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Obama hits optimistic note at end of Midwest swing

By the CNN Wire Staff
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: People should be mad at politicians, not government, president says
  • Obama tells Illinois crowd America will recover, but political system is broken
  • The bus tour aims to promote the administration's rural economic development initiatives
  • GOP critics say the trip is a thinly disguised taxpayer-funded political trip

Atkinson, Illinois (CNN) -- President Barack Obama expressed confidence Wednesday that America will ultimately overcome its current economic woes but once again blamed a dysfunctional, excessively partisan political system for hampering recovery efforts.

"Don't bet against America," Obama told a crowd at an agricultural plant in his home state of Illinois. "We have gone through tougher times than this before."

But "there is something wrong with our politics," the president said. Washington needs to "stop drawing lines in the sand" and "worry more about the next generation than the next election."

Obama renewed his call for Congress to extend the current payroll tax cut, boost infrastructure spending, pass a series of stalled trade bills and enact patent reform, among other things.

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He also kept up pressure on Republicans to accept what the White House has characterized as a more balanced approach to long-term deficit reduction, embracing both spending cuts and revenue increases.

"If everybody took an attitude of shared sacrifice ... we can solve our deficit and debt problem next week, and it wouldn't require radical changes," he said.

Obama's remarks came at a town hall meeting in Atkinson, Illinois, near the end of a three-day bus tour through the politically pivotal Midwest.

Obama made stops in Iowa and Minnesota earlier in the week.

The trip, according to administration officials, was planned primarily to promote rural economic development initiatives. It has, however, often taken on the feel of an early re-election push. Over the past three days, Obama has repeatedly blasted Republican congressional critics for allegedly putting partisan political concerns before the country's interests.

He reiterated that point late Wednesday afternoon in the farming community of Alpha, Illinois. A John Deere tractor beside him and a cornfield behind, Obama said "the biggest challenge we have is in Washington."

Saying the country needs balance in its tax policy, Obama said there is "nothing socialist" about top wage-earners paying a higher tax rate.

He also said people should be unhappy with politics, not the government. He cited soldiers, astronauts, food inspectors and emergency responders as examples of important government service.

The president is planning to roll out new job growth and deficit reduction plans immediately after Labor Day, according to a senior administration official. Though Obama's ideas are likely to receive a rocky reception in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, analysts on both sides of the aisle expect the shaky economy to dominate next year's presidential race.

The unemployment rate in July was 9.1%, with about 14 million Americans out of work. Unemployment has not fallen below 8.8% since March 2009, two months into Obama's presidency, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday afternoon in Peosta, Iowa, Obama accused congressional Republicans of standing in the way of compromises necessary for stronger economic growth.

The president said the inability of GOP leaders in Congress to support a recent $4 trillion deficit reduction deal focused more heavily on spending cuts than revenue increases is evidence of a party placing political considerations before national interests.

"The fact that Speaker (John) Boehner and folks in his caucus couldn't say yes to that (deficit deal) tells me that they're more interested in the politics ... than they are in solving the problem," Obama said.

Republicans have blasted the president's Midwest swing, calling it a thinly disguised campaign trip.

Obama is "spending taxpayers' dollars on a bus tour disguised as some kind of economic event for the country when we all know that it's a campaign event paid for by the taxpayers," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus said Monday.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a GOP presidential front-runner, has dubbed the presidential trip the "Magical Misery Tour."

The first family is scheduled to depart for a vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Thursday.

CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report.

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