WARRENSBURG, Mo. -- If Washington can get past the fiscal fights looming on the horizon without another manufactured crisis, President Obama said Wednesday, the nation can probably "muddle along" without taking bold action to reshape the economy. But that's not enough, the president said.
"It may seem hard today, but if we are willing to take a few bold steps - if Washington will just shake off its complacency and set aside the kind of slash-and-burn partisanship we've seen these past few years - our economy will be stronger a year from now. And five years from now. And ten years from now," Mr. Obama said at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., in the first of three speeches he's delivering this week to lay out his broad economic vision for the future.
Obama was later joined by Sen. Claire McCaskill (on her 60th birthday) and Gov. Jay Nixon, at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensgburg, Mo. More than 2,000 people attended the speech.
"An endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals can't get in the way of what we need to do. And I'm here to say it's got to stop," he said. "We've got to focus on jobs and the economy and helping middle-class families get ahead. And if we do that, we're going to solve a whole lot of problems."
"What makes us special," the president continued, "has never been our ability to generate incredible wealth for the few, but our ability to give everyone a chance to pursue their own true measure of happiness. We haven't just wanted success for ourselves - we've wanted it for our neighbors, too."
"The president needs to be advocating for things that can happen and then bringing democrats and republicans along to make them happen," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told KOLR10. "Advocating for things that can't happen is not leadership. It's what you can do if you're not an elected leader. You can talk all you want to about things that can't happen. But once you get to be the president of the United States, you need to figure out not only what you'd like to see happen, but of what you'd like to see happen, what can really get done and then do everything you can to get it done."Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-4th District) issued the following statement in response to Obama's visit:
"I am pleased that President Obama visited Missouri's Fourth Congressional District. But I'm disappointed he chose to make a political speech on the economy while the hard-working citizens of our district face great difficulty making ends meet in these tough economic times. I hope the President was reminded by those he met about the severe toll some of his policies are taking and will take on families in Missouri. His war on coal in our coal-dependent state could be particularly harmful to families … and his anti-agriculture EPA is a serious threat to our farm families. The hurt will only be intensified once ObamaCare's new taxes kick in and bring pain to families. I hope he'll take the concerns of our citizens back to Washington and work with the House to create jobs and increase take-home pay."
In his speech, the President called the Missouri Innovation Campus a "recipe for success over the long term."
"Here in Missouri, we are growing our economy by maintaining strict fiscal discipline and making targeted investments in education and workforce training," Gov. Nixon said. "Missouri's Innovation Campus initiative is now a national model for reducing college costs and preparing today's students for the jobs of tomorrow. The strength of our economy and the future of our state are directly tied to ensuring that higher education remains affordable and provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the global marketplace."
With Republicans in Congress deadset in obstructing the White House's agenda at every turn -- whether it's the implementation of Obamacare, higher education budgets or environmental regulations -- Mr. Obama this week is returning to the voters to make the case for the basis of his economic agenda. Manufacturing, education and health care are all worth investing in, he's arguing, to rebuild an economy founded on a strong middle class.
The nation, he said, is "poised to reverse the forces that have battered the middle class for so long, and rebuild an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead."
The president pointed to the statistics that underscore the need for bold action: for instance, the income of the top 1 percent nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, while the typical family's income has barely changed. The average American earns less than he or she did in 1999, while companies continue to hold back on hiring.
Without making fundamental, longterm economic changes, the president said, "an essential part of our character will be lost."
"Our economy will grow, though slower than it should; new businesses will form, and unemployment will keep ticking down," he said. "Just by virtue of our size and our natural resources and the talent of our people, America will remain a world power, and the majority of us will figure out how to get by."
Washington has "taken its eye off the ball," Mr. Obama said, "And I am here to say this needs to stop. Short-term thinking and stale debates are not what this moment requires."
Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, have balked at the president's three-speech tour, claiming they've been focused on job creation since taking over the House but have seen little help from the president.
"What's the point?" House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said on the House floor Wednesday, questioning the rationale behind the president's speech. "What is it going to accomplish?"
The speech, he said, is "a hollow shell. It's an Easter egg with no candy in it... Americans aren't asking the question, 'Where are the speeches?' They're asking, 'Where are the jobs?'"
Boehner said the president should start spurring economic growth by approving the Keystone XL pipeline or delaying the Obamacare mandate for individuals to obtain health insurance. The White House has yet to say whether it will approve the pipeline, but Mr. Obama on Wednesday slammed the "politically-motivated misinformation campaign" against the Affordable Care Act, pointing out that there's evidence premiums will go down in states that are committed to fully implementing the law.
The president said his vision for a stronger economy entails raising the minimum wage; investing in education and job training; investing in industries like wind, solar and natural gas; and letting homeowners refinance their mortgage. After laying out those ideas, Mr. Obama challenged Congress to offer up their own.
"You can't just be against something," he said. "You gotta be for something."