President Barack Obama on Tuesday stumped for Sen. Patty Murray on a three-day campaign swing for endangered Democrats, accusing Republicans of thwarting efforts to help small business owners by repeatedly blocking tax breaks for them.
With Murray at his side, the president met with a group of local business owners. "Nobody here is getting too fat and happy. Everybody here is operating on very lean margins," he said afterward. "In the same way they're looking out for their employees, we need to be looking out for small businesses."
Obama has made help for small business a main focus of his campaign efforts to help Democrats in upcoming November midterm elections.
Small businesses account for two out of every three jobs created. Obama is backing a Democratic bill that would give small businesses a variety of tax breaks and incentives, including easier access to loans, deductions for small businesses and an elimination of capital gains taxes on investments in small businesses.
But Republicans repeatedly have blocked the legislation, suggesting it is misguided and would fall short of truly helping small businesses.
"They won't even let it go to a vote," Obama said. But he said the bill would be the first item of business when Congress returns from its summer recess next month.
"We've got a stake in helping our small businesses succeed. ... Our economic recovery depends on it," the president said.
He spoke on the day of Washington's primary. Murray is on the ballot and was expected to advance, as was the principal Republican contender, Dino Rossi. Murray is a member of the Senate Democratic leadership and her contest is being closely watched by Democrats around the nation.
Later, both Obama and Murray sounded a familiar Democratic theme in a talk to supportive Democrats at a fundraiser — that Bush administration policies had driven the economy into deep recession and record deficits. "Never go back to the failed policies of George W. Bush, where my opponents want to go," Murray said.
And Obama again portrayed Republicans as naysayers. "It's going to take time to bring back 8 million jobs (lost since the recession began in December 2007). Anyone who tells you otherwise is just looking for your vote," he said.
Much of the estimated record $1.5 trillion deficit for 2010 is due to reduced tax revenues because of the recession and government spending programs done under both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to rescue the financial system and prop up the economy. The federal deficit was just $162 billion as recently as 2007.
Obama met with a group of Seattle-area business owners who have upbeat stories to tell. He hopes their successes underscore his broader message that the sluggish economy is rebounding thanks to resilience and federal support, although more than 14 million remain out of work.
Obama's first stop was at the Grand Central Bakery and Cafe, where he burst in shouting "Hey, guys" to employees, then bought himself a sandwich, a side dish, a salad and a bottle of water. He sat at a wooden table with three local business owners to hear their stories.
Aboard Air Force One on the way to Seattle, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said Obama believes Democrats "will hold on to both the House and the Senate" despite a stumbling recovery and polls showing vast voter discontent.
In the Washington primary, the top two vote-getters for the Senate seat, regardless of their party, will advance to the general election. Murray was vying for her fourth term.
But Republican Rossi mounted a serious campaign.
Murray's ability to lure federal money to projects in her state has helped her win re-election before, but this year she is fighting against a growing voter distaste for the level of spending and debt adding up in Washington, D.C.
Obama, meanwhile, is choosing more ominous language to describe his vision of the leadership that Republicans would offer should they win control of the House or Senate. He characterizes that prospect as a reckless return to the past.
"They're offering fear and they're offering amnesia," Obama told an elite fundraiser in Los Angeles that generated $1 million for Democratic candidates for Congress. "They are counting on the notion that you won't remember what happened when they were in charge. I think the American people do remember."
Obama will end his day in Columbus, Ohio, pivoting to fundraising events there and in Miami on Wednesday before returning to the White House.
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