Obama seeks second-term jolt with economic speech
GALESBURG, Ill., July 24 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama sought to inject momentum into his economic and domestic policy agenda on Wednesday with a speech designed to clarify his vision for his second term and hammer Republicans in the House of Representatives for getting in his way.
Obama defended his government's record managing the economy through the recession in his first term and said new spending on infrastructure and education were needed now to grow the middle class, which he argued would boost the nation's economy.
"As Washington prepares to enter another budget debate, the stakes for our middle class could not be higher," Obama said in remarks prepared for a crowd of cheering supporters in a gymnasium at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.
Galesburg left a lasting impression on Obama, a former Illinois state senator, early in his political career when the town struggled after it lost its factories.
Obama faces a battle this fall with Republicans in Congress over the budget and raising the debt ceiling.
While the president wants to increase investment in areas he argues would spur economic growth, Republicans want to cut spending and try to force the administration to scale back its signature healthcare program.
"We'll need Republicans in Congress to set aside short-term politics and work with me to find common ground," Obama 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," he said.
Obama plans to expound on his ideas in speeches across the country in the weeks ahead. His address on Wednesday did not include major new policy proposals, but new ideas are expected to be sprinkled in future remarks.
Obama has said he doesn't believe his speech will change minds in Congress, but he hopes to reach their constituents to exert pressure on lawmakers from their home states.
The buildup to Obama's speech has been relentless, as the White House seeks to get past a rough start to his second term, which has been dominated by a series of thorny domestic and foreign issues.
An early push to toughen gun laws failed in Congress, and the Republican-led House of Representatives has said it will not move ahead on sweeping immigration reforms passed by the Senate.
The White House has also been thrown off-message by controversies over phone and internet surveillance, and over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservatives groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Republicans dismissed the speech as being long on rhetoric and short on ideas.
"Americans aren't asking the question 'where are the speeches?' They're asking 'where are the jobs?"' said John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives.