President Obama touted a rebounding economy, campaigned for a minimum wage and fired up union workers at a Labor Day festival in Milwaukee on Monday.
In a campaign-style speech to a friendly union audience of about 6,000, Obama also castigated Republicans who are in “lockstep opposition to everything we do.”
“Sometimes when I talk about this stuff with folks from the other side of the aisle, they ask, ‘Why are you stirring up class resentments?'” Obama said working families aren’t looking for yachts, private planes, mansions or exotic vacations, but fair wages, affordable heath care and retirement security.
“Maybe take a vacation every once in a while. Maybe go to Wisconsin Dells. They’re not looking for anything fancy,” he said.
“I want an economy where your hard work pays off — with higher wages, and higher incomes, and fair pay for women, and workplace flexibility for parents, and affordable health insurance, and decent retirement benefits,” Obama said. “I’m not asking for the moon. I just want a good deal for American workers.”
Obama’s Labor Day speech sets the tone for a midterm election in which every member of the House, one-third of the Senate and 36 governors will be elected. With foreign policy issues increasingly demanding his attention, Obama used his Labor Day speech to make an economic argument that Democrats present the best option for working and middle-class families.
“So I just want everybody to understand, because you wouldn’t always know it by watching the news. By almost every measure, the American economy and American workers are better off than when I took office,” he said. “Construction is rebounding, energy and technology is booming, manufacturing is steadily creating jobs for the first time since the 1990s.”
He also joked about his gray hair, told a story about taking daughters Sasha and Malia to the Wisconsin Dells water park, and led the crowd in chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
Obama has spoken to friendly audiences at Laborfest — an end-of-summer parade and party put on by Milwaukee labor unions —- twice before. The first time, as a candidate for president in 2008, Obama toned down his campaigning as Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast and the Republicans canceled their first night of the Republican National Convention.
In 2010, during the last midterm congressional campaign, Obama used the venue to roll out a $ 50 billion plan to boost federal spending for transportation. It died in Congress, and Republicans went on to take control of the House of Representatives.
“They oppose stuff they used to be for. They used to be for building roads and bridges,” Obama said.
“I’m just telling the truth. The sky is blue today. Wisconsin brats are delicious. The Milwaukee Brewers are in first place. And Republicans in Congress love to say ‘no,'” he said. “Those are just the facts of life.”
Obama acknowledged that Wisconsin had become a hotbed of labor activism in 2011 after Republican Gov. Scott Walker pushed through measures designed to limit the collective-bargaining rights of public employees, and made it clear which side he was on.
“If I were looking for a job that lets me get some security for my family, I’d join a union,” he said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a Wisconsin native, said Democrats could do more to create jobs.
“Right now, there are millions of Americans who desperately want to work but can’t find a job. They’re exhausted from looking for jobs that don’t exist,” he said. He blamed Obama and Senate Democrats for rejecting jobs bills passed by the Republican-led House — including a bill to build the Keystone Pipeline to deliver Canadian oil to the Gulf Coast.
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