While much of Washington was riveted Friday on a Republican-led congressional hearing into abuse of power by the IRS, President Obama traveled to Baltimore to promote a jobs plan and decry lawmakers for "chasing every fleeting issue."
Mr. Obama toured Ellicott Dredges, a firm that manufactures dredging equipment, and praised Democratic lawmakers from Maryland for focusing on programs to help the middle class. The president didn't specifically address the IRS and other scandals confronting his administration, but he complained that Washington is too often distracted by partisan games.
"I know it can seem frustrating sometimes when it seems like Washington's priorities aren't the same as your priorities," he told plant workers. "I know it often seems like folks down there are more concerned with their jobs than with yours. Others may get distracted by chasing every fleeting issue that passes by. But the middle class will always be my No.1 folks, period."
The trip was the second installment of Mr. Obama's "middle-class jobs and opportunity tour," an effort to promote his economic agenda. But the president is having difficulty moving forward with his initiatives as his administration grapples with controversies ranging from the IRS to an investigation into last year's terrorist attack on a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, to a Justice Department leak probe targeting the news media.
The president said the country can't afford distractions and said Americans deserve leaders who demonstrate "seriousness of purpose."
"The only thing that's holding us back sometimes is a lack of political will," he said. "Sometimes our leadership isn't focused where we need to be focused."
Mr. Obama advocated $50 billion of infrastructure improvements but said "we've had a little difficulty getting our Republican friends to work with us" to approve the new spending. He announced that he is ordering the federal government to cut red tape to speed up construction projects.
"We've got to up our game when it comes to infrastructure," Mr. Obama said.
But Republicans said Mr. Obama should listen to Peter Bowe, president of Ellicott Dredges, who testified to Congress Thursday in favor of building the Keystone XL pipeline to create more jobs. The administration has delayed approval for the northern portion of the pipeline, from Canada to Oklahoma, due to environmental concerns.
Mr. Bowe told lawmakers, "For us, it's all about jobs, not construction jobs for the pipeline itself, but ongoing jobs every year for decades to come, all related to the production of oil from the Alberta oil sands deposits."
The president didn't mention the pipeline. But he said of the dredging company, the oldest of its kind in the U.S., "You all know a thing or two about growing the economy."
Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland Republican, said Mr. Obama "has been dragging his feet for years" on the pipeline project that could provide more jobs to the company he visited.
"Unfortunately, this visit is just another one of President Obama's campaign-style photo ops. Instead of doing concrete work to create jobs, he's busy giving speeches and taking pictures," Mr. Harris said.
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