WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Wednesday said even God wanted to put Americans back to work, invoking divine blessing for his joust with Republicans over measures designed to slice into high unemployment.
Obama also taunted his foes with historic arguments in favor of repairing vital infrastructure once made by conservative icon Ronald Reagan, as he stumped for a $60 billion infrastructure bill being taken up by the Senate.
The president rebuked the House of Representatives for passing a bill reaffirming the US motto "In God We Trust" rather than getting to work on his stalled $447 billion jobs program.
"That's not putting people back to work. I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work," the president said.
Obama's spokesman Jay Carney denied that Obama had perhaps gone too far by dragging the Almighty into a fierce political spat.
"I believe that the phrase from the Bible is 'the Lord helps those who help themselves,'" Carney said.
"I think the point the president is making is that, you know, we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people."
The White House was later forced to clarify however that the phrase Carney used, though often mistaken for scripture, was not in fact biblical.
Obama ruffled Republican feathers with his remarks as he appeared in front of a commuter bridge between Washington DC and Virginia, which is in need of repairs, to call on Republicans to back a $60 billion jobs and infrastructure bill.
"There's no good reason to oppose this bill, not one. And members of Congress who do, who vote no, are going to have to explain why to their constituencies," Obama said.
"The American people are with me with this," Obama said, intensifying his campaign to blame Republicans for inaction on bills he says could put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work and cut 9.1 percent unemployment.
But Republican and industry sources argued the infrastructure bill being taken up by the Senate could actually hamper movement towards a multi-year transportation bill that is also caught in congressional gridlock.
They said Obama's policies would also result in increased taxes on small businesses that would hamper growth and job creation, reflecting the fierce ideological divides cleaving Washington.
Obama also resorted to one of his favorite rhetorical tricks by quoting Reagan, who was president from 1981 to 1989, and is a hero to modern day conservatives, to decry Republican policies.
Reagan, Obama said, argued that it was "common sense" to repair bridges and highways before they needed to be rebuilt in future years at many times the cost.
"Since when do we have Republicans voting against Ronald Reagan's ideas?"
The infrastructure bill is one portion of his stalled $447 billion jobs bill that Obama is trying to drive through a gridlocked Congress, and would invest in airports, roads, bridges, railroads and highways.
But it is unclear if the bill will garner the 60 Senate votes needed to overcome blocking tactics by Republicans who accuse Obama of trying to double down on failed stimulus spending.
In recent votes, several Democratic senators from conservative states where the president's economic policies are unpopular, have also declined to back portions of the jobs plans.
Meanwhile, a blame game is in full swing between Republicans and Democrats over the failure to pass jobs measures.
Republicans argue that they have ushered 15 bills through the House of Representatives only to see them founder in the Democratic-led Senate as part of Obama's plans to run against a "do nothing" Congress next year.
"A Democratic majority in the Senate (has) teamed up with the White House on a strategy of doing nothing," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
"The president's economic policies have failed to do what he said they would. And now he's designing legislation to fail."
But the White House says Republican ideas would do nothing to tackle unemployment in the short term and say urgent action is required now.
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