Using language he used against his Republican opponent in the general election campaign, a fired-up President Obama came to the Department of Energy Thursday to assail critics of his stimulus package as pushing "worn out ideas" that not only lead to "bickering" at a time of economic peril but are the very ideas that helped cause the recession to begin with.
The strong words recalled a campaign event in tone and tenor, and came the same day that Democrats expressed concern that the president had lost control of the messaging about his stimulus package as public support for the jobs bill slipped in several recent polls. A Gallup poll from over the weekend indicated most Americans now think the bill should either be defeated or changed significantly.
The president called for members of Congress "to rise to the occasion" and pass his jobs bill, which in the Senate has grown to more than $900 billion.
"We can’t keep on having the same old arguments over and over that lead us to the same old spot," he said. "We end up bickering at a time when the economy urgently needs action."
"This isn’t some abstract debate," the president said in the lobby of the Department of Energy building, after being introduced by Nobel Prize-winning Energy Secretary Steven Chu. Last week, the president said, many of America’s largest corporations announced layoffs; today came the news that the number of new unemployment claims jumped to 626,000 — the highest level since 1982.
Tomorrow "another dismal jobs report" is expected, the president said.
Debate and scrutiny of the legislation is crucial to a democracy, the president then said, but "the time for action is now. .. We can’t delay and we cant return to the same worn-out ideas that got us here in the first place," he said, echoing some of the same language he and allies used to draw attention to the age of his general election opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, who is 72 years young.
Saying his opponents support "tax cuts alone" as a panacea, not to mention "half measures," the president said "those ideas have been tested and they have failed. They have taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars."
The president did not mention that the bill he is proposing would double that deficit.
"The American people have rendered their judgment," the president said, adding, "let’s put Americans to work doing the work that needs to be done."
For the Energy Department crowd, the president noted that the bill would push energy efficiency, and an electric grid that powers computers "and even BlackBerries," that would reduce consumption from 2-4 percent.
Obama said with a touch of indignance that he "read the other day that critics of this plan ridiculed our notion that we should use part of the money to modernize the entire fleet of federal vehicles to take advantage of state of the art fuel efficiency. This is what they call pork. You know the truth. It will not only save the government significant money over time, it will not only create manufacturing jobs for folks who are making these cars, it will set a standard for private industry to match. And so when you hear these attacks deriding something of such obvious importance as this, you have to ask yourself — are these folks serious? Is it any wonder that we haven’t had a real energy policy in this country?"
To cheers,the president said, "Washington may not be ready to get serious about energy independence but I am, and so are you, and so are the American people."
But the energy-related content of his speech was surprisingly short, considering where he was. Clearly the president was there to push passage of the stimulus bill.
"I’m calling on all the members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, from the House and Senate, to rise to the occasion," he said.
"No plan’s perfect," he acknowledged, saying he’d love to see improvements to this one, "but the scale and scope of this plan are the right one."
– Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller