HOLLAND, Mich. -- President Obama used an appearance at an automobile battery manufacturing plant here Thursday afternoon to paint the nation’s sluggish economy as a byproduct of Washington gridlock caused by a Congress that is unwilling to compromise with him.

Speaking before an estimated 400 employees and guests at the new Johnson Controls factory, Obama took the offensive in his standoff with Republican rivals in the House by accusing them of trying to score political points “at the expense of our country.”

“There is nothing wrong with our country. There is something wrong with our politics,” Obama told the crowd. “The only thing keeping us back … is the refusal of some in Congress to put country ahead of party. Some in Congress would rather see their opponents lose than the country win. That has to stop, got to stop. We’re supposed to all be on the same team. … Tell them you’ve had enough theatrics, enough politics. Tell them to stop sending out press releases and start passing some bills to help our economy right now.”

In his first trip outside the Washington area aside from his birthday fundraiser in Chicago last week and a visit to Dover Air Force Base on Tuesday, Obama aimed to refocus his attention away from the messy partisan politics that consumed Washington during the month-long debt ceiling negotiations and turn it to a message of job creation. His appearance here came just hours before his Republican presidential rivals were set to hold a debate in Iowa in advance of this weekend’s straw polls. Some Democrats have become worried about what they see as Obama’s lack of boldness on promoting job creation and economic growth.

On Thursday, Obama’s motorcade drove past a large red sign reading “Liberty all the Stimulus we Need.” A crowd of several dozen supporters, some holding banners reading “Thank you for the jobs” and “Hang tough, you’re right,” cheered as the motorcade turned into the Johnson Controls complex. The president delivered his remarks after a brief tour of the new facility, which employs 320 people in the development of advanced batteries for hybrid and electric automobiles

Obama seemed reinvigorated in his criticism of his congressional adversaries, after delivering what was widely considered an under-whelming public address Monday at the White House. As he has over the past several weeks, Obama called on Congress to approve several of his proposals that he says will boost the economy, such as extending the payroll tax cut that was enacted in January.

Polls show sharp disapproval of both the president and Congress in the wake of the debt fight. Throughout the speech, the president attempted to cast himself as being as exasperated as the public is about Washington’s shenanigans and called on his audience to help him convince Congress to become more reasonable.

“In the aftermath of the debt ceiling debacle, with the markets going up and down, there’s a lot of talk in Washington that I should call Congress back early” from its summer recess, Obama said. “The last thing we need is Congress spending more time arguing in D.C. What I figure is, they need to spend more time out here listening to you and hearing how fed up you are. That’s why I’m here. If Congress goes back home and listens to people’s frustration about all the gridlock, how frustrated people are about the constant bickering and unwillingness to compromise … if they listen hard enough maybe they’ll come back to Washington ready to compromise, create jobs and reduce the deficit.”

Summing up, Obama added: “There’s lots of work to do. The only way we’ll get it done is to find a way to put country head of party. That what I’m fighting for. I’m here to enlist you in the fight.”