- The Washington Times
Sunday, August 14, 2011

President Obama embarks on a taxpayer-funded bus tour of Midwestern swing states Monday, trying to make the case to voters that Republicans are blocking his efforts to create jobs for the middle class.

“Some in Congress would rather see their opponents lose than see America win,” Mr. Obama said in his weekly address. “That’s what’s holding us back.”

The president will hold a town-hall meeting in southern Minnesota on Monday and then travel campaign-style by bus to Iowa, where most of the attention and excitement has been focused on the GOP field of candidates.

The White House rejected the suggestion that Mr. Obama is trying to reclaim some of the campaign spotlight in the wake of Saturday’s Ames Straw Poll, won by Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican.

“We sort of have a rule, which is just because Republican candidates are campaigning in a certain state, that doesn’t prevent us from going there,” said White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. “Otherwise, we would probably travel nowhere.”

Mr. Obama’s stops in the small towns of Decorah and Peosta, in northeastern Iowa, also will take place a day after a visit to the key caucus state by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who entered the Republican presidential primary Saturday.

The White House is billing the trip as an “economic bus tour,” with the largest event a rural economic forum in Peosta on Tuesday. The three-day trip occurs as the president’s job approval rating has fallen to a new low of 40 percent, 10 points lower than the rating he enjoyed only two months ago. He received heavy criticism in recent weeks that he failed to show leadership in the debt-reduction talks with Congress.

“The president is excited about getting out of Washington,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “During the debt-ceiling debate, we were trapped here, it felt like, for many, many weeks.”

White House officials say it is simply part of the president’s job description to meet with average Americans and hear their concerns. But Republicans are blasting the trip as an early campaign swing that should be paid by Mr. Obama’s re-election fund. GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called the tour “an insult to the intelligence of every American” that will not create a single job.

In addition to giving the president on-the-ground exposure in Iowa and Minnesota, both of which Mr. Obama carried in 2008, the trip is likely to receive significant news coverage in nearby Wisconsin, another swing state. The president will conclude the excursion with two town-hall events Wednesday in his home state of Illinois, which is reliably Democratic.

Mr. Obama left no doubt in his weekly address that he will use this trip to blame congressional Republicans for the stagnant economy, the prolonged debt crisis and the nation’s credit downgrade by Standard & Poor’s.

“Over the coming weeks, I’ll put forward more proposals to help our businesses hire and create jobs, and won’t stop until every American who wants a job can find one,” Mr. Obama said. “We can no longer let partisan brinksmanship get in our way — the idea that making it through the next election is more important than making things right.

“So you’ve got a right to be frustrated. I am. Because you deserve better. And I don’t think it’s too much for you to expect that the people you send to this town start delivering.”

Mr. Obama, who has been a creature of Washington for nearly seven years in the Senate and White House, also is attempting to portray himself as the independent outsider in the ongoing battle with Congress.

“Members of Congress are at home in their districts right now,” he said. “And if you agree with me — whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican or not much of a fan of either — let them know. If you’ve had it with gridlock, and you want them to pass stalled bills that will help our economy right now — let them know.”

After wrapping up his listening tour in middle America, the president will depart Thursday with his family for a vacation in the upscale summer playground of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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