DECORAH, Iowa (AP) — 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, the second day of a three-day bus tour, he 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 president began with an early morning workout at a Decorah gym and later chatted with a few locals outside his hotel before getting on the bus to his next event, a White House Rural Economic Forum at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta.

“Welcome to the 50s,” one man told Obama, who hit the half-century mark with his birthday this month. Obama pointed to the man’s gray hair and said: “I’m catching up to you.”

The president’s agenda of the day was proposals to help farm regions, including some ideas that are already under way and do not require additional government spending.

More broadly, his economic message illustrates his 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.

With echoes of Harry Truman’s 1948 campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, Obama encouraged audiences at town hall meetings Monday in Minnesota and Iowa to rise up against congressional inaction.

“If your voices are heard, then sooner or later these guys have to start paying attention,” he said. “And if they don’t start paying attention then they’re not going to be in office and we will have a new Congress in there that will start paying attention to what is going on all across America.”

The proposals include targeting Small Business Administration loans to rural small businesses, expanding job training to Agriculture Department field offices and recruiting more doctors for small rural hospitals.

Though classified by the White House as an official presidential trip, the tour’s first day had the distinct feel of a campaign excursion. The president’s motorcade, at times numbering nearly 30 vehicles, rumbled over 160 miles through small towns and cornfields in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. Its most prominent feature was the president’s bus — not the colorful transports of campaigns, but a dark, imposing vehicle recently purchased for $1.1 million by the Secret Service.

The settings of the two outdoor town halls were in picturesque locales, one with Minnesota’s Cannon River as a backdrop and the other in Iowa amid hay bales against a red barn lit by a setting sun.

Obama’s rhetoric had a campaign pulse as well.

He attacked the Republican presidential field, recalling a moment in last week’s GOP presidential debate when all eight of the candidates said they would refuse to support a budget deal with tax increases, even if tax revenues were outweighed 10-to-1 by spending cuts.

“That’s just not common sense,” Obama told the crowd at a town hall-style meeting in Cannon Falls, Minn.

He took a shot at GOP front-runner, Mitt Romney, though not by name, over the health care system he instituted while governor of Massachusetts that is similar to the Obama-backed federal law that Republicans now oppose.

“You’ve got a governor who’s running for president right now who instituted the exact same thing in Massachusetts,” the president said. “It’s like they got amnesia.”

Obama also 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.”

In both town halls, Obama cast himself as a compromiser, a trait White House aides say resonates with independent voters and lives up to his 2008 pledge to change the ways of Washington.

“I make no apologies for being reasonable,” Obama declared.

But some Democrats maintain Obama has gone too far, caving in to Republican demands and having little to show for it.

His first questioner in Iowa, a woman who declared herself a strong supporter, wondered whether Obama had compromised on key principles by not fighting for the repeal of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, or for agreeing to make some cuts to Social Security and Medicare during the debt ceiling showdown.

“So I’m just curious, moving forward, what prevents you from taking a harder negotiating stance, being that it seems that the Republicans are taking a really hard stance?” she asked.

Obama said the risk of raising taxes on all Americans forced him to compromise and extend all the Bush-era tax cuts until the end of 2012. He also said the consequences of a government default were too great to risk a failed deal on the debt ceiling.

But he promised to assemble a plan to boost the economy that he will present to Congress in September.

“And if they don’t get it done, then we’ll be running against a Congress that’s not doing anything for the American people,” he said, “and the choice will be very stark and will be very clear.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (12)
  1. meow says:

    I”m an Obama voter. I think he has done an outstanding job with difficult but very real accomplishments his first two years in office. With that, I also think it’s great that people are asking these very real and appropriate questions along with showing their passion on the issues. He has a long, hard road ahead this year and into the next year for campaigning. Obmam is right though, you have to comprimise on some issues in government, thats how things get done. Give a little, take a little. I wish him and his team the best moving forward!

    Good reporting btw. I’m reading on other news sites that Obama was “Heckled” by TeaParty memebers. They were hardly Heckling … but in fact pressing some concerns.

    1. Les Johnson says:

      They WERE, in fact, heckling. Do some more reading on what was said by who, and at what junctures of the event.

      1. dan says:

        Not sure if you saw it live, but the Tea Party members were asking staight forward questions and given credit to the Pres he stood there and tried to answer. The hecklers in the background we Democrats cackling “Stay Strong”. Asking a direct question is not heckling, someone screaming out Stay Strong in the background is a heckler

    2. Trash removal November 2012 says:

      We know your a hard core liberal from you past comments. But it is Obama, Pelosi and Reid who need to compromise. The tea party is not the enemy it is the future. The left wing political platform in this county is destroying it. The 3 of them think the American Public is the bank and they have an open check book to spend, spend and spend more. Obama will be a one term President. And he will face a challenge from his own party on his failed policy’s.

      1. Tan pup says:

        As an independent voter who actually looks at both sides of the issues because the fact is, it’s the middle class who suffers the most. If you actually looked at the money the US spends, it is the republicans who opened that pocket book it was just that the Dems never blinked an eye. Unfortunately, the tea party is so removed from reality that their ideas just can’t remotely work. Compromise is an important part of politics. I will agree that Pelosi & Reid are a problem, but it’s the tea party who doesn’t get it. They are a group of narcissistic, scared, spoiled, mostly poorly educated white people who have never taken responsibility for their own actions and have blamed the entire population for their own mistakes. They label themselves as republicans just so they can feel they are part of some falsehood of being wealthy and choose not to look at any other option, opinion or facts. These same people still cash their Soc Sec /unemployment checks and have benefited from government subsidies paid for by other peoples taxes. Obama is far from liberal. It’s getting old that everything that man says or does is labeled as liberal just because he is trying to compromise. The real problem in this country is the fact the tea party is becoming the Taliban of the United States.

        1. Your comment is a joke says:

          You are puttiing a label on all Tea Party members. Your label in fact fits the blacks that supported Obama and count on the check in the mail box every month. I think You should change your statement Black Pup

      2. "Quoted" says:

        Econ. 101: You don’t take buying power from a weak economy. Insofar as fiscal policy goes, this means that when the economy is struggling to grow, you don’t raise anyone’s taxes — but you don’t cut spending, either. The spending issue is worth elaborating on. The Republicans, especially those who consider themselves beholden to the tea party, would have you believe that the remedy for our current economic ills is to cut spending. What they are saying turns not just the laws of economics on their head, but common sense as well. When the government spends less, less money goes into the economy. Apparently the tea partiers are worried about the government spending money that it does not have. Hello? This is something new? Have they been sleeping all the years in which the Congress routinely passed budgets that called for more spending than revenues? Where do they think all this debt that they profess to be worried about came from, Mars? Business is sitting on huge piles of cash, so most firms don’t have the need to borrow. Those that do can borrow at rates that are very low by historical standards because the Federal Reserve has pumped loads of liquidity into the financial system — as it should have done. There is no need to cut government spending at this time — especially when the economy needs more fiscal stimulus, if anything.

        1. Carl says:

          Couple issues with your theory: 1) When govt spends less, less money goes into the economy. Seems brilliant on the surface, but money not sent into the inneficient govt will be spent more efficiently by the taxpayers of the US. Hence, more money into the economy. 2) This is something new? Great question but where does it end? Just because both Republicans and Democrats borrow .40 cents of every dollar spent doesnt mean we need to stay on this course forever. Tea Party does have a great stand on reducing govt waste and spending

          1. "Quoted" says:

            Besides help from fiscal policy, what this economy needs is less uncertainty over politics.

            No sane person believes that the last-minute agreement to raise the debt ceiling means that pols from both sides of the aisle have kissed and made up.

            Rather, both parties are girding for the next battle. This is the deliberations to be made by the so-called “super committee” over what spending to cut and what revenues to raise next year and in the years beyond in order to meet the debt-reduction targets agreed to as part of the deal to lift the debt ceiling.

            On this subject, I would remind you that even without any recommendations by this committee, fiscal policy is set to tighten at year-end. Both the payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits expire unless extended — an unlikely event, given the prevailing winds blowing down Pennsylvania Avenue.

            This tightening represents fiscal restraint of about 2% of next year’s gross domestic product — enough to drag the weak economy back into recession, if it isn’t already in one by then.

            If these misguided policies don’t get incumbents from both parties thrown out of office come next year’s elections, then nothing will.

  2. Fix the tax problems then cut spending!!! says:

    To all the hardcore Libs out there that say they should “tax those rich folks more” and this came from a liberal site called CNN. Did you know that in 2009 that 236,833 taxpayers with more than $1 million in adjusted gross income was about $727 billion. If the government where to impose a 10% surcharge on this income it would generate at most $73 billion in new revenue — only about 2% of federal spending. So yeah lets tax them rich some more. I have an idea how about we close all the tax loopholes that everyone and I mean everyone including the 40 some percent that don’t pay taxes. I say then that would generate enough to get us out of this issue.

    1. Bye Bye Middle Class says:

      Recent data: 300,000 Americans in “the top tenth of 1% of income had nearly as much income as all 150 million Americans who make up the economic lower half of our population.

      1. Carl says:

        Same as 50 years ago, what’s your point?

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