Obama touts populist economics, offers few specifics in lengthy speech

Neil Munro | White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama tried Wednesday to reverse his declining poll ratings and to undermine the GOP prior to routine fall budget battles by offering a familiar list of government interventions to offset the weak economy.

Throughout the lengthy partisan speech, he blamed the Republicans for the lousy economy, claimed the House GOP lacks policy proposals, derided public debate over the proliferating scandals in his administration and also minimized mention of his progressive social priorities.

Those priorities include his unpopular push for a far-reaching immigration rewrite that would drag down blue-collar wages — and increase profits for the wealthy — by doubling the inflow of mostly unskilled immigrants to 46 million by 2033. The current population of 313 million Americans includes 20 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed.

Obama’s pitch also helps to pull the media’s attention away from the widespread debate over the immigration rewrite, which is expected to peak next month as allied business and progressive groups push GOP legislators during the congressional recess to ignore widespread opposition among GOP activists and local voters.

GOP advocates derided the speech as warmed-over progressive pap. (RELATED: Obama will use executive actions on the economy)

“Short of a State of the Union, this has to be the longest, most meandering and least focused Obama speech, ever,” said Jonathan Collegio, a GOP-affiliated communications expert.

Obama began his speech by claiming credit for brights spot in the economy, and ended with a claim that he only cares about Americans’ welfare. “I care about one thing and one thing only, and that’s how to use every minute of the 1,276 days remaining in my term to make this country work for working Americans again,” he said. That pitch may help slow or reverse his decline in the polls.

But much of the speech was spent slashing at the GOP, directly or indirectly.

“We’ve seen a sizable group of Republican lawmakers suggest they wouldn’t vote to pay the very bills that Congress rang up — a fiasco that harmed a fragile recovery in 2011, and one we can’t afford to repeat,” he told the audience of supporters at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill.

“With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop, this need to stop,” he insisted.

Obama has used similar harsh rhetoric repeatedly since 2011 to counter the House GOP’s support for budget trims that would slow the growth of federal spending, and also to sideline a repeated series of scandals, including the post-2010 targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service.

He pushed for a greater government role in the economy. “America has to make the investments necessary to promote long-term growth and shared prosperity. Rebuilding our manufacturing base. Educating our workforce. Upgrading our transportation and information networks. That’s what we need to be talking about. That’s what Washington needs to be focused on,” he insisted.

He also suggested that public and GOP opposition to his policies are conspiratorial, malicious and mean.

“What we need isn’t a three-month plan, or even a three-year plan, but a long-term American strategy, based on steady, persistent effort, to reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades,” he claimed.

“We’re not a mean people,” he said, as he slammed conservatives’ preference for a smaller federal government.

He also promised to overcome popular and GOP opposition to his policies, with whatever tool he has at hand. “I will not allow gridlock, inaction, or willful indifference to get in our way,” he said.

In the speech, he made only two brief mentions of his push for a fundamental rewrite of the nation’s immigration rules, which he tried to portray as a routine benefit to the economy.

“A growing number of Republican senators are trying to get things done, like an immigration bill that economists say will boost our economy by more than a trillion dollars. … Economists show that immigration reform that makes undocumented workers pay their full share of taxes would actually shore up Social Security for years.”

However, the Congressional Budget Office reported in June that the Senate’s immigration rewrite would drag down average wages for at least a decade, and shift more of the nation’s wealth from wage-earners to property owners for at least 20 years.

A May report by the Heritage Foundation concluded that legalizing the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country would cost American taxpayers $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years. The Heritage report did not look at the extra cost of additional immigration envisaged by the Senate bill.

In April, Harvard economist George Borjas estimated that the cumulative legal and illegal immigration population expands the economy by 11 percent, or $1.6 trillion. Immigrants receive 97.8 percent of that $1.6 trillion increase in their pay packets, he reported. But their low wages also drag down the wages paid to Americans by roughly $402 billion per year, transferring a $437 billion gain to the higher-income Americans who hire immigrants and lower-wage Americans, said Borjas.

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