LIBERTY, Mo. — With Washington facing a potential government shutdown, President Obama traveled to the heartland Friday and delivered a combative rebuke of congressional Republicans for “trying to mess with me” instead of governing responsibly.
Obama railed at length against Republican lawmakers, whom he accused of “holding the economy hostage” by threatening not to fund the government and not to raise the government’s debt limit.
“Unfortunately right now, the debate going on in Congress is not meeting the test of helping middle class families,” Obama said. “They’re not focused on you. They’re focused on politics. They’re focused on trying to mess with me. They’re not focused on you.”
Obama’s rousing speech at a growing Ford manufacturing plant here on the outskirts of Kansas City amounted to an opening salvo against House Republicans heading into another intense skirmish over federal spending.
Obama spoke a couple of hours after the House passed a short-term budget bill that would pay for government operations through mid-December but withhold funding for Obama’s signature health-care law.
Obama at times sought to belittle GOP lawmakers. “The most basic constitutional duty Congress has is to pass a budget,” said the president, a former constitutional law lecturer. “That’s Congress 101.”
Obama also addressed Republicans’ threats not to raise the government’s borrowing limit later this year, noting that every president over the past half century, Republican and Democratic, has done so as a matter of course. Threatening not to raise the limit, he said, is “the height of irresponsibility.”
“This is not some abstract thing,” Obama said, adding that not raising the debt limit would be “profoundly destructive” and send the country into “an economic tailspin.”
Obama used the phrase “deadbeat nation” at least three times. “We are not a deadbeat nation,” he said in one instance. “We don’t run out on our tab. We’re the world’s bedrock investment. The entire world looks to us to make sure the world economy is stable.”
At one point, sounding exasperated, Obama said of Congress: “Just do your job.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who represents Kansas City and skipped Friday morning’s vote to fly here with Obama, said he and the president spoke about the budget battle aboard Air Force One.
Cleaver declined to reveal what Obama told him, but said of his own view, “I think it’s just another point of embarrassment in a long line of them. This time, however, the embarrassment might lead to a reentry into a recession.”
Obama’s visit to the Ford Kansas City Stamping Plant, which makes parts for the popular F-150 truck, had the feel of a campaign rally, complete with Bruce Springsteen playing as Obama shook hands at the rope line. The president appeared at ease, wearing no suit jacket and rolling up the sleeves of his blue dress shirt. He made multiple shout-outs to the Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL team that’s 3-0 after a win Thursday night.
Obama noted that back home in Chicago, he owns a 2008 Ford Escape, a model once built in Liberty, although the assembly line was moved to Louisville, Ky.
“I may roll in a Cadillac now,” Obama quipped, “but I don’t own it. I rent it, just like my house. The lease runs out in three and a half years.”
Obama’s visit was orchestrated to showcase the rebounding U.S. automobile manufacturing industry. Although Obama drew criticism for his 2009 bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, both companies — as well as Ford, which received no bailout funds — are now profitable.
“We bet on the American worker – we bet on you – and today that bet has paid off,” Obama said as he addressed roughly 1,000 Ford employees and other guests. “America’s auto industry has come roaring back.”
Obama toured the cavernous facility, where huge machines were humming, pressing sheets of metal into hoods and doors for F-150 trucks. The plant is growing significantly, from 2,500 workers in May to an expected 4,500 next year, according to statistics provided by the White House.