With his approval rating tanking, President Obama took to the road on Monday to harangue his Republican adversaries in Washington for lacking common sense and picked away at the GOP contenders vying to knock him out of office for being shortsighted in their vision for America.
Kicking off a three-day bus tour through the Midwest with town hall meetings in Cannon Falls, Minn. and Decorah, Iowa, a visit to America’s Heartland that the White House insists is not a campaign trip, Obama noted that his campaign season hasn't yet started. But he spent much of the town halls hammering at Republican lawmakers and taking swipes at the GOP’s presidential field. He also laid out a bit of his strategy for taking on a Republican congressional leadership that will be resistant to give him any legislative victories in the 16 months before the 2012 election.
"I'll be putting forward when they come back in September a very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs and control our deficit," Obama said during his stop in Decorah. "My attitude is get it done. If they don't get it done, we'll be running against a Congress that isn't doing anything for the American people. The choice will be very stark and it will be very clear."
Obama took a moment in his question-and-answer session at Cannon Falls to remind voters that at last week's Republican presidential debate not one of the candidates said they would consider raising taxes to reduce the deficit, even if $10 of cuts were made for every dollar in revenue.
“Think about that,” Obama told the friendly audience. “That’s just not common sense.”
The three-day tour through rural towns in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois was billed as a chance for Obama to hear Americans' ideas for revitalizing the economy and getting a chance to listen to everyday people’s frustrations with Washington. But Obama—whose approval rating slumped to 39 percent in the latest Gallup Poll—spent much of his first stop lashing out against Republicans. The president noted that Americans' dissatisfaction is a reflection of a volatile market unnerved by Washington's inability to come up with a long-term solution to the nation's yawning deficit. Obama again repeated his critique of Washington, noting that Americans have become frustrated with a dysfunctional political culture and charged that the GOP is more concerned about winning the next election than solving problems..
His visit to the Midwest follows last weekend’s Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, in which GOP presidential contender and tea party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., emerged as the winner, and on the heels of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s announcement that he would seek the GOP presidential nomination.
Without mentioning him by name, Obama seemed to take a swipe at Perry, who in announcing his candidacy vowed to make Washington “as inconsequential in your life as I can.”
“Don’t buy into this whole notion that government doesn’t do any good,” Obama said.
He also took a shot at the GOP’s presumptive front-runner, Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts revamped the state’s health-care law. Both the Massachusetts and federal law backed by Obama require that nearly everyone have health insurance or face financial penalties.
“This used to be a Republican idea—the individual mandate,” Obama noted. “It’s like they all of a sudden got amnesia.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the GOP will be launching a counteroffensive to the bus tour that will include Internet and radio ads, text messages, calls to independent voters, and press conferences.
“We’re not going to stand idly by while this president perpetuates this fraud of a bus tour while using taxpayer dollars to spin his failure to put Americans back to work,’’ Priebus said. “He’d rather be out campaigning than in Washington leading our country out of the ditch he put our country in.’’
Priebus added, “Make no mistake. This is Obama’s economy, and the only way to turn it around is to make him a one-term president.’’
The bus tour will take Obama through mostly friendly territory, rural areas where unemployment hovers well below the national average of 9.1 percent. He won all three states handily in 2008, but Minnesota and Iowa could prove to be tough fights in 2012.
The bus tour had a bit of the feel of the summer of 2007, when Obama criss-crossed Iowa introducing himself to voters. Between the town hall meetings on Monday, the president downed a turkey sandwich with post 9/11 veterans at a diner in Cannon Falls and made a quick stop for pie at a coffee shop in Zumbrota, Minn. He also stopped in Chatfield, Minn., to talk to kids who gathered in front of their school to watch the president's motorcade drive by.
Obama tried to calm anxious voters, and he called for Congress to take a series of legislative actions—renewing the 2 percentage reduction in payroll tax for workers, extending unemployment benefits, ratifying free trade deals, and retooling patent laws—that he says could instantly bolster the economy.
“There is no shortage of ideas to put people to work right now,” Obama said. “What is needed is action on the part of Congress.”
In Cannon Falls, Obama’s final question came from a little girl who simply wanted to know why the president chose her town for the visit. While the president insists he’s not yet in campaign mode, he didn’t miss the opportunity to do a little pandering.
“I had heard that Cannon Falls has some of the smartest, best-looking kids around,” Obama said. “You have confirmed the rumor about the outstanding children of Cannon Falls.”
Beth Reinhard contributed contributed to this article.