RACINE, Wisconsin (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama launched a broad attack against Republican lawmakers on Wednesday, calling them out of touch with ordinary Americans for opposing Wall Street reform and siding with Big Oil.
Obama used a campaign-style speech in Wisconsin to defend his record on the economy amid growing fears that it could lapse into a double-dip recession. He stressed that he understands people are suffering from the 9.7 percent U.S. jobless rate and pleaded for patience.
“Unfortunately, the problems we face will not go away overnight. No president or politician has the power to make that happen — though many will try to tell you that as we get closer to Election Day,” he said.
The president, whose Democratic Party faces potentially large losses in November 2 congressional elections, accused Republicans of leading the country into the deep 2008-2009 recession and said they have opposed his policies aimed at fixing the economy.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are battling to send a landmark overhaul of U.S. financial regulation to Obama’s desk in the coming days to be signed into law.
Obama singled out the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, for telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the financial regulation overhaul moving through Congress was so extensive that it “is like killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.”
“He can’t be that out of touch with the struggles of the American families,” Obama said of Boehner. “And if he is, he has to come here to Racine and ask people if they think the financial crisis was an ant.”
Unemployment in Racine was 14.2 percent in May, well above the state-wide rate. At the national level, U.S. unemployment is forecast to edge up to 9.8 percent in June as the economy shed an expected 110,000 jobs, analysts polled by Reuters say.
Obama spoke two days before the release of closely watched monthly jobs data that may show an increase in unemployment.
On the motorcade route to the speech site at this city on the shore of Lake Michigan, Obama saw signs of support and opposition.
“Thank you for seeing us through hard times,” said a sign held up by a woman. Other signs said: “Jobs are needed” and “Don’t tax me, bro.”
Some Republicans key to the Wall Street regulation measure becoming law are holding back support although they are expected to eventually approve the bill, which would set up a new consumer-protection bureau and force banks to reduce risky trades and investments.
Obama is seeking to marshal public anger over Wall Street, which many Americans blame for the 2008 financial crisis, to boost his reform agenda in an election year. In Racine, he also promoted his policies to lift the economy.
“The economy is headed in the right direction. But I know that for a lot of Americans — for Racine and many other communities — it’s not headed there fast enough,” he said.
Stubbornly high jobless levels are denting the president’s popularity and could sap his Democratic Party’s power on Capitol Hill in November mid-term congressional elections.
Republicans told Obama to concentrate on fixing the nation’s problems.
“The president should be focused on solving the problems of the American people — stopping the leaking oil and cleaning up the Gulf, scrapping his job-killing agenda, repealing and replacing ObamaCare — instead of my choice of metaphors,” Boehner said in a statement.
Republicans last week blocked a Democratic plan in the Senate to provide additional aid to jobless workers, businesses and cash-strapped states.
Obama also made political hay of Texas Republican Representative Joe Barton’s apology to BP because the oil giant is setting up a $20 billion escrow account to pay for Gulf economic damage claims. Barton had to rescind the apology after the resulting uproar.
“The top Republican on the energy committee even had the nerve to apologize to BP for the fact that we made them set up this fund. Apologize to BP! He actually called the fund ‘a tragedy’,” Obama said.
Writing by Alister Bull and Steve Holland, editing by Philip Barbara