JACKSONVILLE (CBSMiami/AP) – President Barack Obama brought his re-focused economic message to Florida Thursday, but even the president did not expect his campaign-style speech to help ease the gridlock in Washington.
President Obama has been hoping to gain some momentum ahead of what some Republicans are setting up to be bitter fights over raising the nation’s debt limit and federal spending levels this fall.
In northeast Florida, Obama and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx toured the Jacksonville Port Authority, giving the president a chance to focus on what he says is a critical need to reinvest in American infrastructure to enable future economic growth. The president promoted the need to speed up projects by expediting permitting and cutting red tape in line with an executive order he signed. The port’s terminal plans to expand its rail yard and container facility under a project enabled by that program, the White House said.
The visit also marked Obama’s first to the state since the acquittal of the man charged in the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The case has generated a painful, nationwide debate about racial prejudice. Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Florida planned to greet Obama with a full-page ad in the local newspaper claiming it is Obama, not Republicans, who has taken his eye off the economy.
Although Obama is offering little in the way of new policies or fresh solutions, his advisers couched the speeches as a concerted effort to put a spotlight on the economy after a six-month stretch that’s been dominated by issues like gun control and immigration, as well as foreign policy crises and domestic controversies.
While official Washington’s attention was elsewhere, the economy was slowly but steadily improving. The housing market is recovering, the stock market is booming, and unemployment is falling despite remaining uncomfortably high at 7.6 percent.
Obama’s pleas for a more solutions-oriented Washington were tempered by his own sharply partisan tone as he accused Republicans of putting short-term politics ahead of the people’s business.
“There are Republicans in Congress right now who privately agree with me on a lot of the ideas I’ll be proposing. I know because they’ve said so,” Obama said. “But they worry they’ll face swift political retaliation for cooperating with me.”
Likewise, the quick reactions to Obama’s remarks made evident the deeply engrained obstacles to such cooperation as both parties blamed each other for blocking progress. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California called Obama’s speech “a clarion call to action” on jobs, growth and middle-class prosperity.
“Americans deserve better than the Republicans’ repeal-only agenda,” Pelosi said. “It’s time for Republicans to join Democrats in establishing a better bargain for the middle class.”
Not so, said Republicans, who panned the president’s remarks as a series of repackaged ideas and empty promises.
The broad economic themes Obama illustrated Thursday will be followed up in the coming weeks by another series of speeches drilling down on key sectors such as manufacturing, education, housing, retirement security and health care. Advisers say some of those speeches will contain more specific policy proposals, both for legislation and executive action Obama can take without congressional approval.
The first of those addresses was to come Tuesday, when Obama will travel to Chattanooga, Tenn., to promote American competitiveness at an Amazon fulfillment center, which packs and ships products to online purchasers. The White House said some new policy ideas will be unveiled during that visit.
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