With U.S. election months away, Obama throws down gauntlet to Congress

The Globe and Mail

U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) 18th annual gala dinner in Washington May 8, 2012. (YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS)

It’s a to-do list that virtually nobody expects will actually get done.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama outlined five economic proposals meant to stimulate employment and help families refinance their mortgages. There was no illusion, however, that a deadlocked Congress would act on any of them. Rather, the list was meant as an opening salvo in Mr. Obama’s election-year offensive, portraying Republicans as blocking his efforts to address the things that matter most to American voters – their jobs and their homes.

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The President’s pressure on Congress to pass legislation – ranging from eliminating tax incentives for companies that move jobs overseas to creating a Veterans Job Corps to help find work for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – coincided with a more defensive move: A glitzy, $25-million advertising campaign that seeks to debunk Republican attacks on Mr. Obama’s economic track record.

The ad says the country is “coming back” after the recession caused by actions “all before this president took the oath.”

All of this comes as new polls suggest the race for the White House is heating up six months before election day. A poll of voters in a dozen key battleground states found Mr. Obama and his rival, Republican Mitt Romney, running essentially neck-and-neck among registered voters. Mr. Obama has 47-per-cent support and Mr. Romney shows 45-per-cent support, according to the poll by USA Today and Gallup.

In another sign of election-season fever setting in, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney found themselves under fresh scrutiny from their traditional support bases yesterday, for different reasons, as they crisscrossed the country.

Mr. Obama visited Albany, N.Y., where he met with Governor Andrew Cuomo. The two virtually echoed each other in their optimistic assessment of the future of the economy.

“Your leadership has brought this nation through the storm and we thank you,” Mr. Cuomo told his fellow Democrat who thanked him, in turn for exhibiting “extraordinary leadership.”

However, there was a hidden fault line.

Their meeting took place as Mr. Obama faced criticism from some Democrats for failing to speak out against a proposed constitutional amendment in North Carolina that would define marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

Mr. Cuomo, a staunch supporter of gay marriage, has called for it to be recognized in every state.

The amendment in North Carolina, which passed late Tuesday night, effectively slams the door shut on same-sex marriage – something Mr. Obama favoured legalizing when he ran for the State Senate in Illinois. As President, however, he has stopped short of endorsing gay marriage, even as a growing number of Americans – the majority, according to the latest polls – support it.

So do a number of high-profile Democrats, including Vice-President Joe Biden and former president Bill Clinton.

Mr. Obama addressed his detractors, saying that for the past year and a half, his personal views on the matter were “evolving,” but he did not clarify what that meant.

His advertising campaign focused on fending off more traditional criticism, highlighting the jobs created on his watch, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the return of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Meanwhile, Mr. Romney dealt with displeasure from the U.S. auto industry. In Cleveland, he caught flak for having argued that Detroit’s Big Three auto makers should have gone bankrupt rather than receive a bailout. He claimed to have devised the policy that Mr. Obama later followed when he navigated auto companies through a managed bankruptcy shortly after he was elected.

“I pushed the idea of a managed bankruptcy, and finally when that was done, and help was given, the companies got back on their feet,” Mr. Romney said in an interview at a Cleveland-area auto-parts maker.

“So, I’ll take a lot of credit for the fact that this industry has come back,” he said.