With election looming, Obama joins partisan finger-pointing

Obama struck a combative tone in a speech in Pittsburgh Wednesday, making sharp jabs at the Republicans and BP in what could be a taste of the run-up to the November elections.

Charles Dharapak/AP
President Barack Obama speaks about the economy, Wednesday, June 2, at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. With midterm elections looming in November, Obama took sharp jabs at Republicans

President Obama adopted a decidedly partisan tone in economic remarks delivered Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

The presentation was billed as an update to the big “House Upon a Rock” economic speech Mr. Obama gave at Georgetown University more than a year ago, in which he laid out a goal of economic rebuilding on a solid foundation of reform, not the shifting sands of economic boom and bust. And indeed, on Wednesday, Obama laid out the case for investment in physical and high-tech infrastructure, clean-energy research, and financial reform.

But with midterm elections looming in November, Obama also took sharp jabs at Republicans, blaming them for saying “no” to proposals such as tax cuts for small business, credits for college tuition, and investments in clean energy.

“Now, some of you may have noticed that we have been building this foundation without much help from our friends in the other party,” Obama said in his speech at Carnegie Mellon University. “From our efforts to rescue the economy to health insurance reform to financial reform, most have sat on the sidelines and shouted from the bleachers.”

Obama blasts BP ... again

Obama also took aim at another foe that could be far more difficult to overcome than the GOP: the giant oil spill befouling the Gulf of Mexico, and the company he holds responsible, BP. Obama said the Gulf disaster demonstrates the need for clean-energy alternatives, and called for “rolling back billions of dollars in tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean-energy research and development.”

And in a look-ahead to Friday, when the May employment figures are released, Obama anticipated what economists expect will be a positive jobs report.

Forecasters are predicting that Labor Department numbers will show creation of more than 500,000 jobs in May, though unemployment is expected to dip only slightly, as the brightening employment picture spurs once-discouraged workers to resume the job search. Still, the healthy job growth number is something Obama and the Democrats can take to the bank, politically, as voter impressions of the economy remain a key element in the fall midterms.

'Economy getting stronger by the day'

“Despite temporary setbacks, uncertain world events, and the resulting ups and downs of the market, this economy is getting stronger by the day,” Obama said.

But mindful of the millions of Americans still out of work, he also sought to reassure the public that he is not letting up in his pursuit of job growth.

“It will not be a real recovery until people can feel it in their own lives,” Obama said. “In the immediate future, this means doing whatever is necessary to keep the recovery going and spur job growth.”

In a signal that the speech was a kickoff to the fall campaign, Obama anticipated the Republicans’ arguments on the economy with a partisan attack of his own.

“As November approaches, leaders in the other party will campaign furiously on the same economic argument they’ve been making for decades,” the president said. “Fortunately, we don’t have to look back too many years to see how it turns out. For much of the last 10 years, we tried it their way. They gave tax cuts that weren’t paid for to millionaires who didn’t need them. They gutted regulations, and put industry insiders in charge of industry oversight. They shortchanged investments in clean energy and education; in research and technology.”

Republicans fire back

Republican leaders did not wait for Obama to finish his remarks before issuing a response.

“It’s clear from his harsh partisan rhetoric today that President Obama has run out of excuses for his broken promises on the economy,” House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio said in a statement. “Instead of creating the jobs and prosperity he promised, President Obama’s ‘new foundation’ consists of more spending, more debt, more job-killing policies, and more permanent bailouts, which is really no foundation at all.”

The Republicans are expected to gain a significant number of seats in both the House and Senate this fall, with an outside shot at taking over one or both houses of Congress. Either way, to get anything accomplished come January, the Democrats will have to work more with the Republicans than they have been since Obama’s inauguration. How the heightened partisan rhetoric affects legislative action going forward remains an open question.


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