President Barack Obama sharpened his attacks on Congress, blaming them for gridlock in Washington that has held up work to bolster the economy, as he sought to regain control of the political narrative with lawmakers on August recess.
On a visit to a battery manufacturing plant yesterday in Holland, Michigan, days before he embarks on a bus tour of Midwestern states, Obama said the downgrade of U.S. credit by Standard & Poor’s was a “self-inflicted wound” resulting from “partisan brinksmanship.”
“There’s nothing wrong with our country -- there is something wrong with our politics,” Obama said at a Johnson Controls Inc. factory that makes lithium-ion batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles. Some members of Congress “would rather see their opponents lose than see America win.”
With polls showing voters increasingly dissatisfied over how the government works, Obama is seeking to return attention to employment growth after a months-long struggle with congressional Republicans over the debt ceiling and cutting the nation’s debt. The factory visit was originally intended to highlight growth in alternative energy technology as a way to revive manufacturing. Instead Obama focused largely on the gridlock in Washington.
“You voted for divided government,” he told the Johnson Controls employees. “But you didn’t vote for dysfunctional government.”
An Aug. 9 Washington Post poll found that 71 percent of Americans said the federal government is mostly focused on the wrong things and 78 percent said they were dissatisfied with the way the country’s political system is working. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
House Speaker John Boehner called Obama’s speech “political grandstanding.”
“If the president wants to do something productive, he can start by delivering on his promise to outline his own recommendations to rein in the massive deficits and debt that are undermining job creation in our country,” the Ohio Republican said in an e-mailed statement.
Obama said the anxiety caused by the government’s inability to find common ground on solutions to the nation’s challenges is “playing out in our stock market, wild swings up and down.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 4.6 percent to 1,172.64 at 4 p.m. in New York. The S&P 500 rebounded after plunging 18 percent from July 22 through yesterday amid concern about Europe’s debt crisis and the political battle over raising the debt ceiling.
At a fundraiser in New York later, Obama said investors demonstrated confidence in the U.S. by buying Treasuries, the benchmark for the $34 trillion U.S. debt market that is more than twice the value of American equities.
“I don’t know if you noticed, but when the stock market went down what did everybody buy? After the downgrade? U.S. Treasuries,” he said at a dinner with donors. “The market voted with its feet.”
Treasuries sank yesterday as an unexpected drop in jobless claims and higher-than-estimated earnings tempered concern the economy is slowing. Yield on the 10-year note was up 22 basis points to 2.32 percent. Current 30-year bond yield increased 25 basis points, or 0.25 percentage point, to 3.77 percent at 5:01 p.m. in New York, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader prices.
At Johnson Controls, the largest U.S. auto supplier, the president repeated the economic initiatives he wants passed: renewal of a 2-percentage-point cut in the employee-paid portion of the payroll tax and extended unemployment benefits that are set to expire on Dec. 31; establishment of an infrastructure bank to fund public works spending; ratification of free-trade deals; and overhauling patent law.
“The problem is not that we don’t have answers,” he said. “The problem is folks are playing political games.”
Obama is likely to amplify the theme next week when he sets out Aug. 15 on a three-day, campaign-style bus tour through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
Obama spoke on the same day that eight of the Republicans running for their party’s presidential nomination met for a debate in Iowa, with the Democratic president a prime target. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is leading the other Republican contenders in polls and fundraising, said in Pella yesterday that Obama won’t win Iowa in 2012 “because Iowans will recognize his presidency has failed.”
At last night’s debate, Romney stressed his business experience and criticized Obama’s handling of the debt-ceiling issue. Asked if he would have signed into law the compromise agreement that reached the president’s desk last week, Romney said, “I’m not going to eat Barack Obama’s dog food.” Obama has done “the exact opposite of what was needed to be done” for the economy, he said.
While Obama took Iowa in 2008, the state went for Republican President George W. Bush in 2004.
Michigan, the location of the Johnson Controls plant, is another key state in Obama’s re-election strategy. The state has backed the Democratic candidate in the last five presidential elections, and Obama will need to keep party strongholds in his column amid voter unease over the economy.
Michigan’s jobless rate in June was 10.5 percent, according to the U.S. Labor Department. While down from a high of 14.1 percent in August 2009, the rate is higher than the national average of 9.1 percent and above the jobless rates in 29 other states.
From Michigan, Obama flew to New York City for two fundraisers that brought in more than $2 million for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The first was a reception at the Ritz-Carlton by Gary Hirshberg, chief executive officer of organic yogurt-maker Stonyfield Farm Inc. Obama then went to a dinner at the home of Harvey Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax Film Corp., that was co-hosted by Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine.
Sixty-five guests were scheduled to attend the two events at $35,800 per person. The first $5,000 goes to Obama’s re-election campaign and the remaining $30,800 goes to the Democratic National Committee, according to a Democratic official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.
The fact that Obama is seeking $5,000 donations -- $2,500 for the primary and $2,500 for the general election -- is an indication that he once again will forgo federal funding for the campaign. That will allow him to take in as much private money as he can raise and spend without limits.