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Obama Calls for Long-Term Economic Plan to Help Middle Class Rebound

July 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
On the campus of Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., President Barack Obama renewed his commitment to addressing economic issues and strengthening the middle class during his second term. Jeffrey Brown reports on the president's promises and the critical responses by Republican lawmakers.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: It was billed as a major policy speech, as President Obama called his commitment to combating economic inequality his highest priority and blasted partisan politics in Washington for undermining continued recovery.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington’s taken its eye off the ball. And I’m here to say, this needs to stop.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: This needs to stop.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama kicked off his push to refocus on jump-start the economy at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, the site of his first major speech as a freshman senator in 2005.

BARACK OBAMA: This moment doesn’t require short-term thinking. It doesn’t require having the same old stale debates. Our focus has to be on the basic economic issues that matter most to you, the people we represent.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president said five cornerstones support his plan to rebuild America’s middle class.

BARACK OBAMA: Good job. Good education for your kids. Home of your own. Secure retirement.

Fifth, I’m going to keep focusing on health care, because middle-class families and small-business owners deserve the security of knowing that neither an accident or an illness is going to threaten the dreams that you’ve worked a lifetime to build.

JEFFREY BROWN: The speech came amid some signs of an economic rebound, but continuing concerns. Hiring, while on the upswing, remains sluggish. The latest jobs numbers put the nation’s unemployment rate at 7.6 percent, compared to a high of 10 percent during the depth of the downturn in 2009.

And housing prices and consumer confidence continue to rise. But the president said more work still lies ahead.

BARACK OBAMA: We need a new push to rebuild rundown neighborhoods.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: We need new partnerships — we need new partnerships with some of the hardest-hit towns in America to get them back on their feet.

And because no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I am going to keep making the case that we need to raise the minimum wage, because it’s lower right now than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. It’s time for the minimum wage to go up.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY BROWN: The president also demanded a new political approach to tackling the nation’s problems.

BARACK OBAMA: The key is to break through the tendency in Washington to just bounce from crisis to crisis. What we need is not a three-month plan, or even a three-year plan.

We need a long-term American strategy, based on steady, persistent effort, to reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades. That has to be our project.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY BROWN: Even before the remarks, but after its focus and theme had been reported, Republican leaders were out in force criticizing the president’s campaign-like strategy.

House Speaker John Boehner demanded specifics:

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: There are no new proposals in this speech. The president himself said it isn’t going to change any minds. All right, well, so exactly what will change? What’s the point? What’s it going to accomplish? Probably got the answer, nothing. It’s a hollow shell. It’s an Easter egg with no candy in it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, to be effective, the president must engage Republicans.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: Because every time he goes out and gives one of these speeches, it generates little more than a collective bipartisan eye-roll, a bipartisan eye-roll.

It’s just such a colossal waste of time and energy, resources that would be better spent actually working with both parties in Congress to grow the economy and to create jobs.

JEFFREY BROWN: The back-and-forth comes as America’s frustration grows with Washington, particularly with Congress.

An ABC/Washington Post poll released today found 73 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress’ job. And another by NBC and The Wall Street Journal put the disapproval rating at 83 percent, an all-time high for that survey.

New York Times reporter Jonathan Weisman said opposition to today’s speech is all part of a larger Republican strategy to take on many of the president’s economic priorities.

JONATHAN WEISMAN, The New York Times: They believe that they are answerable to a different electorate than the one that sent President Obama back to power. They don’t believe that they are doing something out of spite. They believe that they are — that they are representing their voters. And to most of these Republicans, they probably are.

JEFFREY BROWN: But President Obama today said he is ready for the political fights and compromises that lie ahead.

BARACK OBAMA: Now, in this effort, I will look to work with Republicans as well as Democrats wherever I can. And I sincerely believe that there are members of both parties who understand this moment, understand what’s at stake, and I will welcome ideas from anybody across the political spectrum.

But I will not allow gridlock or inaction or willful indifference to get in our way.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY BROWN: Still, other major financial deadlines loom large over Capitol Hill.

On the agenda after the August recess: avoiding a government shutdown by Oct. 1 and once again raising the nation’s debt ceiling.