HAMPTON, Va. — Heralding a splash of good news on jobs, President Barack Obama on Wednesday praised a series of companies that have promised to hire 25,000 veterans or military spouses within two years, calling it a sign of patriotism and business savvy. He pushed his economic agenda anew to a military audience, this time with first lady Michelle Obama at his side.
"We ask you to fight, to sacrifice, to risk your lives for your country," Obama told an audience of thousands of people atJoint Base Langley-Eustis. "The last thing you should have to do is fight for a job when you come home. Not here. Not in the United States of America."
In this military setting, Obama's pitch for his jobs bill was far less partisan than it has been across his bus tour of North Carolina and Virginia. He didn't target at length the Republican lawmakers who have voted against his plan, promising more broadly to keep pushing Congress to pass a bill that's now been broken into pieces.
The president's day-long swing through Virginia does, however, have deep political undertones. Obama won the traditionally Republican-leaning state in 2008, but his poll numbers here are down, and some of the state's high-profile Democrats are staying away from the president's events.
The final day of Obama's bus tour had a different feel primarily because the Obamas were together as the president campaigned for his ideas and, in turn, for his re-election. The president and Mrs. Obama made a surprise stop at a roadside pumpkin patch, scooping up some orange and white pumpkins, apples and peanuts.
Then they stopped for lunch at Anna's Pizza and Italian Kitchen, having a meal with four veterans from different parts of the nation who had attended the earlier event at the base.
In their comments, Obama and the first lady both sought to assure veterans and their families that the country was behind them and that employers are, too. The American Logistics Association, which includes major companies like Tyson Foods Inc. and Coca-Cola Co., is pledging to hire 25,000 people by the end of 2013.
Michelle Obama called it the largest coordinated effort by the private sector to hire veterans that the nation has seen in years.
Mrs. Obama is leading a national campaign to rally the country around its veterans.
The president said that every company should want to hire veterans because of their leadership experience, mastery of cutting-edge technology and other skills. Obama is asking Congress to approve separate tax credits worth thousands of dollars for businesses that hire veterans who've been out of work for at least six months, including those with disabilities.
As Obama has been traveling, lawmakers back in Washington were taking the first steps to break his nearly $450 billion jobs bill into pieces for possible votes. It's the only way elements of the measure stand a chance of passing, given that Senate Republicans blocked action on the full package last week.
The bus trip has given the president the opportunity to promote elements of his jobs plan in places the White House says would benefit most should the measures pass.
Obama has spoken at high schools and community colleges where the administration says new spending would prevent teacher layoffs, as well as a small, regional area airport near Asheville, N.C., where Obama pressed for government funds to renovate an outdated runway.
Wednesday's stops were following a similar pattern.
Obama has proposed a Returning Heroes tax credit of up to $5,600 for businesses that hire unemployed veterans who have been out of work for six months or more, as well as a Wounded Warriors tax credit of nearly $10,000 for unemployed veterans with service-related disabilities who also have been looking for work for at least six months.
"When I first proposed this idea in a joint session of Congress, people stood up and applauded on both sides of the aisle," Obama said about tax credits to encourage hiring of veterans. "So when it comes for a vote in the Senate, I expect to get votes from both sides of the aisle. Don't just applaud about it. Vote for it."
Obama was on his way to North Chesterfield, Va., where he was to speak at a local fire station. He was returning to Washington later Wednesday.
Republicans have criticized Obama's bus trip as being more focused on selling the president's re-election than solving the country's economic woes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday: ""Let's park the campaign bus, put away the talking points, and do something to address this jobs crisis."
Top Virginia Democrats, including Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, are not expected to appear with the president Wednesday, nor is Tim Kaine, the former governor and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who is running to replace the retiring Webb.
However, Virginia's popular Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell did meet with the president Wednesday morning at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.