Obama turns to economy in fresh bid for support
US president challenges Republicans to come up with their own plans for recovery and targets rich Americans who have benefited from crisis
President Barack Obama has tried to move past months of debate over guns, surveillance and scandal and reorient his administration behind a programme to lift a middling economy and help middle-class Americans who are stuck with stagnant incomes and shrinking horizons.
In speeches in two small college towns in the Midwest, Obama lamented that typical Americans had been left behind by globalisation, Wall Street irresponsibility and Washington policies, while the richest Americans had accumulated more wealth.
He declared it "my highest priority" to reverse those trends, while accusing other politicians of not only ignoring the problem but also making it worse.
"With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington's taken its eye off the ball," Obama told an audience at Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois, the site of his first major economic speech as a young senator eight years ago.
"And I am here to say this needs to stop. This needs to stop. This moment does not require short-term thinking. It does not require having the same old stale debates. Our focus has to be on the basic economic issues that matter most to you - the people we represent."
The hour-long speech - his first of the day and one of the longest of his presidency - at times resembled a State of the Union address. The president mainly offered revived elements of his largely stalled economic programme, like developing new energy, rebuilding manufacturing and spending more on roads, bridges and ports.
He chastised Republicans in Congress for not focusing on economic priorities and obstructing his initiatives. "Over the last six months, this gridlock has gotten worse," he said.
And he challenged them to come up with their own plans. "I'm laying out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot," he said, addressing himself to Republican leaders. "So now it's time for you to lay out your ideas."
In Warrensburg, Obama repeated his economic themes in a packed gymnasium at the University of Central Missouri. To bursts of applause, he called Americans "gritty and resilient" and added that in the past five years "we've been able to clear away the rubble of the financial crisis".
He focused on the need for investments in education to help generate more growth in jobs. "If we don't invest in American education, we are going to put our kids, our companies, our workers at a competitive disadvantage," Obama said.
Republican leaders were not impressed by Obama's renewed push on the economy. Speaker John Boehner said beforehand that a speech would not make a difference.
"What's it going to accomplish?" Boehner asked on the House floor. "You've probably got the answer: nothing. It's a hollow shell. It's an Easter egg with no candy in it."