RACINE, Wis. | Seizing on a political opportunity on Wednesday, President Obama lashed out at Republicans as out of touch with the daily problems of Americans, hoping to sharpen the contrast with the opposition party as midterm elections loom and economic anxiety still runs high.
Speaking to a town hall in his latest getaway from Washington, Mr. Obama reveled in what the Democratic Party sees as two recent political gaffes by Republicans - one House lawmaker's apology to BP and another's characterization of the nation's financial collapse as an "ant."
More broadly, Mr. Obama said of Republicans: "Their prescription for every challenge is pretty much the same - and I don't think I'm exaggerating here: basically, cut taxes for the wealthy, cut rules for corporations and cut working folks loose to fend for themselves."
Yet it is Mr. Obama and Democrats, as the party in power, who stand to take the most heat from the public concern about swelling government spending. The president jumped on a chance in the town hall to defend the rescue efforts for the auto companies and the big banks and to embrace the frustration about them.
Mr. Obama said the main culprit was not the costly emergency measures under his watch, but a structural habit of the government spending more than it takes in. He said the answer is to reduce spending in a "gradual way" that doesn't hurt people.
Mr. Obama spoke in Racine, south of Milwaukee, where the jobless rate stands at a troubling 14.2 percent, well above the national average.
Responding to House Minority Leader John A. Boehner's gripe that the financial-reform bill amounts to "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon," Mr. Obama challenged Mr. Boehner to explain that to the people of Racine. The president also seized on GOP Rep. Joe L. Barton's apology to BP - Mr. Barton later apologized for the apology - over the $20 billion victims' compensation fund Mr. Obama pressured BP to establish. The president scoffed at Mr. Barton, the top Republican on the House energy committee.
Mr. Boehner was unapologetic about his position during an interview with The Washington Post a few hours before the president spoke.
"The American people want us to deal with the economy and jobs. And what have they dealt with? They've dealt with health care. They've dealt with 'cap and trade.' And then they've gone overboard with financial-regulatory bill. Growing the size of government, taking more from the American people at a time when Americans want them to focus in on the economy," he said.
Mr. Boehner said his reference to an ant "was not a judgment of the financial crisis. It was how to fix it."
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