President Barack Obama accused Republicans of blocking America's economic recovery during a sweeping speech he delivered in Galesburg, Ill., Wednesday. He charged Republicans in control of the House of Representatives in particular of both ignoring economic problems and in some cases, making things worse.
"With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball," he said. "And I am here to say this needs to stop. Short-term thinking and stale debates are not what this moment requires. Our focus must be on the basic economic issues that the matter most to you, the people we represent."
Obama said he welcomes ideas from anyone, but insists he will "not allow gridlock, inaction or willful indifference to get in our way."
He specifically cited the House's continued efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, his signature health care law passed in 2010 and set for nearly full implementation by 2014, as an example.
No Republican voted for the sweeping reform and many GOP-controlled states are resisting implementation of the law. Most recently, Republicans felt empowered when the White House delayed enforcement of a regulation within the law requiring businesses to offer health insurance to their workers for a year.
"Now, I know there are folks out there who are actively working to make this law fail, but despite a politically-motivated misinformation campaign, the states that have committed themselves to making this law work are finding that competition and choice are actually pushing costs down," Obama said. "Just last week, New York announced that premiums for consumers who buy their insurance in these online marketplaces will be at least 50 percent less than what they pay today."
Obama didn't stick to just pressuring Republicans, though – he said Democrats would need to "be willing to redesign or get rid of programs that no longer work and embrace changes to cherished priorities so that they work better in this new age."
But he lay most of his frustrations with the gridlocked Congress at the feet of the GOP.
"There are Republicans in Congress right now who privately agree with me on many of the ideas I'll be proposing, but worry they'll face swift political retaliation for saying so," he said. "Others will dismiss every idea I put forward either because they're playing to their most strident supporters or because they have a fundamentally different vision for America."
Obama's anti-Congress tactic holds political potential – though several recent polls show his own popularity falling, Congress' approval rating is even lower. And both Republicans and Democrats are gearing up for a fight regarding government spending as the September deadline for raising the debt ceiling approaches. Some conservatives have even said they will only vote to increase the ceiling if funding for the health care law is cut off, an idea Obama says he's not entertaining.
"As long as Congress doesn't manufacture another crisis – as long as we don't shut down the government just as the economy is getting traction or risk a U.S. default over paying bills we've already racked up – we can probably muddle along without taking bold action," he said.
Rather, he said, the country should embrace a long term vision to improve fiscal and political health.
"I have now run my last campaign; I do not intend to wait until the next one before tackling the issues that matter," he 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."
In the past, Democrats have criticized Obama for not using his bully pulpit as president effectively to sell the public on their policies and Republicans have mocked him for being a weak leader. But Obama said Wednesday the speech was just the beginning of many he will make to press his case.