WARRENSBURG, Missouri (AFP) – President Barack Obama made a campaign-style swing through the Midwest in which he challenged a hostile Congress to work with him to restore middle class prosperity.
Obama made a robust defense of his stalled economic initiatives, which have been bottled up in the Republican-led House of Representatives — the branch of Congress responsible for managing the nation’s checkbook.
But the president’s efforts to reframe the debate over the economy comes with Congress reloading for a new round of battles over spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling.
“The key is to break through the tendency in Washington to just bounce from crisis to crisis,” Obama told a rally in Galesburg, Illinois, the first of three cities he planned to visit over two days.
“We need a long-term American strategy based on steady, persistent effort to reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades.”
Obama told the crowd in his adopted home state that generations of middle class prosperity had begun to stall in recent years, leaving the economy hamstrung.
“By the time I took office in 2009 as your president, we all know the bubble had burst. And it cost millions of Americans their jobs and their homes and their savings,” Obama said. “The decades-long erosion that had been taking place, the erosion of middle-class security, was suddenly laid bare for everybody to see. Now, today, five years after the start of that Great Recession, America has fought its way back.”
The president went on to tout his administration’s rescue of the auto industry, its health care reforms and its shoring up of the financial sector, among other achievements.
Obama and Republican lawmakers are bracing for renewed clashes over the budget, which threaten to hurt an economy finally showing signs of stabilizing after tumbling into a deep trough.
Republicans accuse Obama of offering nothing but higher spending and bigger government, and on Wednesday Republican House leader John Boehner mocked the president’s latest initiative.
“It’s a hollow shell, it’s an Easter Egg with no candy in it,” he said.
The president hopes to negotiate a new budget compromise by October — the end of the current fiscal year — in order to head off the threat of a government shutdown.
Obama challenged Republicans to set forth their own ideas for aiding the middle class, saying: “It’s not enough for you to just oppose me. You got to be for something.”
Obama returned to the theme in a later speech at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.
“If Washington would just shake off its complacency, set aside the kind of slash and burn partisanship that we’ve seen over the past few years, I promise you our economy will be stronger,” he said.
On Thursday he heads to Florida, where he will give a speech at the Jacksonville Port Authority.
As the November 2014 midterm elections loom in the distance, a new standoff over the US debt ceiling looks increasingly likely.
“We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending. It’s as simple as that,” Boehner vowed Tuesday.
Since 2011, House Republicans have used the threat of the looming debt limit as a bargaining chip for spending cuts.
Obama has insisted he will not negotiate over the debt limit, deepening the stalemate.
“We’ve seen a sizable group of Republican lawmakers suggest that they wouldn’t vote to pay the very bills that Congress rang up,” Obama said in Illinois. “That fiasco harmed a fragile recovery in 2011, and we can’t afford to repeat that.”
A new poll Wednesday, one of several this week, showed that the stalemate in Washington was exacting a political toll on both sides.
The survey by the Wall Street Journal and NBC gave the president his lowest job approval rating since August 2011.
The continued political standoff has proved equally costly to Congress, with 83 percent of Americans saying that they disapprove of the job lawmakers are doing.
Obama’s 45 percent job performance figure represented a three point fall from just one month ago, and is just one point higher than his all-time presidential low, which he hit in August 2011.