"With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball," Obama said. "And I am here to say this needs to stop. Short-term thinking and stale debates are not what this moment requires. Our focus must be on the basic economic issues that the matter most to you -- the people we represent. And as Washington prepares to enter another budget debate, the stakes for our middle class could not be higher."
Obama aides said the speech at Knox College in Galesburg, which the president visited as a newly elected U.S. senator, was the first in a series intended to shape the debate over the federal budget this fall.
Obama blamed Republican polices of tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich, and other changes hurting the poor and middle-class, for growing inequality that he said contributed to the recent recession.
He acknowledged the recovery is fragile.
"The countries that are passive in the face of a global economy will lose the competition for good jobs and high living standards," he said. "That's why 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."
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said on the floor of the House that Obama, instead of giving speeches should approve the Keystone XL pipeline and put off implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act, The Hill reported.
"The president himself said it isn't going to change any minds," Boehner said. "So what exactly will change? What's the point? What's it going to accomplish? You probably got the answer -- nothing. It's a hollow shell. It's an Easter egg with no candy in it."
Obama was to follow his address with another one, on a slightly different topic, around 4:20 p.m. CDT at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, the White House said.
The university's new Missouri Innovation Campus has a program that lets high school students go through a high-tech, accelerated curriculum on campus, cutting time and costs without increasing student debt.