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By Christi Parsons and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Republicans are “not necessarily cold-hearted” in their economic policies but spent much of his speech Wednesday to college students lampooning them for opposing his views.

The new House Republican budget plan is a replay of 2012 campaign themes, he said, “like that movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ except it’s not funny.”

If Republican policies were a sandwich, Obama went on, it’d be the “meanwich.” He later compared opponents to raising the federal minimum wage to people who yell at kids, “Get off my lawn!”

“They’re not necessarily cold-hearted,” Obama said, “they just sincerely believe that if we give more tax breaks to a fortunate few and we invest less in the middle class … then somehow the economy will boom, and jobs and prosperity will trickle down to everybody.”

The edgy speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor showed Obama in campaign mode, focused on 2014 congressional elections and on keeping the Senate in Democratic hands. The retirement of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., this year offers Republicans an opportunity to pick up a Democratic seat.

A day after announcing that more than 7.1 million people had signed up for health care during the first enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act, Obama was out to publicize that victory. He gleefully referred to his health care reform plan as “Obamacare,” the term coined by Republican opponents.

But the White House is mindful that many voters are still suspicious of Obamacare, and so the references to it were minimal and framed as part of a bigger Democratic plan for the economy. Rolling out his campaign-focused speech Wednesday, Obama pressed harder on the idea of raising the minimum wage, which is favored by three of four Americans.

Republicans were prepared with their response. They point to analysis by economists who say the president’s plan to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 would kill jobs.

“The president’s plan would increase costs for consumers and eliminate jobs for those who need them most,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. The House will keep working on its own plan to “protect workers’ hours and create jobs, not the president’s plan to destroy them,” he said.

AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

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