JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Reuters) - With a busy commercial port in Florida as his backdrop, President Barack Obama warned Republican lawmakers on Thursday that threatening a government shutdown or debt default jeopardizes the fragile U.S. economic recovery.
The Democratic president pushed for new spending on infrastructure and education to create more jobs in the third of a series of speeches gearing up for the next fiscal fight with Republicans in the House of Representatives.
“We’ve got some of the House Republicans who put forward a budget that does just the opposite. They’re pushing bills that would cut education, cut science, cut research,” he said.
Obama toured the port in Jacksonville, Florida, which has been upgraded to handle new supertankers, explaining his administration fast-tracked the permit for the project.
But he blamed Republicans for budget cuts that delayed rapid transit projects in the city.
While Obama said some Republicans in the U.S. Senate are willing to find common ground on issues, he chided some House Republicans for suggesting they are willing to vote against lifting the debt ceiling, a vote Congress will face this fall.
“Threatening that you won’t pay the bills in this country when you’ve already racked up those bills - that’s not an economic plan. That’s just being a deadbeat,” Obama said.
Obama won a second term last year on a vow to focus on restoring economic stability to a middle class that is still wobbly after the deep recession of 2007-2009.
But he has been sidetracked by efforts to pass gun control and immigration legislation. Controversies have kept the administration on the defensive, such as the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service and revelations of widespread surveillance of telephone and Internet records by the National Security Agency.
“With an endless distraction of political posturing and phony scandals and lord knows what, Washington keeps taking its eye off the ball,” Obama complained in his speech.
By October 1, Congress must pass spending bills to keep the government running. Not long after, lawmakers must raise the nation’s borrowing limit or risk default.
Congressional Republicans, concerned about a large budget deficit and bills to come due in the future as a result of government retirement and health programs, want spending cuts and lower taxes as part of the budget process.
Obama has said he wants to develop a national infrastructure bank and capitalize it with $10 billion, and create “America Fast Forward Bonds” to help state and local governments attract money for infrastructure projects.
He has proposed adding $4 billion to support two programs that are used to provide grants for infrastructure projects.
But Republicans have been reluctant to support what they consider government stimulus spending after a much-criticized $787 billion stimulus plan that Obama managed to push through Congress in 2009.
“None of it worked. Americans are still asking, ‘Where are the jobs?'” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.
Obama’s speech echoed many lines from speeches he gave on Wednesday in Galesburg, Illinois, and Warrensburg, Missouri.
Aides say he plans roughly one speech a week for the rest of the summer touching on retirement security, education, and healthcare, and would begin unveiling new proposal next week.
On Tuesday, Obama was scheduled to talk about manufacturing at a facility of Internet retailer Amazon.com Inc in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
In Jacksonville, he spoke about the surge in U.S. natural gas and oil production, which he said helped create jobs.
“We’ve got to tap into this natural gas revolution that’s bringing energy costs down in this country, which means manufacturers now want to locate here because they’re thinking that we’ve got durable, reliable supplies of energy,” he said.
Republicans have excoriated Obama for a prolonged review of the Keystone XL pipeline that would deliver oil from Canada and North Dakota to Gulf refineries.
They have accused him of blocking the infrastructure project because environmental groups oppose it, even though it would create thousands of construction jobs.
Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Doina Chiacu