Wisconsin (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama launched a broad attack against Republican lawmakers on Wednesday, calling them out of touch with ordinary Americans for opposing Wall Street reform and siding with Big Oil.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are battling to send a landmark overhaul of U.S. financial regulation to Obama’s desk in the coming days to be signed into law.
Obama used a campaign-style speech in Wisconsin to defend his record on the economy and stress that he understands people are hurting under the weight of a U.S. jobless rate of 9.7 percent.
“We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future. We can go backward, or we can keep moving forward.”
The president, whose Democratic Party faces potentially large losses in November 2 congressional elections, accused Republicans of leading the country into the recession and said they have opposed his policies aimed at fixing the economy.
And he singled out the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, for telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the financial regulation overhaul moving through Congress was so extensive that it “is like killing an ant with a nuclear weapon.”
“He can’t be that out of touch with the struggles of the American families,” Obama said of Boehner. “And if he is, he has to come here to Racine and ask people if they think the financial crisis was an ant,” Obama said, speaking two days before the release of closely-watched monthly jobs data.
Unemployment in Racine was 14.2 percent in May, well above the state-wide rate. At the national level, U.S. unemployment is forecast to edge up to 9.8 percent in June as the economy shed an expected 110,000 jobs, analysts polled by Reuters say.
Some Republicans key to the Wall Street measure becoming law are holding back support although they are expected to eventually approve the bill, which would set up a new consumer-protection bureau and force banks to reduce risky trades and investments.
Obama is seeking to marshal public anger over Wall Street, which many Americans blame for the 2008 financial crisis, to boost his reform agenda in an election year. In Racine, he also promoted his policies to lift the economy.
“The economy is headed in the right direction. But I know that for a lot of Americans — for Racine and many other communities — it’s not headed there fast enough,” he said.
Stubbornly high jobless levels are denting the president’s popularity and could sap his Democratic Party’s power on Capitol Hill in November mid-term congressional elections.
Republicans told Obama to concentrate on fixing the nation’s problems.
“The President should be focused on solving the problems of the American people — stopping the leaking oil and cleaning up the Gulf, scrapping his job-killing agenda, repealing and replacing ObamaCare — instead of my choice of metaphors,” Boehner said in a statement.
Republicans last week blocked a Democratic plan in the Senate to provide additional aid to jobless workers, businesses and cash-strapped states.
Obama said opposing the reform shows Republicans were siding with big banks and Big Oil.
“There are some folks in the other party who are also against raising the limit on what companies like BP have to pay for the environmental disasters they cause,” said Obama.
“The top Republican on the energy committee even had the nerve to apologize to BP for the fact that we made them set up this fund. Apologize to BP! He actually called the fund ‘a tragedy’,” Obama said.
(Writing by Alister Bull, editing by Philip Barbara)