 billion jobs bill blocked by Republican lawmakers in Washington.

President Obama was bound for crucial swing state Virginia on Tuesday on a campaign-style bus tour aimed at fanning the flames of public discontent against his Republican rivals.

The three-day tour through North Carolina and Virginia -- states Obama narrowly won in 2008 -- marks his latest effort to generate support for a $447 billion jobs bill blocked by Republican lawmakers in Washington.

The White House has touted the jobs bill as a shot-in-the-arm for the economy and accused Republicans of playing politics by blocking it, as Democrats have vowed to break it down and bring votes on each of its components.

"Maybe they didn't study it all properly," Obama said to laughter at a high school rally in the small town of Millers Creek, N.C., on Monday.

"Maybe they didn't know what they were voting against. So we're going to chop it up into some bite-sized pieces and give them another chance to look out for your jobs instead of looking out for their own jobs."

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was expected to announce that he will begin bringing parts of the legislation forward this week.

More Doomed Government Meddling?

Republican lawmakers have slammed the bill as another government intervention bound to fail, insisting that the only way to revive the economy is to slash spending, lower taxes and ease regulations on corporations.

The crowded field of 2012 Republican candidates has meanwhile honed in on the sputtering economy and lingering 9.1% unemployment to argue that Obama should be denied a second term because of failed policies.

But Obama, at an earlier rally in Asheville, N.C., noted a poll showing 63% of Americans support his bill, but "100% of Republicans in the Senate voted against it.

"That doesn't make any sense, does it?" he said.

He said the Republican plan "says we should go back to the good old days before the financial crisis when Wall Street was writing its own rules. They want to roll back all the reforms that we put into place."

Obama later told a rally that Republicans who maintain a block on the jobs bill in Congress will need to come and explain their actions to Americans.

"They're going to have to look construction workers in the eye and tell them why they shouldn't be rebuilding roads and bridges and airports," he told the cheering audience at West Wilkes High School.

"They're going to have to explain to working families why their taxes are going up, while the richest Americans' largest corporations are getting a sweet deal."

Playing Occupy Wall Street to Their Advantage

Ahead of the speeches, White House officials drew a strong connection between public frustrations on display in the spreading Occupy Wall Street protests and Republican efforts to roll back finance reforms.

"There is a link between two things," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on the flight down to North Carolina.

"One, the frustrations that regular folks -- middle-class Americans -- feel about the state of the economy, the need for growth to improve, and certainly the need for job creation to improve."

"And there is a related frustration that a lot of Americans feel about the idea that Wall Street in the past played by different rules than Main Street."

Obama sets off for Richmond, Va., on Wednesday in his sleek, armored bus to continue a tour peppered with speeches aimed at rallying supporters and putting pressure on his opponents back in Washington.

In the two key swing states, Obama will seek to reconfigure his 2008 coalition of young voters, educated middle-class voters and minorities for his bruising campaign to keep the White House for another four years.

Obama found support from those turning out to hear him.

"We're still behind him. He's doing all he can do. He just needs somebody out here to work with him," said Margaret Swain, 51, an assistant at an elementary school.

But Swain, who was among a crowd gathered at the airport to hear Obama speak against a backdrop of autumn foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains, acknowledged concerns over the economic hard times, and the need for jobs.

"We need more and more, something that pays decent wages to get people back to work, so they can spend the money to get the economy going," she told AFP.

Sen. John McCain, Obama's defeated Republican rival for the White House in 2008, was sharply critical Monday of what he called the president's "government-knows-best approach," saying that to right the economy, the administration needs to unshackle private enterprise.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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