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Obama touts jobs bill; firms pledge to hire 25,000 vets and their spouses

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:57 PM EDT, Wed October 19, 2011
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama speak to soldiers in Hampton, Virginia, on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama speak to soldiers in Hampton, Virginia, on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Obama and his vice president push for jobs legislation
  • First lady announces companies' pledge to hire 25,000 veterans and their spouses
  • Obama blasts Republicans' opposition to his $447 billion jobs bill
  • GOP leaders accuse president of dividing the country for short-term political gain

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama got help from his wife and his vice president Wednesday in continuing a public pressure campaign on Republicans to join Democrats in passing his $447 billion jobs plan.

First lady Michelle Obama announced that 270 private companies have pledged to hire 25,000 veterans and their spouses by the end of 2013.

The companies are part of a trade group called the American Logistics Association. Their commitment, she said, would fulfill 25% of the president's call for private-sector companies to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses in the next two years.

The first lady's announcement preceded a speech by Obama at a joint military base in Virginia on the third and last day of his bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia aimed at pressuring Congress to pass his jobs package.

Obama discussed the importance of hiring American veterans during a stop at the Joint Base Langley-Eustis, calling the initiative a top priority.

"There are far too many veterans who are coming home and having to struggle to find a good job," Obama said. "It doesn't make any sense."

The president said, "We ask our men and women in uniform to leave their families.

"The last thing you should have to do is fight for a job when you come home," he said.

He also called on Congress to pass his jobs bill, saying the need to focus on jobs was "an American responsibility."

Later in the day, Obama used a speech to firefighters in North Chesterfield, Virginia, to urge Republicans to stop opposing his jobs plan.

Republican counter-proposals to cut regulations and roll back health care and Wall Street reforms failed to address the need to reduce unemployment, Obama argued.

"Dirtier air, dirtier water, fewer people on health care, no accountability on Wall Street -- that is not a jobs plan," Obama said. "I'm happy to have a debate, but in the meantime, let's focus on putting people back to work."

In particular, Obama called for Congress to pass one component of his plan that would provide funding for state and local governments to hire police officers, firefighters and teachers. The measure would be paid for by increasing the tax rate on millionaires by 0.5%.

"My taxes will go up a little bit, but I can afford it," Obama said.

Vice President Joe Biden also pushed for the measure, telling a Senate Democratic rally in support of the jobs plan that the specific provision meant someone earning $1.1 million a year would pay an extra $500 in taxes.

"And you know the really sad thing about it is? The millionaires know we should do this. They don't oppose this," Biden said. "They know it is the equitable thing to do."

Republicans have blocked debate on the Obama jobs plan in the Senate. They argue that any tax increase would harm economic growth and job creation, while Obama and Democrats contend that the president's package ensures immediate job growth.

Asked by CNN why Obama kept pushing a tax hike that Republicans continually reject, Biden said the debate exposed GOP reluctance to work with the White House and Democrats on an agreement.

"There's not a single thing they are for," Biden said. "How can they argue against a half-percent surtax on people whose average income is a million bucks?"

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky accused Obama of using his bus trip for political campaigning instead of working with Republicans on jobs legislation that can pass with support from both parties.

"Everyone knows the last thing you want to do in a jobs crisis is raise taxes," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "But for some reason, he's determined to keep trying anyway, and Republicans aren't about to go along with it."

Calling Obama "completely out of touch," McConnell said the White House and Congress should "forget about the tax hikes, let's drop the talking points about millionaires and billionaires, and let's work together on bipartisan jobs legislation that's designed to pass, not designed to fail."

Obama, however, continued to push for a public campaign to pressure Republicans to pass his plan.

"We'll see if they fight just as hard for your job as they do for their own job," he told the Virginia firefighters.

Democrats are promising to force votes on individual components of the Obama plan, starting with $35 billion for states and localities to hire more teachers and first responders while preventing current ones from being laid off.

That part of the plan could come up for a vote before the end of this week.

Republicans have accused the president of engaging in "class warfare," while Democrats say wealthier Americans need to share in the cost of fiscal responsibility.

Among other things, Obama's overall blueprint includes an extension and expansion of the current payroll tax cut, an extension of jobless benefits, new tax credits for businesses that hire the long-term unemployed and additional money to help save and create jobs for teachers and first responders such as firefighters.

CNN's Ted Barrett and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

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