Obama takes fight to Congress on first stop of bus tour

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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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(c) 2011, Tribune Co.

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