WASHINGTON (AP) — In challenging Republicans to get behind his jobs bill Thursday, President Barack Obama argued Republicans have supported his proposals before, demanded that they explain themselves if they oppose him, and challenged others to come up with a plan of their own. The rhetoric in the president's quick-moving press conference dodged some facts and left some evidence in the dust.
OBAMA: "If it turns out that there are Republicans who are opposed to this bill, they need to explain to me, but more importantly to their constituencies and the American people, why they're opposed, and what would they do."
THE FACTS: While Republicans might not be campaigning on their opposition to Obama's plan, they've hardly kept their objections a secret.
In a memorandum to House Republicans Sept. 16, House Speaker John Boehner and members of the GOP leadership said they could find common ground with Obama on the extension of certain business tax breaks, waiving a payment withholding provision for federal contractors, incentives for hiring veterans, and job training measures in connection with unemployment insurance.
They objected to new spending on public works programs, suggesting instead that Congress and the president work out those priorities in a highway spending bill. And they raised concerns about Obama's payroll tax cuts for workers and small businesses, arguing that the benefits of a one-year tax cut would be short-lived. The memo also pointed out that reducing payroll taxes, which pay for Social Security, temporarily forces Social Security to tap the government's general fund. And it opposed additional spending to prevent layoffs of teachers, police officers and other public workers.
OBAMA: "Every idea that we've put forward are ones that traditionally have been supported by Democrats and Republicans alike."
THE FACTS: Obama proposes to pay for his jobs bill by raising taxes, something traditionally opposed by Republicans and, in the form Obama proposed it, even some Democrats. Senate Democrats were so allergic to Obama's approach, which relied largely on limiting deductions that can be taken by individuals making over $200,000 a year and couples making more than $250,000, that they're eliminating it and replacing it with a new tax on millionaires.
In claiming bipartisan support for the components of his proposal, the president appears to be referring just to what the plan would do, not how it's paid for, but that's a crucial distinction he doesn't make.
Some of tax-cutting proposals offered by Obama have received significant Republican support in the past. But some of the new spending he proposes has received only nominal Republican backing. Evidence of bipartisanship provided by the White House includes legislation last year that provided $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs. It won the support of only two Republican senators — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine and among the most moderate Republicans in Congress. Another example cited by the White House was proposal last year to offer tax breaks to businesses that hire new workers — it passed the House 217-201 with six Republican votes.
OBAMA: "The answer we're getting right now is: Well, we're going to roll back all these Obama regulations... Does anybody really think that that is going to create jobs right now and meet the challenges of a global economy?"
THE FACTS: Well, yes, some think it will. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last month submitted a jobs proposal to Obama that included a call to ease regulations on businesses. It specifically called for streamlining environmental reviews on major construction projects and to delay the issuance of some potentially burdensome regulations until the economy and employment have improved. In the letter, Chamber President Thomas Donohue also called on Congress to pass legislation that would require congressional approval of major regulations. The chamber did not indicate how many jobs such regulatory changes could create, but it said: "Immediate regulatory relief is required in order to begin moving $1 trillion-$2 trillion in accumulated private capital off of the sidelines and into business expansion."
OBAMA: "We can either keep taxes exactly as they are for millionaires and billionaires, with loopholes that lead them to have lower tax rates, in some cases, than plumbers and teachers, or we can put teachers and construction workers and veterans back on the job."
THE FACTS: True, "in some cases" wealthy people can exploit loopholes to make their tax rate lower than for people of middle or low income. In recent rhetoric, Obama had suggested it was commonplace for rich people to pay lower rates than others, a claim not supported by IRS statistics. But on Thursday, Obama accurately stated that it only happens sometimes.
In 2009, 1,470 households filed tax returns with incomes above $1 million yet paid no federal income tax, according to the IRS. Yet that was less than 1 percent of returns with incomes above $1 million. On average, taxpayers who made $1 million or more paid 24.4 percent of their income in federal income taxes; those making $100,000 to $125,000 paid 9.9 percent; those making $50,000 to $60,000 paid 6.3 percent. The White House argues that when payroll taxes — paid only on the first $106,800 of wages — are factored in, more middle class workers wind up with a higher tax rate than millionaires.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Calvin Woodward contributed to this report.