NEW YORK (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday accused Republicans of using their cost-cutting proposals to push a vision of a “shrunken America” as he sought to rally supporters on a re-election fundraising drive in New York.
At a trio of events aimed at rekindling the enthusiasm of his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama touted his economic policies and budget plan and urged Republicans to engage in a “serious debate” on tackling the nation’s debt and deficits.
But even as he tried to reconnect with his party’s base, he acknowledged that many Americans remained frustrated by tough economic conditions and that more needed to be done.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to continue to lower the unemployment rate and grow the economy,” Obama said.
He also weighed in on the battle in Washington over how to rein in the federal deficit, which is projected to hit $1.4 trillion this fiscal year. The issue has risen to the top of the agenda for the 2012 presidential campaign.
Obama has used the first steps in his re-election effort to promote a budget ideology that is at odds with the fiscal views of Republicans who are planning presidential campaigns and accuse him of wasteful spending.
He wants to raise taxes on wealthier Americans to fund social programs while making some budget cuts, a plan he says would bring deficits down by $4 trillion over 12 years.
Republican lawmaker Paul Ryan has called for slightly higher cuts, $4.4 trillion over 10 years, without raising taxes. He would make deep cuts in spending, including overhauls in the government-run Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor that Democrats say would violate the “social compact” with Americans.
“On one side you have folks who believe that we can slash education funding by 25 percent or transportation funding by 30 percent or investment in clean energy by 70 percent, that we can turn the Medicare system into a voucher program,” he told a rally of wealthy donors at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
“It’s a vision of a small America, or a shrunken America,” Obama said, assuring supporters he was offering an image of a “big America” based on keeping up investment in education, science and innovation.
Voters are also in a sour mood as rising gasoline prices hit their pocketbooks and threaten the fragile U.S. recovery, a trend that could harm Obama’s 2012 re-election chances.
Speaking to more than a thousand young supporters at a Manhattan music hall, Obama reiterated his call for Congress to end $4 billion in tax subsidies for oil and gas companies and for the proceeds to be used to promote alternative energy.
“They’re making enough profit,” Obama said.
But Republicans are trying to cast blame on Obama for surging gas prices, seeing it as a political weak point.
Obama, however, has taken a head start on the campaign trail while the Republican field has no clear frontrunner.
Obama’s New York visit came on the day he ordered the release of a longer version of his birth certificate to answer persistent allegations by some conservatives that he was not born in the United States, which would make him ineligible to be president. He blasted his critics as “carnival barkers” and said it was time to put the issue to rest.
Obama is also trying to get a fundraising jump on his Republican opponents. He was expected to collect between $2 million and $3 million in Wednesday’s flurry of fundraisers on the way to raising a record $1 billion for his re-election campaign.
Obama started with a $35,800-dollar-a-plate dinner at the luxurious New York residence of former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. That was followed by a gala at the ritzy Waldorf Astoria Hotel and by a $44-a-head hip-hop concert catering to younger voters at the city’s Town Hall music venue.
The events ran the gamut of Obama’s core supporters.
Obama’s New York visit followed a stop in Chicago to tape an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” a popular program that reaches a large segment of moderate women voters.
Democrats acknowledge that Obama will need to rally a broad cross-section of constituencies that propelled him into the White House in order to win re-election in 2012, and that his biggest challenge may be regaining support among independent voters.
Editing by Paul Simao