President Barack Obama is telling voters in the Midwest that unless lawmakers tighten controls on Wall Street, there's no guarantee another economic crisis won't hammer the heartland.
Making that link as he sells the Democrats' financial regulatory reform bill is a political imperative for Obama as well as an economic one. He's not on the ballot this fall, but his fellow Democrats face a tough landscape brought on in part by the public's wariness of his handling of the economy.
The economic situation is getting back to normal on Wall Street, White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters traveling with Obama Wednesday, "but if you look around Main Street and rural America, where we've been, we're far from a normal that should be acceptable to anyone."
On the issue of financial regulations, Obama and Democratic lawmakers see an opportunity to paint Republicans as obstructionists who stand on the side of Wall Street bankers, not middle-class America.
On Tuesday, the first day of a three-state economic tour through rural America, Obama ripped Senate Republicans for blocking debate on a bill that would impose greater federal control on the nation's financial system.
"It's one thing to oppose reform, but to oppose just even talking about reform in front of the American people and having a legitimate debate, that's not right," Obama said in Ottumwa, Iowa. "The American people deserve an honest debate on this bill."
Much of this two-day trip through the heartland was about Obama explaining how his administration's agenda over the past 15 months would benefit the middle class. He sometimes delivered that message one person at a time.
After picking up a cheeseburger and french fries Wednesday at Peggy Sue's Cafe on Main Street in tiny Monroe City, Mo., Obama stopped to greet a small group of employees at a local insurance agency across the street.
The impromptu handshakes turned into a 15-minute discussion of the benefits from Obama's new health care law for people with preexisting conditions — much to the chagrin of the much larger crowd waiting nearby.
Later Wednesday he was expected to continue framing his agenda — from the $862 billion recovery act to the health care overhaul — as part of his plan to put the economy on a path toward a more sustainable future.
Obama appeared to relish the opportunity to get outside the nation's capital this week. In Iowa, the state that jump-started his 2008 presidential bid, he made a surprise visit to a 140-acre organic farm, stopped for pie and coffee at a family owned restaurant, and shook hands and posed for pictures with the impromptu crowds that gathered as his motorcade sped through the state.
The president's Midwest tour comes as economic forecasts show some signs of progress: The nation added jobs at the fastest pace in three years last month, the manufacturing industry is growing at a steady pace and new claims for jobless benefits have declined.
But 15 million Americans remain out of work, and most forecasts suggest it could be months or even years before the nation's unemployment rate returns to more normal levels.
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