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Obama takes aim at Congress, and GOP, on economy

In Michigan, the president says he will outline new initiatives soon. His speech also carries a revamped campaign message: Some Republicans in Congress are blocking efforts to boost the economy.

August 11, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli, Washington Bureau
  • Barack Obama speaks at Johnson Controls Inc. advanced battery facility in Michigan -- the Holland-based energy company has received a $3 million federal grant and expects to create jobs in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Barack Obama speaks at Johnson Controls Inc. advanced battery facility…

Reporting from Washington — President Obama, looking to rebound from one of the toughest stretches of his term, took on a sharper tone with Congress on Thursday, asserting that some Republicans have put their political interests ahead of Americans struggling in the turbulent economy.

Speaking from a battery plant in Holland, Mich. — part of an effort to highlight what the White House sees as a clear success story — Obama responded to critics who have pressed him for a more aggressive approach to the nation's economic woes.

Obama rejected suggestions that he should call Congress back into session, saying the public won't be impressed by more partisan stalemates.

"The last thing we need is Congress spending more time arguing in D.C.," he said. Public approval of Congress has plunged to an all-time low of 14%, according to a recent CNN poll, and Obama said it would be better for lawmakers to hear from their constituents.

"And if they're listening hard enough, maybe they'll come back to Washington ready to compromise and ready to create jobs and ready to reduce our deficit, ready to do what you sent them there to do," he said.

Obama said he would outline new initiatives to boost the economy in the coming weeks. He also reviewed a series of proposals he's already offered, including a payroll tax cut extension, trade pacts and an infrastructure bank. Obama called the proposals things "we can do right now that will put more money in your pockets, will help businesses sell more products around the world, will put people to work in Michigan and across the country."

"The only thing preventing these bills from being passed is the refusal of some folks in Congress to put country ahead of party," he said.

Some in Congress, Obama continued, "would rather see their opponents lose than see America win, and that has to stop."

Obama traveled to Michigan to also highlight new vehicle fuel efficiency standards the White House unveiled nearly two weeks earlier, an announcement that was overlooked as the debt-ceiling debate neared its climax.

But his speech, in a potential swing state in the 2012 campaign, had the makings of a revamped campaign message: Some Republicans in Congress are blocking efforts to boost the economy.

The White House has been eager to pivot from the months-long debate over the nation's debt and deficits to a focus on jobs and the economy. But the downgrade of the nation's credit rating last week by Standard & Poor's, and the wild fluctuations on Wall Street that followed, put the administration on the defensive, with critics saying the president needed to do more to address the economic uncertainty most Americans still feel.

As his reelection campaign ramps up — he was to fly from Michigan to New York for a pair of fundraisers — the president's poll numbers also have slumped, with the CNN poll giving him a job approval rating of 45%. Republicans hoping to unseat him, most of them gathered in Iowa for a debate Thursday and straw poll contest this weekend, have pounced.

"We're being led by a fine fellah, but he's out of his depth. He just doesn't understand how the economy works," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said as he toured the Iowa State Fair on Thursday.

Obama is set to continue a more aggressive push for his agenda next week as he launches a three-day bus tour of the Midwest. Just after, he will begin a nine-day vacation in Martha's Vineyard.

James Oliphant in Des Moines contributed to this report.

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