Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
President Barack Obama launched his three-day bus tour through the Midwest today, looking to escape mounting Republican criticism of his handling of the economy and convey the sense that he is taking leadership over it.With the economy still sluggish and unemployment above 9%, calls for Obama and congressional lawmakers to take up more significant legislation are growing — though neither side appears poised to step up.
During the taxpayer funded trip through three key swing states of Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, Obama will hold town halls for rural and middle class Americans, constituencies he has been struggling to reach. He will also push his new jobs and growth agenda for the fall, which would go a long way — if he had one.
The administration, worried about Obama’s reelection chances, has yet to decide just how aggressively it wants to push significant job creating legislation like more tax incentives for new hires, over more modest proposals that can pass Congress without much of a fight.
This delay plays into Republican criticism that Obama is “leading from behind” on the economy, and that he doesn’t have a plan for turning the economy around.
The trip as a whole is drawing sharp criticism from the Republican National Committee, which has put out a fake press packet for the “Debt-End Bus Tour,” calling it a “totally non-political, taxpayer-funded excursion,” during which “the President will not be offering any specific details or anything resembling a plan to tackle the looming debt crisis facing America.”
A page titled “White House Debt Plan” is followed by “A big ol’ hunk of nothing on two thick slices of nada.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the trip to reporters today, saying it was ridiculous to suggest that “anytime the president leaves Washington, it’s campaigning,” and that Obama was “doing what presidents do, going out into the country.”
His first event had the feeling of a campaign stop — complete with red, white and blue bunting. But the answer to Obama’s problems with the economy does not lie in campaigning in Peosta, Iowa or Cannon Falls, Minnesota — but in the White House and by acting presidential.
It won’t cost Obama much to say, as he did today, that he didn’t call Congress back into session because they would return and bicker, but he has to back it up with policies of his own.
As the most visible member of government — and the target of seemingly endless GOP opposition — this tour needs to be about more than talking points. The American people don’t want to deal with the nitty gritty of the politics of deficits and tax breaks — they want jobs and economic growth.
The sooner Obama can deliver real solutions, the faster he can pull the rug out from under the GOP’s criticism. If come September he does not have a comprehensive list of jobs policies to present and bully Congress into passing, he will just be making it easier for the Republicans looking to unseat him.
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