- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2014

The key to long-term growth lies in passing the Democratic agenda, President Obama argued Thursday as he offered a fierce defense of his stewardship of the economy over the past six years and made the case to voters that Republican ideas must be rejected.

Speaking to a friendly student audience at Northwestern University, Mr. Obama laid out a laundry list of policy items that he says will reverse the decadeslong trend of stagnant wage growth for average Americans and stop the flow of wealth to the rich. He also took pointed shots at the media, calling out Fox News for purportedly spreading mistruths about Obamacare, which the president argued is working well for the majority of the country.

But Mr. Obama’s latest “pivot” to the economy quickly came under from both sides of the aisle. Republicans blasted the president for overseeing an explosion in the national debt while stalling job-creating projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Some progressive groups, while supportive of the president’s overall message, said Thursday’s address came too late for Democrats who have been waiting for the White House to go on offense ahead of the crucial midterm elections.

Mr. Obama’s economic pitch comes with just over a month before those contests. Recent polling indicates Democrats are in real danger of losing control of the Senate, and the president responded by promising prosperity if his party gets its way.

“We can’t let up, or grow complacent. We have to be hungry as a nation. We have to compete. And if we do, if we take the necessary steps to build on this foundation, then I promise you this: Over the next ten years, we will build an economy where wage growth is stronger than it was over the past three decades,” he said.

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With much of his agenda badly bogged down on Capitol Hill, the president called on Congress to pass a massive federal infrastructure investment package; make it easier for homebuyers to get loans; invest heavily in clean energy projects; pass immigration reform; raise the minimum wage; and pass equal-pay legislation, among other steps.

Despite rising growth and falling job numbers in recent quarters, Mr. Obama said average Americans have yet to truly feel the progress because the gains have been unevenly shared.

“Now, none of these policies on their own will get us where we need to be. But if we do these things systematically, the cumulative impact will be huge,” Mr. Obama said. ” … More people will feel this recovery, rather than reading about it in stats on a page. That’s the truth.”

Republicans rejected the president’s remarks as little more than another stump speech offered up in place of real action.

“Over the past six years, hard-working, middle-class families have been squeezed by the president’s failed economic policies. Bigger government, higher taxes, more spending, and rising debt have left Americans in the lurch, facing sluggish economic growth, smaller paychecks, and a weak job market. That’s not a cause for celebration,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican and his party’s ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, said immediately following Mr. Obama’s speech. “This administration ought to work with Congress to advance pro-growth, job-creating initiatives like the Keystone XL pipeline. … Sadly, recycled half-decade-old campaign rhetoric is all this White House has been able to produce.”

A different kind of criticism immediately emerged from the left. The increasingly powerful Progressive Change Campaign Committee — which is pushing Democrats to embrace the kind of populist message promoted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat — said the administration should have made an aggressive economic pitch much earlier.

“The president’s speech is a step in the right direction, but possibly too little too late for Democrats on the ballot who would have benefited from a strong economic populist message all year long,” said Adam Green, the organization’s co-founder. “Elizabeth Warren is the most sought-after campaigner in 2014 — including in red states from Kentucky to West Virginia to Georgia — for a reason.”

While he had harsh words for Republicans, the president trained some of his artillery on the media, saying conservative critics were overstating the problems caused by his policies.

“There’s a reason fewer Republicans are running around against Obamacare — because while good, affordable health care might still be a fanged threat to the freedom of the American people on Fox News, it turns out it’s working pretty well in the real world,” he said.



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