1. Florida Politics

In Jacksonville, President Obama calls for focus on middle class

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Published Jul. 26, 2013

JACKSONVILLE — President Barack Obama continued his economics road show Thursday, coming to the Jacksonville Port Authority to underscore his commitment to infrastructure investment and bash Republicans for delaying progress.

The president chose Jacksonville because it's home to two port development projects that he fast-tracked last year as Congress remained mired in a seven-year delay over an authorization bill.

With his sleeves rolled up, Obama told the crowd of about 500 port employees, union members and Democratic VIPs that as "Washington keeps taking its eye off the ball," with "political posturing and phony scandals,'' he is prepared to continue to use his executive powers to advance projects if Congress won't act.

"I'm not going to let gridlock or inaction or indifference to the plight of families get in the way of this country,'' he said in the 26-minute speech inside the port's steamy passenger terminal. "So where I could act on my own, I'll act on my own.''

The president's criticism was at times broad, saying that too often "Washington hasn't just ignored the problem, a lot of times it's made things worse." But he reserved his harshest swipes for the Republican-controlled House, which has resisted his appeals on the federal debt limit and mandatory budget cuts.

"Shutting down the government just because I'm for keeping it open, that's not an economic plan,'' he said. "Threatening that you won't pay the bills in this country when we've already racked up those bills, that's not an economic plan. That's just being a deadbeat."

As an example, Obama referred to Congress' rejection of a water resource bill that would provide the authorization to allow the Jacksonville port to deepen the Mile Point channel it says it needs to allow supertankers, which can hold the load of other cargo ships, to come from Asia through the Panama Canal.

Bringing in more supertankers "works for everybody,'' he said, because it means "more contractors are getting jobs" and have more money "to spend at the restaurant," which brings more money for the waitress "to buy her iPod."

He noted that manufacturing jobs are the cornerstone of the middle class, as are investments in education, science and research, but "too many folks in Washington have been cutting these investments."

The president's road show drew the scorn of the Republican Party of Florida at a news conference before the president's arrival.

"It's time for the president to lead,'' said state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a former Republican Party chairman. "He's been president for 5 ½ years and what he's basically doing is back to the same old campaign mode, and that's not leadership."

Gov. Rick Scott, who was out of state attending a meeting of the Republican Governor's Association, sent out a statement bashing the federal corporate tax policy.

"High taxes hurt job creation, plain and simple,'' Scott said. "If the president wants to turn around our national economy as we have turned around the economy in Florida, he should follow Florida's lead and cut the federal corporate income tax so more manufacturers and businesses can invest and create jobs.''

The president's speech is part of a series of addresses scheduled over the next several months intended to call attention to the plight of the middle class and outline his ideas for reform.

He sounded the same themes and cribbed many of the same lines from the two speeches he gave Wednesday in Illinois and Missouri, emphasizing the need to build the country "from the middle class up" and vowing to devote the remainder of his term — "1,266 days" — to the goal.

But as the president attempts to shift the debate in Washington back to his campaign narrative of the middle class, he offered few specifics. He also emphasized that he will listen to ideas from anyone.

"I don't claim to have a monopoly on every good idea,'' he said to laughter. "I'm happy to steal good ideas from anybody, because I just want to make things work."

The president's attacks on Congress come at a time when both his and Congress' popularity rating are at two-year lows.

A McClatchy-Marist poll last week found Obama's job approval at 41 percent, his worst showing in the poll since 39 percent in September 2011, while public approval of congressional Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, was at a dismal 22 percent. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll also conducted last week found that 83 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas.