President Barack Obama, facing renewed battles with congressional Republicans over fiscal policy and the debt ceiling, accused his political opponents of diverting attention from the task of boosting the U.S. economy.
“With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball,” Obama said today in an address at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. “I am here to say this needs to stop.”
Following months when the focus has been on the president’s second-term job appointees, his push for a new immigration law, attempts to block his signature health-care law and Republican-led investigations into his administration, Obama is seeking to refocus attention on the economy, and how his policies have added to job growth and stability.
“Our focus must be on the basic economic issues that matter most to you, the people we represent,” Obama said in the text of his speech. “And as Washington prepares to enter another budget debate, the stakes for our middle class could not be higher.”
When lawmakers return from their August recess, they and the president will confront a host of decisions affecting the economy, including determining federal spending levels and the government running up against its $16.7 trillion debt limit.
Congressional Republicans are staking their ground in fiscal negotiations that once again could pose the threat of default or a government shutdown, the recurring theme surrounding efforts to reduce the nation’s deficit since 2011.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has signaled he’s ready for a confrontation with the White House and the Democratic-led Senate over the debt ceiling.
“We’re not going to raise the debt ceiling without real cuts in spending,” Boehner told reporters in Washington yesterday. Obama has said he will refuse to accept anything short of a clean debt-limit increase.
The president accused his critics of being short-sighted. He said the U.S. must continue to invest in education, training, infrastructure and research to maintain a competitive edge in the global economy.
“The countries that are passive in the face of a global economy will lose the competition for good jobs and high living standards,” he said.
Obama spent a portion of his speech criticizing Republicans for tying up the debt ceiling debate and budget cuts that have harmed government programs that can spur growth.
“We’ve seen a sizable group of Republican lawmakers suggest they wouldn’t vote to pay the very bills that Congress rang up, a fiasco that harmed a fragile recovery in 2011, and one we can’t afford to repeat,” he said.
At the same time, he said, they have refused to replace the automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, which he called a “meat cleaver” to the budget.
Republicans said Obama is offering more of the same prescriptions he proposed since he was first elected. Senator John Cornyn released a statement before Obama arrived in Illinois saying the president got most of his economic package passed in his first term.
“We now know what the results have been,” Cornyn said. “Add it all up, and we’ve been experiencing the weakest economic recovery in the longest period of high unemployment since the Great Depression in the 1930s.”
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