Reversing the trends, Obama said, was his “highest priority. “
He touted his record, saying five years after the start of the recession, “America has fought its way back.” But, that although businesses are creating jobs and reporting record profits, nearly all the income gains in the past decade have gone to the richest 1 percent of the population.
“Unfortunately, over the past couple of years in particular, Washington hasn’t just ignored the problem; too often, it’s made things worse,” Obama said.
He offered no specifics but said it’s time to think beyond the next budget cycle.
“The key is to break through the tendency in Washington to careen from crisis to crisis,” the president said. “What we need isn’t a three-month plan or even a three-year plan, but a long-term American strategy based on a steady, persistent effort to reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades.”
The speech came months before Obama and congressional leaders are likely to tangle over raising the debt ceiling. Obama offered few olive branches to congressional Republicans, who want to use an increase in the debt limit as a vehicle for more spending cuts.
He warned against a repeat of the 2011 debt ceiling debacle – when Republicans pushed for spending cuts – saying “that fiasco harmed a fragile recovery in 2011 and we can’t afford to repeat that.”
Republicans accused Obama of using the speech to make a pitch for more spending, and Obama made it clear he’ll continue to push for some ideas he championed on the campaign trail last year and during his State of the Union address earlier this year, including preschool for every 4-year old, as well as building new roads and bridges.
“As Washington prepares to enter another budget debate, the stakes for our middle class could not be higher,” he said. “The countries that are passive in the face of a global economy will lose the competition for good jobs and high living standards.”
He lambasted Republicans for the automatic series of federal spending cuts known as the sequester, saying they’ve “insisted on leaving in place a meat cleaver” that he said has cost jobs, hampered growth and gutted investment in education and research.
Obama offered few new specifics but said he’d do so in the next several weeks, including a stop Thursday in Jacksonville, Fla. He said some of the ideas will require congressional approval, others he said he can do on his own.
Obama said he’d work with Republicans “wherever I can,” though his legislative efforts have gotten little traction with House Republicans, in particular.
He pledged to work around them by enlisting outsiders, citing business leaders, philanthropists, college presidents – “anybody who can help.”
“I will not allow gridlock, inaction, or willful indifference to get in our way,” he said to applause.