- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2011

CANNON FALLS, Minn. — President Obama launched a Midwestern bus tour devoted to the economy Monday by again calling for tax increases and accusing Republicans who oppose his plans of failing to put the “country first.”

Several hours away in Iowa, Texas Gov. Rick Perry wolfed down hard-boiled eggs on a stick at the Iowa State Fair and pointed the finger right back at Mr. Obama, saying the president has burdened the economy with taxes, regulation and spending, and vowed to undo Mr. Obama’s signature achievement of enacting a health care law.

Mr. Perry was on his first day of retail-politics campaigning after announcing this weekend that he will seek the Republican nomination to face Mr. Obama in next year’s election.

The president, meanwhile, said his own three-day, three-state Midwestern swing is official business, designed to try to rally support for his plans to bolster the sluggish economy. He said the holdup is the bickering in Washington.

“You’ve got to send a message to Washington that it’s time for the games to stop,” Mr. Obama told a crowd of about 500 at a campaign-style event in a sun-splashed park. “It’s time to put country first.”

The president referred to the “debt debacle” that he just concluded with congressional Republicans, calling out Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, by name for resisting the president’s efforts to raise taxes as part of a proposal to cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years.

“I put a deal before the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, that would have solved this problem,” Mr. Obama said. “And he walked away. His belief was we can’t ask anything of millionaires and billionaires and big corporations. Think about that. I mean, that’s just not common sense,”

Mr. Obama, freed from the contentious debt negotiations in Washington that lasted most of the summer, is using the trip as an opportunity to portray himself to middle America as an independent voice fighting against partisan interests to create jobs.

At the day’s second event — a town-hall meeting at the Seed Saver Exchange in Decorah, Iowa — Mr. Obama said he will unveil “a very specific plan to boost the economy” in September when Congress returns from its summer recess. He said his bus tour is aimed at “enlisting” the public to pressure Congress to approve his plan.

“If they don’t get it done, then we’ll be running against a Congress that’s not doing anything for the American people,” Mr. Obama said. “The choice will be very stark and very clear.”

Still, Republican attacks followed him outside the Beltway.

The Republican National Committee announced plans to greet Mr. Obama at each stop of his tour. In New Hampshire, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign called the president’s Midwestern trip the “Magical Misery Tour.”

Mr. Perry questioned Mr. Obama’s role as commander in chief, vowed to repeal his health care initiative, and said he needs to “free up the employers of this country to create jobs, get rid of the regulations that are stifling jobs in America.”

Taxpayers are funding the three-day presidential trip, but the first event had many of the appearances of a campaign rally in this swing state.

About 500 supporters greeted the president in a park. Mr. Obama stood in front of a made-for-TV backdrop of the sparkling Cannon River, with red-white-and-blue bunting and an enormous American flag. He was among supporters seated at picnic tables adorned with blue tablecloths.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “We’re here to talk to the people of Cannon Falls about the economy. That’s what presidents do.”

Mr. Obama is riding in a customized armored bus that, according to a pool reporter traveling with him, has windows “so dark (except for those next to the driver) that it does not appear to have any windows at all.”

The Secret Service has introduced a pair of the buses, at a cost of $1.1 million each, that will be used by presidential candidates in 2012 and for official White House events.

Even a girl in the crowd seemed perplexed about the president’s choice of location and asked him, “Why Cannon Falls?”

Mr. Obama said it was because he heard the town had the smartest and best-looking children.

The president also called for more spending, saying teachers are underpaid and Congress should authorize a job bank for construction work.

“In the short term, we should actually make more investments that will put people to work and get the economy moving,” he said. “States are still going through a tough time. I personally believe one of the most effective ways that we could help the economy is making sure that we’re not seeing more teacher layoffs. I’m going to be working with Congress and with state governments across the country to prevent that from happening.”

Debra Wood, 58, a retired factory worker and a Democrat, said the opportunity to see the president was “the biggest thing in my life.” She waited 10 hours at the town-hall building for tickets to the event and brought her 3-year-old granddaughter.

“He’s doing the best he can,” she said of Mr. Obama.

Not everyone in the audience was a fan of the president.

Adam Nord, 31, a cook at a casino, said he voted for Sen. John McCain for president in 2008 and probably won’t vote for Mr. Obama next year either.

“Obama came in and blamed everything on Bush,” Mr. Nord said. “Then he gave money to the bankers, too, just like Bush.”

Asked how Mr. Obama should help the economy, Mr. Nord said the president should “backtrack on his health care” law.

“If you’re a healthy person, I don’t think you should be forced to buy health care,” Mr. Nord said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, chairman of the White House Rural Council, said the bus tour is emphasizing the importance of economic recovery in rural America.

“The president is committed to making sure that every part of America participates in this recovery, particularly a place called rural America, a place where our values are rooted,” Mr. Vilsack said.

Mr. Obama is expected to announce a rural jobs initiative Tuesday in Iowa.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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