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Obama Attempts To Frame Re-election Debate

Obama Attempts To Frame Re-election Debate
4/3/2012 4:33 PM ET

President Barack Obama Tuesday took some of his clearest steps so far in attempting to define the terms of November's presidential election.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the Associated Press, Obama said that while there will be gaffes and intemperate remarks that shape the campaign landscape, the "fundamental issues" dividing the two parties are of far more importance.

"Whoever he may be, the next President will inherit an economy that is recovering, but not yet recovered, from the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression," he said. "Too many Americans will still be looking for a job that pays enough to cover their bills or their mortgage. Too many citizens will still lack the sort of financial security that started slipping away years before this recession hit. A debt that has grown over the last decade, primarily as a result of two wars, two massive tax cuts, and an unprecedented financial crisis, will have to be paid down."

He added, "This is not just another run-of-the-mill political debate. I've said it's the defining issue of our time, and I believe it."

Obama sought to preemptively counter charges likely to be leveled at him by the ultimate Republican nominee, namely that he is a socialist who does not believe in American principles.

"I believe deeply that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history," he said. "My mother and the grandparents who raised me instilled the values of self-reliance and personal responsibility that remain the cornerstone of the American idea."

The president added, "But I also share the belief of our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln -- a belief that, through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves."

Obama also reiterated his belief that a strong middle class, rather than benefits trickling down from the wealthy, was the way to ensure prosperity for the country.

"We're told that when the wealthy become even wealthier, and corporations are allowed to maximize their profits by whatever means necessary, it's good for America, and that their success will automatically translate into more jobs and prosperity for everybody else," Obama said. "The problem for advocates of this theory is that we've tried their approach -- on a massive scale."

He added, "At the beginning of the last decade, the wealthiest Americans received a huge tax cut in 2001 and another huge tax cut in 2003. We were promised that these tax cuts would lead to faster job growth. They did not. The wealthy got wealthier. … But prosperity sure didn't trickle down."

Rather than moderating in the face of those results, however, Obama said Republicans in Congress were now doubling down on their ideas, quoting former House Speaker and Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who labeled such proposals "right wing social engineering." Gingrich swiftly backed off from those remarks months earlier.

"This congressional Republican budget is something different altogether. It is a Trojan Horse," Obama said. "Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It is thinly veiled social Darwinism."

He added, "It is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who's willing to work for it; a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that's built to last -- education and training, research and development, our infrastructure -- it is a prescription for decline."

Obama also lamented that Congressional Republicans, endorsed by many of the GOP presidential hopefuls, were even rejecting his proposals for a 10-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases.

"Think about that. Ronald Reagan, who, as I recall, is not accused of being a tax-and-spend socialist, understood repeatedly that when the deficit started to get out of control, that for him to make a deal he would have to propose both spending cuts and tax increases," Obama said. "Did it multiple times."

Obama added, "He could not get through a Republican primary today."

Obama also expressed confidence that his signature health care measure, now under consideration by the Supreme Court, would be upheld.

"I have enormous confidence that in looking at this law, not only is it constitutional, but that the Court is going to exercise its jurisprudence carefully because of the profound power that our Supreme Court has," Obama said.

He added, "I don't anticipate the Court striking this down. … But I think what's more important is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to recognize that in a country like ours -- the wealthiest, most powerful country on Earth -- we shouldn't have a system in which millions of people are at risk of bankruptcy because they get sick, or end up waiting until they do get sick and then go to the emergency room, which involves all of us paying for it."

by RTT Staff Writer

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