GUTTENBERG, Iowa (AP) - Rolling by bus through the heart of the
country, President Barack Obama turned his attention to farmers
Tuesday, promoting rural economic policies to fire up anemic job
Obama is offering a mix of offense and defense that signals both
his governing approach for the remainder of his term and the
evolution of a campaign message for his re-election bid.
He is determined to use the reach of his office to build public
pressure on Republicans to move his way on economic and fiscal
policies, to counterpunch against the GOP presidential field, and
to argue for his presidency with independent voters and rekindle
enthusiasm among Democrats.
But the measures are targeted, such as making it easier for
rural businesses to get access to capital, and far more modest than
the ambitious $821 billion stimulus package he pushed through
Congress in 2009 when unemployment was rising but still below the
current 9.1 percent level.
The president began with an early morning workout at a gym in
Decorah, Iowa and later chatted with a few locals outside his hotel
before getting on the bus to his next event, a White House Rural
Economic Forum at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta.
"Welcome to the 50s," one man told Obama, who hit the
half-century mark with his birthday this month. Obama pointed to
the man's gray hair and said: "I'm catching up to you."
Obama made an unscheduled stop in Guttenberg, Iowa, to have
breakfast with small-business owner at Rausch's Cafe. He greeted
patrons, who were clearly surprised to see him. One of them, Jim
Pape, a retired plant manager, said he didn't think much of
"They ought to plow it under and plant corn," he said,
capturing a sense of the frustration Obama is picking up out on the
Obama's agenda of the day was proposals to help farm regions,
including some ideas that are already under way and do not require
additional government spending.
More broadly, his economic message illustrates his current
Republicans control the House and believe that addressing the
nation's long-term debt will have a positive effect on the economy;
they have no appetite for major spending initiatives aimed at
spurring a recovery.
Embracing that demand for fiscal discipline, Obama has called
for both spending cuts and increases in revenue, but he found few
takers for that formula during the contentious debate this summer
over raising the nation's debt ceiling.
With echoes of Harry Truman's 1948 campaign against a
"do-nothing" Congress, Obama encouraged audiences at town hall
meetings Monday in Minnesota and Iowa to rise up against
"If your voices are heard, then sooner or later these guys have
to start paying attention," he 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."
The proposals include targeting Small Business Administration
loans to rural small businesses, expanding job training to
Agriculture Department field offices and recruiting more doctors
for small rural hospitals.
Though classified by the White House as an official presidential
trip, the tour's first day had the distinct feel of a campaign
excursion. The president's motorcade, at times numbering nearly 30
vehicles, rumbled over 160 miles through small towns and cornfields
in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Its most prominent feature
was the president's bus - not the colorful transports of campaigns,
but a dark, imposing vehicle recently purchased for $1.1 million by
the Secret Service.
The settings of the two outdoor town halls were in picturesque
locales, one with Minnesota's Cannon River as a backdrop and the
other in Iowa amid hay bales against a red barn lit by a setting
Obama's rhetoric had a campaign pulse as well.
He attacked the Republican presidential field, recalling a
moment in last week's GOP presidential debate when all eight of the
candidates said they would refuse to support a budget deal with tax
increases, even if tax revenues were outweighed 10-to-1 by spending
"That's just not common sense," Obama told the crowd at a town
hall-style meeting in Cannon Falls, Minn.
He took a shot at GOP front-runner, Mitt Romney, though not by
name, over the health care system he instituted while governor of
Massachusetts that is similar to the Obama-backed federal law that
Republicans now oppose.
"You've got a governor who's running for president right now
who instituted the exact same thing in Massachusetts," the
president said. "It's like they got amnesia."
Obama also got an earful from two tea party supporters who
challenged him on reports that Vice President Joe Biden had agreed
with congressional Democrats who characterized the conservative
movement as terrorists.
"He said we were acting like terrorists," Iowa tea party
activist Ryan Rhodes said, confronting the president after the
Decorah town hall as Obama worked a rope line of audience members.
"What we stand for is limited government and a balanced budget,"
Obama countered that Biden was making the point that almost
failing to raise the debt ceiling was irresponsible.
"He wasn't objecting to the balanced budget amendment, he was
objecting to us almost defaulting," Obama said. As Rhodes
persisted, and Obama continued to shake hands, the president added,
"It doesn't sound like you are interested in listening."
In both town halls, Obama cast himself as a compromiser, a trait
White House aides say resonates with independent voters and lives
up to his 2008 pledge to change the ways of Washington.
"I make no apologies for being reasonable," Obama declared.
But some Democrats maintain Obama has gone too far, caving in to Republican demands and having little to show for it.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)