WASHINGTON — Previewing a presidential campaign pitch, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is blaming President Barack Obama for the sluggish recovery and accusing him of enacting a series of policies that "created economic uncertainty or directly hurt the economy."
The two-term Republican governor also is holding up his record as proof that he could do better on two pillars: economic growth and job creation.
"We still have more to do in Mississippi. But we have made great progress and are laying a foundation for the future," Barbour says in remarks prepared for delivery later Monday to the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.
The likely Republican presidential contender was traveling to Obama's hometown to lay out a contrasting vision for the country's economic well-being and give Republicans across the country a taste of how he would take on the Democrat if given the opportunity as the GOP's presidential nominee.
His message to tea party activists clamoring for deep budget cuts and Republican leaders in Washington carrying out their bidding: "Our focus on fiscal responsibility must go hand-in-hand with policies that drive economic growth and job creation."
All but certain to enter the GOP nomination fight in the coming weeks, Barbour has spent months laying the groundwork for a campaign. Monday's speech was the first glimpse of how his candidacy would look and sound. He makes clear he would run on the economy and on his record as governor in a state that ranks behind many others on many measures.
"What American needs today is a commitment to economic growth, not government growth: an absolute dedication to appropriately reforming entitlements coupled with an understanding that budget cuts must be matched by policies that promote growth and spread prosperity," Barbour says.
He says economic growth would not be achieved through "government boondoggles like taxpayer-subsidized high-speed rail or other pet projects" or by "having government take control of our automakers, financial sector, health care system and energy industry."
The Republican has ratcheted up his criticism of Obama over the past two years, but on Monday he was offering his most blistering critique yet of Obama's tenure: "Explosive spending, skyrocketing deficits, gargantuan debt, calls for record tax increases, government-run health care, out-of-control regulations and anti-growth energy policy."
He accuses Obama of ignoring the growing national debt, and being AWOL on entitlements like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which Barbour calls "a failure of leadership."
"It can be done — but it must be led by a president who is actually committed to change," Barbour says, all but offering himself up as just the person for the job.
He notes the huge GOP victories in last fall's election, which he says seem "to have given the president the zeal of a convert who just heard the Gospel." Barbour mentions Obama's recent meetings with CEOs, his speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and his compromise with Republicans to temporarily extend Bush-era tax cuts.
"Despite all the talk, there's no change in policy," Barbour says. "And the policies embraced by this White House show little understanding of how our economy actually works."
He offers himself as a counterpoint, trying to make the case that he's a can-do manager who practiced in Mississippi what he preaches now about how Obama should be leading the country.
In his two terms, the Republican says, he's been focused on growing the state's economy while running a jobs-friendly government that lives within its means.
He boasts of filling a $720 million budget deficit, caused by the recession, in two years without raising taxes, and refilling the state's depleted cash reserve fund. He talks about overseeing the passage of a sweeping tort reform law, and claims that he addressed skyrocketing Medicaid costs by instituting management controls and oversight.
"People talk about cutting waste, fraud and abuse. We've done it," says Barbour.
He also acknowledges his long career as a political operative and a Washington lobbyist, and doesn't shirk from either — though both are vulnerabilities.
"I am very proud of the work I did," he says.
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