JACKSONVILLE,Florida (AP) -- Setting up an impending new fight over the federal budget,President Barack Obama on Thursday accused Republicans of acting like a"deadbeat" by refusing to raise the government's borrowing cap withoutspending cuts.
Obama made his third campaign-like stop of a two-day swing to refocusdebate on the economy at the Jacksonville Port Authority, where heaccused House Republicans of "constant gridlock or my way or the highwayattitude" that won't help solve the country's budget problems. Obama'spivot to the economy comes as the White House seeks to generate momentumahead of fall deadlines on the budget and the nation's debt ceiling.
"Shutting down the government just because I'm for keeping it open,that's not an economic plan," Obama said. "Threatening that you won'tpay 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."
A 2011 battle between Obama and House Republicans over raising theso-called debt ceiling brought the nation close to default and resultedin a hard-fought budget deal. Obama says he won't be bullied on the debtlimit again, but many in Washington believe the need to increase theborrowing cap later this year will prompt some kind of budget bargain.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the president's new economicpush was "all sizzle and no steak" and blamed Obama for the laggingeconomy.
"Under the president's leadership our country has fallen into the'new normal' of slow growth, high unemployment and stagnant wages,"Boehner said.
A new poll by the Pew Research Center shows pessimism about theeconomy remains widespread. The poll conducted last week showed 82percent of Americans think the economy is in fair or poor condition and67 percent are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the U.S.today. Forty-four percent think it will be a long time before thenation's economy recovers, while only 28 percent say it's currentlyrecovering. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentagepoints.
Even among Democrats, just 38 percent think the economy is currentlyrecovering. But there are signs of slow improvement: The housing marketis recovering, the stock market is booming, and unemployment is fallingdespite remaining uncomfortably high at 7.6 percent.
After a examining the port's giant cranes used to lift shippingcontainers onto ships, Obama spoke to a few hundred workers from asweltering warehouse with his shirt sleeves rolled up and sweat rollingdown his face. He lamented that the U.S. was lagging behind China andGermany on fixing infrastructure and said that's why he's working tospeed up the federal permitting process.
"The businesses of tomorrow are not going to locate near outdatedroads and old ports," he said. He said improvements to the port so moresupertankers can come in would mean more workers spending more money atrestaurants so that the waitress serving them can spend more money on aniPod.
In making his plea for more spending on public works projects, thepresident is also relying on support from corporate leaders whosebusinesses either benefit from government financed construction or relyon up-to-date transportation systems to move their products. The U.S.Chamber of Commerce has been pressing Congress for greater spending oninfrastructure and has allied itself with the president's push, but in astatement Wednesday, chamber President Thomas Donohue also put somedistance with Obama by saying such a public works initiative must betied to less regulation, lower taxes and less overall governmentspending.
"The president correctly underscored the importance ofinfrastructure, education, and immigration to our economic future,"Donohue said. "But in order to grow and create lasting private sectorjobs, we must have more economic freedom and while reining in governmentspending, taxes, and debt."
The visit also marked Obama's first to the state since the acquittalof the man charged in the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Thecase has generated a painful, nationwide debate about racial prejudice,but Obama didn't mention the case in his public remarks.
The broad economic themes Obama illustrated Thursday will be followedup in the coming weeks by another series of speeches drilling down onkey sectors such as manufacturing, education, housing, retirementsecurity and health care. Advisers say some of those speeches willcontain more specific policy proposals, both for legislation andexecutive action Obama can take without congressional approval.
The first of those addresses was to come Tuesday, when Obama willtravel to Chattanooga, Tenn., to promote American competitiveness at anAmazon fulfillment center, which packs and ships products to onlinepurchasers. The White House said some new policy ideas will be unveiledduring that visit.