President Barack Obama on Wednesday accused Republicans of being out of touch with the struggles of ordinary Americans, railing against one House lawmaker's apology to BP oil and another's criticism of Wall Street overhaul legislation.
In comments at a town hall here, Obama gave voice to the Democratic Party's latest populist complaints in a tough election year.
Responding to House Minority Leader John Boehner's gripe that the financial bill amounts to "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon," Obama said, according to an advance text, "He should come here to Racine and ask people if they think the financial crisis was an ant."
It was a measure of Democrats' unease approaching critical midterm elections in a dismal political and economic climate that the president would personally take on individual House members. He did so with gusto.
The president also seized on GOP Rep. Joe Barton's apology to BP — which Barton later apologized for — over the $20 billion victims' compensation fund Obama pressured BP to establish.
"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!" Obama scoffed. "He actually called the fund 'a tragedy.' A tragedy? A tragedy is what the people of the Gulf are going through right now. That's the tragedy," the president said.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel answered back, saying Obama should be focused on solving problems like cleaning up the Gulf "instead of the House Republican leader's choice of metaphors."
"It's clear Boehner was not minimizing the crisis America faced — he was pointing out that Washington Democrats have produced a bill that will actually kill more jobs and make the situation worse," said Steel.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama sees Boehner's comments as an opportunity to contrast his view of the financial crisis with that of the Republicans.
"There are important moments where there's some clarity about how our view of the world contrasts with the Republican view of the world," Burton told reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One.
Obama touched down in Milwaukee around noon local time Wednesday and greeted members of the Air National Guard at the airport before heading south to Racine to talk about jobs and the economy and take questions at a town hall meeting.
Confronting public pessimism about the economy, Obama planned to say the U.S. faces a choice between returning to what he calls failed economic policies of the past, or moving forward.
He was promoting Wall Street reform legislation pending in Congress, saying it will "protect our economy from the recklessness and irresponsibility of a few."
Despite new reports showing a drop in consumer confidence about the economy, Burton said there will be "no change in course" in the administration's approach to the economic recovery. Burton said the president continues to share "the frustration of folks that progress is not being made as quickly as he wishes it were."
In Racine, on Lake Michigan, the work that still needs doing is on graphic display. The city's jobless rate was 14.2 percent last month, in part because of an exodus of manufacturing jobs. Chrysler is closing its engine plant in nearby Kenoshaand General Motors shut down its plant in Janesville, about an hour to the west.
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