WARRENSBURG, Mo. -- President Barack Obama vowed Wednesday to use “every minute, every second” of the rest of his second term to boost the middle class, even as he took Republicans to task, arguing that an “endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals” has taken Washington’s eye off the economy.
In a pair of back-to-back speeches in Warrensburg and in Illinois that the White House hopes will turn the page to the economy, Obama sought to lay out his vision for restoring the middle class to prosperity, saying Washington needs to reverse trends that have been decades in the making.
“If we don’t make the investments, we will be waving the white flag,” Obama told an audience of 1,700 crammed into a stuffy gymnasium on the campus of the University of Central Missouri. “If we just stand by and do nothing, we’re saying it’s OK for middle-class folks to keep taking it on the chin.”
Obama said the economy has begun to recover under his watch, and he called for working with lawmakers, even as he warned against political bickering, saying Republican opposition has hurt the fragile recovery.
“It may seem hard today, but if we are willing to take a few bold steps – if Washington will just shake off its complacency and set aside the kind of slash-and-burn partisanship we’ve seen these past few years – our economy will be stronger a year from now,” Obama said.
Compromise seemed unlikely. Republicans assailed the speech as a waste of time and effort before the president delivered his remarks, with House Speaker John Boehner questioning its purpose.
“Americans aren’t asking the question, ‘Where are the speeches?’” Boehner said. “They’re asking ‘Where are the jobs?’”
The speeches come as the White House hopes to push the reset button on Obama’s second term, which six months in has been marked by a series of domestic and foreign policy crises.
His job approval ratings have fallen amid a tepid recovery, rising gasoline prices and revelations about domestic spying and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservatives. En route to Illinois, the first question to Press Secretary Jay Carney was the status of National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Obama’s agenda has also had a rough time: Its push for tougher gun laws failed in the Senate and an effort to overhaul the immigration system is languishing in the House.
“Hello Warrensburg!” shouted the president, coatless and with his shirtsleeves rolled up, when he arrived in Missouri late in the day. Few protesters were visible around the campus, about 60 miles east of Kansas City. Signs and posters along the streets welcomed Obama, as did spectators who lined the motorcade route into the city.
Homer Fullove of Excelsior Springs, Mo., said he traveled more than an hour to hear the president speak, in part because of his historic importance.
“He was a breakthrough for minorities,” Fullove said.
Obama said he would not repeat all of what he said earlier in Galesburg, Ill., but then restated his concerns about the decline of the middle class, which he blamed on technology and too many benefits for upper income earners.
He argued for a long-term look at the economy, arguing that growing inequality is making it tougher for the middle class. He noted some threats began before the fiscal crisis, with technology rendering some jobs obsolete and competition sending many overseas. And in Washington, he said, lawmakers “doled out bigger tax cuts to the rich and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor.”