JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Setting up an impending new fight over the federal budget, President Barack Obama on Thursday accused Republicans of acting like a "deadbeat" by refusing to raise the government's borrowing cap without spending cuts.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Setting up an impending new fight over the federal budget, President Barack Obama on Thursday accused Republicans of acting like a "deadbeat" by refusing to raise the government's borrowing cap without spending cuts.
Obama made his third campaign-like stop of a two-day swing to refocus debate on the economy at the Jacksonville Port Authority, where he accused House Republicans of "constant gridlock or my way or the highway attitude" that won't help solve the country's budget problems. Obama's pivot to the economy comes as the White House seeks to generate momentum ahead of fall deadlines on the budget and the nation's debt ceiling.
"Shutting down the government just because I'm for keeping it open, that's not an economic plan," Obama said. "Threatening that you won't pay the bills in this country when we've already racked up those bills, that's not an economic plan — that's just being a deadbeat."
A 2011 battle between Obama and House Republicans over raising the so-called debt ceiling brought the nation close to default and resulted in a hard-fought budget deal. Obama says he won't be bullied on the debt limit again, but many in Washington believe the need to increase the borrowing cap later this year will prompt some kind of budget bargain.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the president's new economic push was "all sizzle and no steak" and blamed Obama for the lagging economy.
"Under the president's leadership our country has fallen into the 'new normal' of slow growth, high unemployment and stagnant wages," Boehner said.
A new poll by the Pew Research Center shows pessimism about the economy remains widespread. The poll conducted last week showed 82 percent of Americans think the economy is in fair or poor condition and 67 percent are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. today. Forty-four percent think it will be a long time before the nation's economy recovers, while only 28 percent say it's currently recovering. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Even among Democrats, just 38 percent think the economy is currently recovering. But there are signs of slow improvement: The housing market is recovering, the stock market is booming, and unemployment is falling despite remaining uncomfortably high at 7.6 percent.
After a examining the port's giant cranes used to lift shipping containers onto ships, Obama spoke to a few hundred workers from a sweltering warehouse with his shirt sleeves rolled up and sweat rolling down his face. He lamented that the U.S. was lagging behind China and Germany on fixing infrastructure and said that's why he's working to speed up the federal permitting process.
"The businesses of tomorrow are not going to locate near outdated roads and old ports," he said. He said improvements to the port so more supertankers can come in would mean more workers spending more money at restaurants so that the waitress serving them can spend more money on an iPod.
In making his plea for more spending on public works projects, the president is also relying on support from corporate leaders whose businesses either benefit from government financed construction or rely on up-to-date transportation systems to move their products. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been pressing Congress for greater spending on infrastructure and has allied itself with the president's push, but in a statement Wednesday, chamber President Thomas Donohue also put some distance with Obama by saying such a public works initiative must be tied to less regulation, lower taxes and less overall government spending.
"The president correctly underscored the importance of infrastructure, education, and immigration to our economic future," Donohue said. "But in order to grow and create lasting private sector jobs, we must have more economic freedom and while reining in government spending, taxes, and debt."
The visit also marked Obama's first to the state since the acquittal of the man charged in the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The case has generated a painful, nationwide debate about racial prejudice, but Obama didn't mention the case in his public remarks.
The broad economic themes Obama illustrated Thursday will be followed up in the coming weeks by another series of speeches drilling down on key sectors such as manufacturing, education, housing, retirement security and health care. Advisers say some of those speeches will contain more specific policy proposals, both for legislation and executive action Obama can take without congressional approval.
The first of those addresses was to come Tuesday, when Obama will travel to Chattanooga, Tenn., to promote American competitiveness at an Amazon fulfillment center, which packs and ships products to online purchasers. The White House said some new policy ideas will be unveiled during that visit.
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