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President Obama in Galesburg economic speech vows to boost middle class — with or without Congress
US President Barack Obama speaks at Knox College July 24, 2013 in Galesburg, Illinois. Obama is traveling to Illinois and Missouri to speak about the economy. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKIBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
GALESBURG, Ill. – President Obama today returned to the site where he gave his first major economic address in 2005, declaring that “America has fought its way back” under his policies since the country’s economic collapse as he put forth a bold vision to strengthen the middle class.
Obama vowed to boost chances for average Americans even if it meant using his executive powers when needed if he is faced with gridlock in Congress.
“Today, five years after the start of that great recession – America has fought its way back,” Obama told a packed auditorium at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “I’m here to tell you today that we’re not there yet. We all know that. We’re not there yet, we’ve got more work to do,” Obama said.
He noted that when he spoke at this same location as the state’s junior U.S. Senator, the economy was thriving, the real estate bubble hadn’t yet burst.
Obama then took the conversation back to the disparity between the 1 percent and the rest of Americans. He cited CEO’s skyrocketing salaries since 2009 and the salaries of average Americans. “The typical families’ incomes barely budged,” in that same time, he said.
“Reversing these trends have to be Washington’s highest priority,” Obama said. “If we don’t have a growing, thriving Middle Class, then we won’t have the resources to solve a lot of these problems.”
The White House had marketed today’s remarks as the first in a series of major economic speeches by the President, who was to move to Missouri from this central Illinois community and then to Jacksonville, Fla. on Thursday.
In his remarks, Obama looked to frame the debate in advance of critical budget deadlines coming this fall, where he could face a showdown with Congress.
“I will look to work with Republicans as well as Democrats wherever I can… I will not allow gridlock or inaction or willful indifference to get in our way,” Obama said to thunderous applause.
“That means whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it.”
While Obama has enjoyed some success working with the U.S. Senate, most recently on immigration reform, his obstacles in the Republican-controlled House remain.
Even before his speech began, Republicans on both the national and local levels were already criticizing the president’s “empty rhetoric.”
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) poked at Obama’s vision, saying he offered nothing more than a series of speeches.
“Americans aren’t asking ‘where are the speeches?’ – they’re asking ‘where are the jobs?’” U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on the House floor. “It’s a hollow shell, it’s an Easter Egg with no candy in it.”
Boehner pushed for the president to approve the Keystone pipeline that he said has bipartisan support in the House.
“He also ought to work with us in the bipartisan majority to delay the health care bill, to give the American people and their families and individuals the same break that he wants to give big businesses,” he said. “And he ought to stop threatening to shut down the government unless we raise taxes.”
Boehner also took issue with Obama’s refrain that only he had laid out an economic vision, citing the GOP’s plan for economic growth, including expanding education, controlling spending and simplifying the tax code.
Part of revitalizing average Americans was to tackle soaring college tuition costs, he said.
“I’m also going to use the power of my office over the next few months to highlight a topic that’s straining the budgets of just about every American family and that’s the soaring cost of higher education,” he said.
He blasted the notion that the economy has failed to bounce back more quickly due to his overhaul of the health care system.
“They’ll bring up Obamacare, despite the fact that our businesses have created nearly twice as many jobs in this recovery as they had at the same point in the last recovery, when there was no Obamacare,” he said.
At that point, someone in the crowd shouted out that he now has health insurance.
“I appreciate that!” Obama retorted.
The president noted the battle he has up ahead getting initiatives in Congress.
“I say to these members of Congress: I am laying out my ideas to give the middle class a better shot. So now it’s time for you to lay out your ideas,” Obama said. You can’t just be against something. You gotta be for something. It’s not enough for you to just oppose me you gotta be for something. If you’re willing to work with me to strengthen American manufacturing and rebuild this country’s infrastructure, let’s go.”
Obama spoke directly to Congress members at times, including responding to the repeated criticism he’s faced over using his political capital to pass the Affordable Care Act.
“Stop taking meaningless repeal votes and share your ideas,” Obama said.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Jack Dorgan thrashed the president’s remarks, saying they lacked concrete ideas.
“While we welcome a discussion on the economy, President Obama has pivoted back to the economic discussion countless times, with little to no results to show from it. Job creation is the primary solution to our state and country’s woes,” Dorgan said in a statement. “Republican candidates with pro-growth policy agendas will move our state toward fiscal solvency and a brighter future for Illinois families.”