President Obama is opening an economic front against Republicans -- calling objections to his fiscal policies "just politics" and saying the economy "is headed in the right direction."
"They figure if they just keep saying no to everything and nothing gets done, they'll get more votes in November," Obama said of the opposition. "It's no wonder folks are so cynical about politics."
The president's remarks, at a town hall in Wisconsin, included a ratcheting up of pointed political rhetoric ahead of the midterm elections.
But his economic message, which includes a critique of tax breaks and lax oversight of Wall Street and the oil industry, is a fraught one.
Consumer confidence is down, unemployment has failed to show significant improvement, and home sales are lagging.
Republicans, looking for political traction, are seizing on the mixed-at-best results of Obama's economic policies -- notably a mordibund mortgage assistance program and the $787 billion stimulus package.
"Instead of growth and job creation, the stimulus has contributed to a drastic spike in deficits and a mountain of debt," said Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, chairman of the Republican Study Committee. "The sooner Democrats admit the failure of their big-spending stimulus, the sooner we can start putting America on the right track toward fiscal responsibility and prosperity."
Administration officials originally predicted the stimulus would create between 3 million and 4 million jobs by the end of 2010, and that unemployment would hit a high of 8 percent in 2009.
The federal government on Friday will release the latest jobs numbers, and economists are predicting the numbers will be a disappointment for Obama. Unemployment was 9.3 percent in May, after peaking at 10.6 percent in January.
The lack of consistent improvement in the economy makes it harder for Obama to campaign on economic recovery -- but the administration is nevertheless promoting "Recovery Summer," the latest round of stimulus spending, as an electoral asset.
And Obama is targeting Republicans' opposition to Wall Street reform and other measures, calling it an embrace of the "status quo" that favors big corporations over ordinary citizens.
Obama is also making it personal.
"I was stunned to hear the leader of the Republicans in the House say that financial reform was like using a nuclear weapon to target an ant," he said of House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio. "That's right -- he compared the financial crisis to an ant. The same financial crisis that led to the loss of nearly eight million jobs. The same crisis that cost people their homes and their lives' savings."
Boehner complained in an interview that the big-government aspects of a financial reform bill before Congress would give federal bureaucracy too much power, saying, "This is killing an ant with a nuclear weapon."
Democrats seized on the remark to illustrate Republican disregard for the plight of Main Street. Boehner called on Obama to address the economy -- rather than his choice of metaphors.