President Obama offered an impassioned defense of his jobs plan Tuesday afternoon before an enthusiastic crowd at Eastfield College in Mesquite. Among the hundreds of attendees in an audience notably diverse in age and ethnicity were nearly 100 education majors selected to sit behind the president as he delivered his remarks.
Kimberly Russell, a teacher who had recently been laid off, introduced the president, who strolled onto the stage wearing a white shirt with his sleeves rolled up. As expected, Obama called on the attendees to help convince Congress to pass the American Jobs Act, which proposes extending the payroll tax for employees and employers, closing corporate tax loopholes, and increasing taxes on the wealthy to create teaching and public safety jobs and pay for public improvement projects on bridges and schools.
He also unleashed his toughest words yet for Republicans in Congress, specifically House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who declared on Monday that the American Jobs Act in its comprehensive form is “dead on arrival” in their chamber, though they would be willing to vote for parts of it they agree with.
“I’d like Mr. Cantor to come out here to Dallas and explain what exactly in this jobs bill does he not believe in,” Obama said, amid the sound of booing. “Mr. Cantor should come out to Dallas and look Kim Russell in the eye and tell her why she doesn’t deserve to be back in the classroom.”
Obama made no mention of Gov. Rick Perry, who announced in August he would seek the GOP nomination for the presidency. However, the Perry campaign team didn’t let the visit on its home turf go unchallenged. Upon the president’s scheduled arrival at Dallas’ Love Field Airport, it unveiled a “welcome” video for the president titled “Jobs 101.” It mocks Obama’s 2009 stimulus package before highlighting Perry’s “four core principles” for creating jobs.
The political battle took another twist when the Texas Democratic Party followed the governor’s message with a press release defending the president’s jobs package. The release also linked to a video called “Rick Perry’s Texas Public Education Massacre,” in which the party attempted to blame Perry for the Legislature’s decision to cut public education funding by $4 billion.
“We need this assistance now more than ever,” the Democrats said in a media statement, which also claimed Obama’s jobs act would provide $2.5 billion in funds to support nearly 40,000 education and public safety jobs in Texas.
In an interview with the Tribune before the president’s remarks, Texas Workforce Commission Chairman Tom Pauken expressed skepticism in the president’s plan, which he said would likely fail to produce jobs.
Pauken said the idea of extending payroll tax cuts to employers would take away the principal funding source ($240 billion) for the Society Security Trust Fund and further jeopardize it. He said he believes the key to economic recovery is a “robust private sector.”
“My concern is these are all temporary fixes and short-term solutions," Pauken said. "The first Obama stimulus plan didn’t work, and this one I don’t think is going to work. You need a long-term change in the way we tax business in this country. Fundamental change in order to get the private sector moving."
Pauken accused Obama of “punting” the problem of paying for his jobs plan to the 12-member Congressional Super Committee, led by U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, whose district includes Mesquite.
The former Reagan administration official and Perry appointee said he has not advised the Texas governor’s presidential campaign and remains “equally critical” of Republican and Democratic administrations for their failure to lower corporate taxes and offer businesses incentives for maintaining jobs in the U.S.
The key player in all of this, of course, is the public. And on Tuesday, Obama’s attempt to appeal to this small North Texas community for its help garnered praise as well as skepticism over whether he has enough political capital to get the bill passed in a gridlocked Congress.
“He’s lost a little bit of momentum,” said Arthur Sykes, Eastfield College’s facilities manager, who added that he does not vote along party lines. “But we need both public and private jobs to improve our infrastructure. That’s what’s made us a great nation for so long.”
Eastfield College student William Ballard, also a member of the Texas National Guard, said he appreciates the aspects of the bill that would incentivize businesses to hire veterans, but he was left longing for more answers.
“The president motivated people with his speech, but the question that remains unanswered for me is how we’ll pay for this bill,” Ballard said. “He didn’t convince me.”
A faithful Democrat, Jeffrey Sheldon of Rowlett, said he will heed the president’s call to remain engaged in the debate, but he is concerned about “ideological commitments by certain Republicans, mostly the Tea Party, who want to deny the president a win. I’d like to see a win on behalf of the unemployed.”
The president arrived at Love Field on Tuesday morning to attend fundraisers in Dallas. After speaking in Mesquite, his office confirmed he was headed to St. Louis for more meetings with donors and to continue to draw support for his jobs package.