DECORAH, Iowa (AP/The Huffington Post) — President Barack Obama's Midwestern tour is offering a mix of offense and defense that signals both his governing approach for the remainder of his term and the evolution of a campaign message for his re-election bid.
Obama is determined to use the reach of his office to build public pressure on Republicans to move his way on economic and fiscal policies, to counterpunch against the GOP presidential field, and to argue for his presidency with independent voters and rekindle enthusiasm among Democrats.
On Tuesday, Obama got an earful from two Tea Party supporters who challenged him on reports that Vice President Joe Biden had agreed with congressional Democrats who characterized the conservative movement as terrorists.
"He said we were acting like terrorists," Iowa Tea Party activist Ryan Rhodes said, confronting the president after the Decorah town hall as Obama worked a rope line of audience members. "What we stand for is limited government and a balanced budget," Rhodes continued.
Obama countered that Biden was making the point that almost failing to raise the debt ceiling was irresponsible.
"He wasn't objecting to the balanced budget amendment, he was objecting to us almost defaulting," Obama said. As Rhodes persisted, and Obama continued to shake hands, the president added, "It doesn't sound like you are interested in listening."
On the second day of a three-day bus tour, the president was spending the day promoting rural economic policies, among the series of remedies he is pushing to fire up anemic job growth. But the measures are targeted, such as making it easier for rural businesses to get access to capital, and far more modest than the ambitious $821 billion stimulus package he pushed through Congress in 2009 when unemployment was rising but still below the current 9.1 percent level.
The economic message illustrates Obama's current dilemma. Republicans control the House and believe that addressing the nation's long-term debt will have a positive effect on the economy; they have no appetite for major spending initiatives aimed at spurring a recovery.
Embracing that demand for fiscal discipline, Obama has called for both spending cuts and increases in revenue, but he found few takers for that formula during the contentious debate this summer over raising the nation's debt ceiling.