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With debt debate over, Obama focuses on jobs

Associated Press | 8/3/2011, 1:51 a.m.

President Barack Obama marked the end of the “long and contentious” debt-limit debate Tuesday afternoon, lamenting that the “manufactured crisis” has stunted the economic recovery and promising a return to a jobs-focused agenda.

The president spoke from the Rose Garden moments after the Senate gave final approval to the deal by a vote of 74-26. The House had voted for it by a surprisingly comfortable 269-161 margin on Monday.

Obama signed the measure more than an hour after the Senate vote, ensuring that the nation is able to continue borrowing money to pay its bills.

The president called the deficit-reduction measures paired with the debt-limit increase an “important first step to ensuring that as a nation we continue living within our means.” But he also said he would continue to fight for a “balanced” approach when Congress continues the debate this fall.

“I’ve said it before, I will say it again: We can’t balance the budget on the backs of the very people who have born the biggest brunt of this recession,” he said.

He also said the lengthy debate over raising the debt ceiling —something that has been done on many previous occasions — could have been avoided altogether if partisan politics were put aside.

“Voters may have chosen divided government but they sure didn’t vote for dysfunctional government,” Obama said.

The months-long debate has sapped all parties in Washington of popular support, including Obama. Last week, his approval rating sank to an all-time low in the Gallup daily tracking poll, at 40 percent.

At the same time, any sense of an economy in recovery mode seems to have gone out the window because of the uncertainty sparked by the debt-limit debate.

“While Washington has been absorbed in this debate about deficits, people across the country are asking what can we do to help the father looking for work,” Obama said. “That’s part of the reason that people are so frustrated with what’s been going on in this town. ... Our economy didn’t need Washington to come along with a manufactured crisis to make things worse.”

Democrats, many unhappy with the terms of the final accord, are eager to move on from the debate and focus on jobs after they return from the August recess. Obama signaled that in his remarks, calling for consideration of various measures, including an extension of middle-class tax cuts, the adoption of trade deals and a new infrastructure bank.

“Both parties share power in Washington. And both parties need to take responsibility for improving this economy,” he said.

A fresh indicator of the nation’s economic health is to come Friday with the release of new monthly jobs data.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic Majority Leader, said Tuesday after the vote that the bill was created through deep compromise and “no one got what they wanted. Everyone had to give something up.”

However, he echoed Obama’s point that the agreement is a starting point toward ensuring that America begins to live within its means.

“Today we made sure America can pay its bills. Now it’s time to make sure all Americans can pay theirs,” Reid said.