In an economic speech made up largely of familiar themes and recycled phrases, President Obama described the economy as gradually improving but vulnerable and tried to place the blame for the fragile recovery squarely on House Republicans because they have successfully blocked his budget priorities.
Obama readily gave credit to “a growing number” of Senate Republicans for coming to the table on issues such as immigration, which he said would boost the economy by more than a trillion dollars.
But he had harsh words for a faction of House Republicans, who he said are blocking a comprehensive immigration bill and even tried to “gut a farm bill that America’s farmers and most vulnerable children depend on.”
Even though he has emerged weaker after previous budget battles with House Republicans, he vowed to put a stop to Washington brinksmanship this year.
“I will not allow gridlock, inaction, or willful indifference to get in our way,” he told an audience of several hundred gathered at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., the campus where he gave his first major address as a senator.
He also admonished Republicans in Congress for being less concerned about the economy and more about “an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals.”
Republicans immediately took issue with his charges, arguing that many of the current controversies plaguing his administration are of its own making including the IRS targeting of conservative groups and consternation over the intelligence community's sweeping surveillance programs — both scandals the American people care deeply about.
In the days leading up to the speech, Republicans pointed to an unemployment rate that remains stuck at 7.6 even as Wall Street stocks are soaring and consumer confidence is on the rise.
“Speeches don't hire and speeches don't work with Congress to create jobs,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “Fifty-six percent of Americans disapprove of how Obama is handling the economy. Maybe because he's giving the same old speeches, pushing the same old economic ideas without working with Congress.
“It's time the president tried something new,” she said.
Even before the president spoke, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, described the effort as more of the same hollow promises and vague promises to the middle-class Obama made during his first term and on the campaign trail.
“It's a hollow shell. It's an Easter egg with no candy in it,” he said Wednesday.
Although Obama acknowledged fundamental ideological differences between the two parties, the president announced no fresh policy proposals and didn't suggest how he would end the brinksmanship between himself and House GOP leaders, which has marked nearly every budget showdown over the last several years.
Instead, he spent a good portion of his hour-long address lambasting Republican efforts to block his agenda, specifically urging them to stop trying to repeal Obamacare.
“If you think you have a better plan for making sure every American has the security of quality, affordable health care, stop taking meaningless repeal votes and share your concrete ideas with the country,” he said.
Obama's latest attempt to refocus on the economy, his eighth pivot back to the economy during his time in office, was also clearly aimed at trying to get a jump start on shaping the fall budget debate. Several looming spending and budget deadlines this fall are threatening to shut down the government and repeat the fiscal fights that plagued the president's first term.
The president will travel to Warrensburg, Mo., for another speech later Wednesday and will head to Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday. He plans to continue the series of speeches on the economy in the coming weeks and the White House said will focus on familiar themes: manufacturing, education, housing, retirement security and health care.
During his remarks Wednesday, Obama was particularly adamant aobut the need for the country to make education more affordable and promised to outline “an aggressive strategy to shake up the system, tackle rising costs, and improve value for middle-class students and their families.”
He also renewed his call for raising the minimum wage and stressed a theme of equality and the income gap between the working poor and the wealthy.
“This growing inequality isn't just morally wrong. It's bad economics,” he said. “When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther apart, it undermines the very essence of this country.”