Obama Bows to Republicans in Test of Wills on Jobs

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Agence France Presse

Obama Bows to Republicans in Test of Wills on Jobs

by
Stephen Collinson

The very public dispute exposed the tattered relationship between Obama and Boehner, following a showdown over raising the US government's borrowing limit, which drove the United States to the brink of default last month. (photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)

US President Barack Obama has bowed to Republicans in a row over the timing of his big jobs speech, which boded ill for hopes of a bipartisan compromise to revive the economy.

Obama had earlier issued a brazen challenge, asking Republican House Speaker John Boehner to grant him a joint address to Congress on September 7 -- at exactly the time of a Republican 2012 candidates debate in California.

But Boehner, in what some sources said was an unprecedented snub of a president, rejected his request, saying logistical issues meant the next night would be a better, and on Wednesday, Obama relented.

"The president is focused on the urgent need to create jobs and grow our economy, so he welcomes the opportunity to address a joint session of Congress on Thursday, September 8," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

It was not clear what time Obama would speak, but Boehner's original counter would have put the presidential address in competition for viewers with the televised opening game of the National Football League's new season.

The very public dispute exposed the tattered relationship between Obama and Boehner, following a showdown over raising the US government's borrowing limit, which drove the United States to the brink of default last month.

It also reflected the political dysfunction and extreme partisanship which prompted Standard and Poor's to downgrade America's top notch debt rating and boded ill for any bipartisan action on the jobs crisis.

Obama's allies in Congress may also fear that his reduced authority will be further compromised by apparently coming off second best in another row with Republicans.

The president, whose approval ratings have been driven down by the stuttering recovery, hopes to use the speech to jolt the recovery back to life and improve his political standing as he launches his 2012 reelection bid.

"It is my intention to lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy," Obama said in a letter to top congressional leaders.

"Washington needs to put aside politics and start making decisions based on what is best for our country, and not what is best for each of our parties, in order to grow the economy and create jobs," Obama said.

Accusations flew all day between aides to the two most powerful men in Washington over a scheduling issue that would normally have been settled in private.

A White House official said on condition of anonymity that the administration had consulted with Boehner's office on the September 7 date before going public and received no objections or concerns.

But Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said no one had signed off on the date before Obama's public request arrived.

"It's unfortunate the White House ignored decades -- if not centuries -- of the protocol of working out a mutually agreeable date and time before making any public announcement," Buck said.

A president cannot call a joint session of Congress himself, as the House of Representatives and the Senate must pass resolutions to invite him.

A senior Democratic aide accused Boehner's office of "childish" behavior.

"It is unprecedented to reject the date that a president wants to address a joint session of the Congress. People die and state funerals are held with less fuss," the aide, who declined to be identified, said.

Obama's initiative may represent his last chance to revive the economy before next year's presidential election goes into overdrive and reflects his emerging 2012 reelection strategy of asking recession-weary voters to hold Republicans to account if they block his latest job creation efforts.

The White House insisted the initial decision to go up against the debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in California -- among Republicans fighting to eject him from the White House -- was "coincidental."

Obama's speech will likely open a new rift with House Republicans who refuse to accept new spending proposals and tax rises and want steep cuts in expenditures in programs dear to Democrats.

The plan is expected to consist of a mix of old and new proposals, including a call for tax rises on the richest Americans, more spending on job-creating infrastructure projects and an extension to a payroll tax cut.
 

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