President Barack Obama’s latest pivot-to-the-economy speech at Knox College in Illinois struck familiar themes pointing to a popular-if-thwarted middle-class agenda while challenging Republicans not to shut down the government or spark another default crisis.
The president has little to show from the first six months of his second term as far as legislative accomplishments, and his frustration came through again and again in his speech — from his lament about time spent on “phony” scandals to the endless Republican efforts to repeal his health care law.
The policy proposals he has repeatedly espoused are generally popular — such as raising the minimum wage, making college more affordable, boosting retirement security and making it easier to refinance a home — but his proposals have little to no traction in a GOP that views repealing his initiatives as its chief goal and whose base often recoils from his leadership.
“As long as Congress doesn’t manufacture another crisis, as long as we don’t shut down the government just because I’m for keeping it open, as long as we ... don’t risk a U.S. default over paying bills that we’ve already racked up, something that we’ve never done, we can probably muddle along without taking bold action,” the president said.
Obama said the nation had come a long way since he took office — but that there was far more that could be done if Washington would “shake off its complacency” and work on “common-sense” solutions.
He defended his immigration push as a boost to the economy and vowed to keep his focus on implementing his signature health care law against the GOP’s never-ending efforts to repeal it.
He hit up many points he has touched on before, including rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, but he included a few new zingers in his rhetoric.
“We’ve got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare,” Obama quipped.
He said he was willing to talk to anyone to get things done — which drew a tweet from Doug Heye, spokesman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., saying the president never calls the House GOP.
And his challenge to the GOP to offer up their own alternatives to the American people brought a flurry of tweets and press releases from the GOP saying they had done just that, including one from Cantor highlighting a proposal to expand oil drilling, a job training bill and the Keystone XL pipeline.
Obama also seemed resolved to using his executive authority to bypass Congress.
“I will not allow gridlock or inaction or willful indifference to get in our way,” Obama said. “That means whatever executive authority I have to help the middle class, I’ll use it.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.