U.S. President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Washington has "taken its eye off the ball" as he pledged a stronger second-term commitment to tackling the economic woes that strain many in the middle class nearly five years after the country plunged into a recession.
Obama's remarks came in a speech he's giving at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., the campus where he gave his first major economic address as a U.S. senator eight years ago.
On Wednesday, Obama chided Congress for being less concerned about the economy and more about "an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals."
"I am here to say this needs to stop," he told a receptive crowd. "Short-term thinking and stale debates are not what this moment requires."
Spending, budget deadlines loom
The president's attempt to refocus on the economy comes amid some hopeful signs of improvement, with the unemployment rate falling and consumer confidence on the rise. But looming spending and budget deadlines this fall could upend that progress if Washington spirals into contentious fiscal fights like those that plagued Obama's first term.
On Wednesday, Obama called on Congress to set aside the kind of "slash-and-burn partisanship" that has been a drag on the economic recovery.
He urged Republicans to "set aside politics and work with me to find common ground" but said he'll do what it takes to push through the policies he sees as essential to getting the country back on track.
"I believe there are members of both parties who understand what's at stake," Obama said. "But I will not allow gridlock, inaction or willful indifference to get in our way."
Obama promised to fight for the middle class with policies to promote jobs, educational opportunities, homeownership, secure retirement and health care.
He also advocated greater investment in the country's neglected infrastructure.
'We've got 100,00 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare," he said in his speech.
Obama said America needs to get back to being a country that builds things and that this idea is not unique to the Democratic Party.
"Lincoln was all about building stuff," Obama said, referring to the Republican president of the Civil War era, Abraham Lincoln.
More speeches to come
The president announced no fresh policy proposals in Wednesday's speech, though he promised new ideas in a series of speeches he plans in the coming weeks. They will focus on manufacturing, education, housing, retirement security and health care.
On education, the president promised to outline "an aggressive strategy to shake up the system, tackle rising costs, and improve value for middle-class students and their families." He renewed his call for increasing the minimum wage.
Speeches a colossal waste of time: Republicans
Even before Obama spoke, Republican congressional leaders were panning the president's renewed economic focus.
"Every time he goes out and gives one of these speeches, it generates little more than a collective bipartisan eye roll," said Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell.
"It's just such a colossal waste of time and energy — resources that would be better spent actually working with both parties in Congress to grow the economy and create jobs."
House Speaker John Boehner, from Ohio, said, "Welcome to the conversation, Mr. President. We've never left it."
With files from CBC News