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Obama fences, parries at start of Midwestern tour

Associated Press | 8/16/2011, 9:21 p.m.

The settings of the two outdoor town halls were in picturesque locales, one with Minnesota’s Cannon River as a backdrop and the other in Iowa amid hay bales against a red barn lit by a setting sun.

Obama’s rhetoric had a campaign pulse as well.

He attacked the Republican presidential field, recalling a moment in last week’s GOP presidential debate when all eight of the candidates said they would refuse to support a budget deal with tax increases, even if tax revenues were outweighed 10-to-1 by spending cuts.

“That’s just not common sense,” Obama told the crowd at a town hall-style meeting in Cannon Falls, Minn.

He took a shot at GOP front-runner, Mitt Romney, though not by name, over the health care system he instituted while governor of Massachusetts that is similar to the Obama-backed federal law that Republicans now oppose.

“You’ve got a governor who’s running for president right now who instituted the exact same thing in Massachusetts,” the president said. “It’s like they got amnesia.”

Obama also got an earful from two tea party supporters who challenged him on reports that Vice President Joe Biden had agreed with congressional Democrats who characterized the conservative movement as terrorists.

“He said we were acting like terrorists,” Iowa tea party activist Ryan Rhodes said, confronting the president after the Decorah town hall as Obama worked a rope line of audience members. “What we stand for is limited government and a balanced budget,” Rhodes continued.

Obama countered that Biden was making the point that almost failing to raise the debt ceiling was irresponsible.

“He wasn’t objecting to the balanced budget amendment, he was objecting to us almost defaulting,” Obama said. As Rhodes persisted, and Obama continued to shake hands, the president added, “It doesn’t sound like you are interested in listening.”

In both town halls, Obama cast himself as a compromiser, a trait White House aides say resonates with independent voters and lives up to his 2008 pledge to change the ways of Washington.

“I make no apologies for being reasonable,” Obama declared.

But some Democrats maintain Obama has gone too far, caving in to Republican demands and having little to show for it.

His first questioner in Iowa, a woman who declared herself a strong supporter, wondered whether Obama had compromised on key principles by not fighting for the repeal of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, or for agreeing to make some cuts to Social Security and Medicare during the debt ceiling showdown.

“So I’m just curious, moving forward, what prevents you from taking a harder negotiating stance, being that it seems that the Republicans are taking a really hard stance?” she asked.

Obama said the risk of raising taxes on all Americans forced him to compromise and extend all the Bush-era tax cuts until the end of 2012. He also said the consequences of a government default were too great to risk a failed deal on the debt ceiling.

But he promised to assemble a plan to boost the economy that he will present to Congress in September.

“And if they don’t get it done, then we’ll be running against a Congress that’s not doing anything for the American people,” he said, “and the choice will be very stark and will be very clear.”

Associated Press