CANNON FALLS, Minn. — Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and the other GOP White House aspirants may be running against President Barack Obama, but right now, he appears to be campaigning against Congress.
In the opening stop on his three-day rural bus tour, in a lush, sun-splashed park in southeastern Minnesota on Monday, the president didn't deliver the kind of broad, sweeping outline of new ideas to jumpstart the troubled economy that many of his supporters are looking for.
Instead, he lambasted Congress for failing to act on some of the smaller-scale measures that he's proposed, pointing to Republicans on Capitol Hill as the largest obstacle standing in the way of economic growth and making it clear that the White House isn't about to accept all of the blame for the nation's economic woes.
"What is needed is action by Congress," Obama said, which he urged to "put partisan games aside."
And he pushed back against critics who say he's been out of touch with the struggles of ordinary Americans, riffing off the pejorative Republicans have used to describe his health care plan. "I have no problem with people saying Obama cares. I do care," he said. "If the other side wants to be the folks that don't care, that's fine with me. I do care."
While some have urged the president to recall lawmakers from their August recess to tackle new economic initiatives, Obama said that wouldn't do much good if "Congress comes back and starts arguing again."
He blasted House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, for "walking away" from a purported "grand bargain" that would have tackled long-term entitlement spending and sliced the deficit. "Some folks in Congress would rather see their opponents lose than America win," he said. "We ended up creating more uncertainty and more damage to an economy that was already weak."
Obama said a "political culture" exists in Washington "that doesn't seem willing to make the tough choices to move America forward."
"We can't have patience with that kind of behavior anymore," Obama said. "I know you're frustrated, and I'm frustrated, too."
He urged the 300 or so attendees at the event to call their representatives in Congress, saying he was "enlisting" them in a fight to help push forward his economic initiatives.
The president has proposed retaining a payroll tax cut that benefits middle-income Americans, incentives for companies to hire veterans, and increased spending on infrastructure projects. He urged Congress to pass pending trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Before the event, Sue Kuhlmann, 60, of Rochester, Minn., said she wanted to see a more aggressive president.
"I'm going to tell him to fight. He needs to fight," Kuhlmann said, calling Obama a "good and gentle man."
"He's too nice," she said. "The Republicans fight dirty."
But others were there just to be a part of history. Adam Nord, 31, of Cannon Falls, said he wouldn't be voting for Obama, citing the health care overhaul and what he sees as the expanding role of the federal government. "I don't think we should be forced to pay for health care if we don't need it," Nord said. "The government is going to start telling you you can't eat at McDonald's anymore."
The president continued on to Iowa, where he'll host another town hall in the town of Decorah. Earlier in the day, aboard Air Force One, White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed suggestions that Obama's tour was an extended campaign trip. Some conservatives have charged the president is seeking re-election at taxpayer-funded expense.
"The president is not engaged in a primary election and he is doing what presidents do, which is go out in the country and engage with the American people, have discussions about the economy and other policy issues," Carney said. "To suggest that any time the president leaves Washington (that) it's a political trip would mean that presidents could never leave unless they were physically campaigning on their own behalf, and he's not; he's out here doing his job and meeting with the American people."
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