Obama returns focus to economy, vows to aid middle class

The president tries to move past months of debates over guns, surveillance and scandal.



“With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington’s taken its eye off the ball,” Obama told an audience at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.


WARRENSBURG, Mo. — President Barack Obama on Wednesday sought to reorient his administration behind a program to lift a middling economy and help middle-class Americans who are stuck with stagnant incomes and shrinking horizons.

In speeches in two small college towns in the Midwest, Obama lamented that typical Americans had been left behind by globalization, Wall Street irresponsibility and Washington policies, while the richest Americans had accumulated more wealth. He declared it “my highest priority” to reverse those trends, while accusing other politicians of not only ignoring the problem but also making it worse.

Obama spoke of Washington’s “distractions and political posturing” at Knox College, in Galesburg, Ill., the site of his first major economic speech as a young senator eight years ago. “I am here to say this needs to stop,” Obama said. “This needs to stop. This moment does not require short-term thinking. It does not require having the same old stale debates. Our focus has to be on the basic economic issues that matter most to you — the people we represent.”

The hourlong speech in Galesburg, his first speech of the day and one of the longest of his presidency, at times resembled a State of the Union address. The president mainly offered revived elements of his largely stalled economic program, like developing new energy, rebuilding manufacturing, spending more on roads, bridges and ports, expanding preschool to every 4-year-old and raising the minimum wage.

But he and his aides hoped to use the speech both to claim credit for the progress made since the recession of 2008-09 and to position himself as the champion of a disaffected middle class that has yet to recover fully.

He chastised Republicans in Congress for not focusing on economic priorities and obstructing his initiatives.

“Over the last six months, this gridlock has gotten worse,” he said.

And he challenged them to come up with their own plans.

“I’m laying out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot,” he said.

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