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Republicans step up criticism of jobs plan

Sep 13, 2011, 11:12 a.m.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens as President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of the United States Congress on the subject of job creation on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 8, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Thomas Ferraro and Alister Bull

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republicans in Congress on Tuesday intensified their criticism of President Barack Obama's jobs plan as he hit the road to sell the $447 billion proposal as the best hope to boost the struggling U.S. economy.

New government figures underscored the challenges Obama and U.S. lawmakers face in attempting to trigger growth in a U.S. economy still recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The Census Bureau said the number of Americans living below the poverty line rose to a record 46 million last year, with the national poverty rate climbing for a third consecutive year to 15.1 percent in 2010.

Obama's plan to bring down a stubbornly high 9.1 percent jobless rate with a package of tax cuts and spending paid for entirely by tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations came under renewed fire from Republicans in Congress.

"What the president's proposed so far is not serious. And it's not a jobs plan," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor. Obama sent the job legislation to Congress on Monday.

Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, was equally skeptical, saying, "I just don't think that is really going to help our economy the way it should."

Obama hit the road to Columbus, Ohio, in Boehner's political backyard, to sell the plan. It was an opportunity to talk up his proposal in an important battleground state as he looks ahead to what is shaping up to be a difficult battle for re-election in November 2012.

Republicans were careful not to completely declare the plan dead on arrival and the White House offered encouraging noises that Obama would not oppose if parts of the plan were approved while others were being considered.

"Obviously, if they pass parts of it I'm not going to veto those parts," Obama said on Monday in a roundtable interview with Spanish-speaking journalists.

"I will sign it, but I will say then 'give me the rest' and I will keep on making that argument as long as the need is there to put people back to work."

BOTH SIDES LAY DOWN MARKERS ON JOBS BILL

In the early days in the fight over Obama's new jobs proposal, Republican leaders were clearly staking out their initial negotiating stances.

With opinion polls showing Americans deeply unhappy with the climate of dysfunction and bickering in Washington, it is in their political interests to show voters they are listening to their calls for help on the economy.

The U.S. economic outlook is gloomy and any drastic action could make things worse, according to testimony on Tuesday before a congressional 'super committee" that has to come up with recommendations to cut the federal deficit by November 23.

The Congressional Budget Office -- the non-partisan budget and economic analyst for Congress -- said U.S. economic growth would slow from previous estimates and the jobless rate would basically remain stuck at 9.1 percent through next year's presidential and congressional elections.

"The economic outlook remains highly uncertain," CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told an inaugural hearing of the congressional panel charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in new government savings over the next decade.

(Additional reporting by Donna Smith, Andy Sullivan and Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Laura MacInnis in Columbus; writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Jackie Frank)

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