- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

PEOSTA, Iowa — A day after clashing with a tea party activist, President Obama Tuesday told crowds here that it was “a faction in Congress” that was to blame for blocking economic progress.

At a rural jobs forum, Mr. Obama ticked off a list of pending bills that he said would create jobs.

“The only thing that’s preventing us from passing the bills I just mentioned is the refusal of a faction in Congress to put country ahead of party,” the president said in a thinly veiled reference to House Republicans backed by the tea party. “That has to stop.”

At a town-hall meeting Monday night in Decorah, Iowa, Mr. Obama was confronted by Ryan Rhodes, a leader of the tea party in this state. Mr. Rhodes told the president that his calls for civility were meaningless while Democrats such as Vice President Joseph R. Biden have referred to tea party members as “terrorists.”

The president said he agreed with Mr. Rhodes that “everybody needs to try to tone down the rhetoric.”

Mr. Rhodes continued his animated conversation with the president on the rope line after the event, and told reporters he believes the president is a socialist.

Less than 24 hours later, however, Mr. Obama singled out conservative House Republicans for essentially being disloyal Americans by blocking his agenda.

At every stop on this three-day bus tour of Midwestern swing states, Mr. Obama has urged audiences to pressure Republican lawmakers to adopt his proposals or to defeat them at the polls in 2012.

“I want to enlist your help,” Mr. Obama told a small tickets-only audience in Peosta. “I need your help sending a message to Congress, it’s time to put politics aside and get something done.”

Congressional Republicans point out that the administration and the Democrat-led Senate are blocking many GOP initiatives to create jobs, including proposals to advance an oil pipeline from Canada and to cut government regulations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday that the White House should send a series of stalled trade pacts to the Senate for approval.

“It is my hope that the president, who continues to refuse to send these agreements to Congress while simultaneously calling for Congress to act, will finally resolve this contradiction by sending the agreements immediately — and that he’ll work with us on the extension of Trade Promotion Authority so that we can continue to expand opportunities for American entrepreneurs and our farmers and ranchers,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement.

Mr. Obama expressed urgency about the unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, saying “time is running out.” But time may also be short for his reelection prospects if the jobless rate remains high. No president in the past 50 years has been reelected with an unemployment rate of more than 7.2 percent.

The president said he will propose in September a specific plan to boost the economy, and he is challenging audiences to tell Republican lawmakers on their August recess to support his upcoming plan.

In Decorah, he essentially laid out a strategy to paint the House GOP as a “do-nothing” Congress until November 2012.

“If you’re making your voices heard, if you’re letting people know that enough is enough … then sooner or later these guys have to start paying attention,” Mr. Obama said. “And if they don’t start paying attention then they’re not going to be in office and we will have a new Congress in there that will start paying attention to what is going on all across America.”

But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, declined to characterize the president’s strategy as effective when asked by The Washington Times how Iowa voters would respond to the call.

“That’s what democracy is all about,” Mr. Vilsack said. “I think the president not only holds Congress to that standard, but I think he has said on repeated occasions he holds himself to that standard. We are faced with difficult times, but the president has an extraordinary confidence and faith in the American people.”

Despite the heavily political overtones of the bus trip, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the president is not in campaign mode. He said the trip is a matter of promoting a jobs agenda.

“If we are unable to achieve some of those goals then we would have to take the argument to the American people,” Mr. Carney said.

Mr. Vilsack and several other Cabinet members took part in the jobs forum Tuesday at Northeast Iowa Community College. They held sessions with farmers, small business owners and others to strategize about boosting the rural economy with initiatives such as expanding broadband access and boosting loan programs.

The White House also announced a $510 million initiative through the Agriculture and Energy departments and the U.S. Navy over three years to produce advanced aviation and marine biofuels to power military and commercial transportation. Mr. Vilsack said the proposal would spend “money that’s already in the budget.”

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

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