Obama fences, parries at start of Midwestern tour
Associated Press | 8/16/2011, 9:21 p.m.
DECORAH, Iowa — President Barack Obama’s Midwestern tour is offering a mix of offense and defense that signals both his governing approach for the remainder of his term and the evolution of a campaign message for his re-election bid.
Obama is determined to use the reach of his office to build public pressure on Republicans to move his way on economic and fiscal policies, to counterpunch against the GOP presidential field, and to argue for his presidency with independent voters and rekindle enthusiasm among Democrats.
On Tuesday, the second day of a three-day bus tour, he was spending the day promoting rural economic policies, among the series of remedies he is pushing to fire up anemic job growth. But the measures are targeted, such as making it easier for rural businesses to get access to capital, and far more modest than the ambitious $821 billion stimulus package he pushed through Congress in 2009 when unemployment was rising but still below the current 9.1 percent level.
The president began with an early morning workout at a Decorah gym and later chatted with a few locals outside his hotel before getting on the bus to his next event, a White House Rural Economic Forum at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta.
“Welcome to the 50s,” one man told Obama, who hit the half-century mark with his birthday this month. Obama pointed to the man’s gray hair and said: “I’m catching up to you.”
The president’s agenda of the day was proposals to help farm regions, including some ideas that are already under way and do not require additional government spending.
More broadly, his economic message illustrates his current dilemma.
Republicans control the House and believe that addressing the nation’s long-term debt will have a positive effect on the economy; they have no appetite for major spending initiatives aimed at spurring a recovery.
Embracing that demand for fiscal discipline, Obama has called for both spending cuts and increases in revenue, but he found few takers for that formula during the contentious debate this summer over raising the nation’s debt ceiling.
With echoes of Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, Obama encouraged audiences at town hall meetings Monday in Minnesota and Iowa to rise up against congressional inaction.
“If your voices are heard, then sooner or later these guys have to start paying attention,” he said. “And if they don’t start paying attention then they’re not going to be in office and we will have a new Congress in there that will start paying attention to what is going on all across America.”
The proposals include targeting Small Business Administration loans to rural small businesses, expanding job training to Agriculture Department field offices and recruiting more doctors for small rural hospitals.
Though classified by the White House as an official presidential trip, the tour’s first day had the distinct feel of a campaign excursion. The president’s motorcade, at times numbering nearly 30 vehicles, rumbled over 160 miles through small towns and cornfields in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Its most prominent feature was the president’s bus — not the colorful transports of campaigns, but a dark, imposing vehicle recently purchased for $1.1 million by the Secret Service.