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Obama pitches $447 billion in jobs package in South Side union hall

| Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011

Faced with opposition to his jobs bill, President Obama acknowledged in Pittsburgh on Tuesday that lawmakers might have to break it up and pass it piecemeal.

Obama deployed several administration officials and members of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to the city before his speech at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 5 in the South Side, where he pitched the $447 billion jobs bill as a path to employment for construction workers and teachers, cast opposition to the bill as politically motivated and challenged opponents to justify themselves.

"Your senators are voting today on this jobs bill. This is gut-check time," Obama said to about 300 people at the IBEW hall. "Any senator who votes 'no' should have to look you in the eye and tell you exactly what they're opposed to. ... I think they'd have a hard time explaining why they voted 'no' on this bill, other than that I proposed it."

The Senate last night defeated the job package, gathering more than 40 votes against permitting debate on the measure, effectively shelving it.

Obama has adopted a more combative tone in pushing this bill, even as he acknowledges it might have to be broken apart, allowing him to use an unpopular Congress as a political foil, said University of Pittsburgh political science professor emeritus Morton Coleman.

"The polling is powerfully in his favor, both in terms of the tax increase (on the wealthy) and in terms of the programmatic activity," which includes popular projects such as road and school reconstruction, Coleman said. "If they don't pass it, he's got an issue" with which to attack opponents.

The audience at the IBEW hall included mostly union members and Democratic officials, and several entrepreneurs who took part in earlier events. Of the more than 350 seats in the hall, at least 30 remained unfilled during the president's speech. Though lacking the energy of his 2008 campaign appearances, Obama's 25-minute speech included about two dozen applause lines, most of them touting the infrastructure spending that unions say would put their members back to work.

A Gallup poll released Sept. 20 found most people support tax breaks for hiring, extending unemployment benefits and increasing taxes on the wealthy -- all components in Obama's plan. But people remain deeply worried about the economy, with 75 percent telling Gallup pollsters they fear it's getting worse, the highest percentage who have said that since shortly after Obama's inauguration in January 2009.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, suggested splitting up the bill and passing it piecemeal shortly after Obama proposed it to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8. Spokeswoman April Mellody said Casey "remains hopeful that Congress will move quickly to come together on those pieces of legislation, like the payroll tax credit, that can gain consensus."

With unemployment mired above 9 percent, and GOP leaders assaulting him on the jobs issue daily, Obama and members of his advisory council met with Pittsburgh workers and entrepreneurs at several locations throughout the region. The jobs council sent a report to Obama that he read Monday night, suggesting he focus federal resources on entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Entrepreneurs "are the secret sauce that has made America great," said America Online founder Steve Case, a member of the jobs council who joined a panel discussion with about 40 people before Obama's arrival.

Case said high-growth startups created 40 million jobs in the past 30 years.

"That accounts for all -- all -- of the net job creation in our nation," Case said. "So if we want to fix the economy, if we want to get the engine of job creation going again, we've got to really double down in terms of what we can do for entrepreneurs."

Obama arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport shortly after 11 a.m. and was greeted on the ground by Air Force Col. James Finney, commander of the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon; Democratic U.S. Reps. Jason Altmire of McCandless and Mike Doyle of Forest Hills; Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato; and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Onorato and Ravenstahl attended the speech, as did Steelers chairman and Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney, whom Obama identified as "one of my dearest friends."

"I have been with him since the beginning," Rooney said.

Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes will be crucial in next year's presidential race, said Jim Burn of Millvale, chairman of the state Democratic Party.

"The numbers show there is a lot of work to be done in this state to improve (Obama's) numbers," Burn said. "He needs to stick to talking about jobs from now until the finish line."

Seth Bush, 21, one of about 75 protesters who gathered along Hot Metal Street, said he campaigned for Obama in 2008 but is disappointed by his performance on environmental issues.

"He made campaign promises when he was running and if he can't live up to those, how can we support him again?" asked Bush, a University of Pittsburgh senior. "I want to support him, I really do. I almost cried when he was elected, but I don't feel that way anymore."

Staff writers Tom Fontaine and Jason Cato contributed to this report.

Photo Galleries

President Barack Obama Visits IBEW

President Barack Obama Visits IBEW

President Barack Obama talks about his jobs bill at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local No. 5 Training Center

Additional Information:

Security tight during visit

Construction at Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland stopped for about a half-hour for security reasons during President Obama's visit to Pittsburgh, a worker said.

Some workers took an early lunch during the pause, the worker said.

The contractor, PJ Dick, did not return a call seeking comment. Mona Wallace, the director of security for Magee, declined to comment on the hospital's precautions during the visit.

In the South Side, Jed Manning, owner of the Pita Pit, said the closure of his stretch of East Carson for much of the day cut his regular business in half.

'You can't get here,' said Manning, who has owned the eatery for five years.

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