CANNON FALLS, Minn., Aug. 15 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama rolled through Minnesota and Iowa by bus Monday, launching salvos at politicians who would put politics ahead of the country's welfare.
At the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, his second town hall meeting of the day, Obama repeated much of what he had said earlier in the day in Cannon Falls, Minn. He said the United States remains the envy of most of the world in many respects even as it endures some tough economic times.
He again expressed frustration with the "shenanigans" on Capitol Hill and said there are things Congress can do to help prime the job-creating pump, such as continuing the payroll tax cut, financing public infrastructure projects and giving tax breaks to small businesses.
He called for shared sacrifice that means higher taxes for the wealthy and voiced dismay at Republican presidential candidates who, at a debate in Iowa, said they would not accept $1 in tax increases for every $10 in government spending cuts.
"Ten-to-1 ratio, and nobody was willing to take that deal," Obama said. "And what that tells me is, OK, you've gotten to the point where you're just thinking about politics, you're not thinking about common sense. You've got to be willing to compromise in order to move the country forward."
Obama renewed his plea for Americans to tell their lawmakers what they want done.
"I'm confident in the power of your voice," he said. "I'm confident in your values -- those are the values that we share. I don't care whether you're a Democrat or Republican or an independent -- all of us here are patriots and everybody here cares about our country and puts it first. And if we can have that kind of politics then nothing can stop us."
Obama took a series of questions from the crowd, including from a woman who asked why he hasn't taken as hard a negotiating stance as Republicans on issues such as taxes and entitlement programs.
After a long-winding recounting of legislation he succeeded in getting through Congress, Obama said his point was, as former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo once said, "Campaigning is in poetry and governing is in prose.
"And my job as president goes beyond just winning the political argument. I've got a whole bunch of responsibilities, which means I have to make choices sometimes that are unattractive and I know will be bad for me politically and I know will get supporters of mine disappointed," Obama said. "So, look, the bottom line is we're moving in the right direction. But I know it's frustrating, because the other side is unreasonable. And you don't want to -- you don't want to reward unreasonableness. Look, I get that. But sometimes you've got to make choices in order to do what's best for the country at that particular moment, and that's what I've tried to do."
The president defended his healthcare reform and indicated he doesn't favor a federal sales tax or a flat tax to fix the tax system, saying "I think it's very important for us to maintain what's called progressivity in the tax code ... ."
Asked by another questioner what he would do to revitalize "Good old American democracy," Obama said "democracy has never been for the faint of heart."
"But what is true is because of the way our system is set up, we got different branches of government, separation of powers, and in order to do big things we always have had to compromise," he said. "That's just the nature of how our democracies function. And what that means is, is that everybody cannot get 100 percent of what they want.
"Now, in terms of how I deal with the current Congress, what I can do is to present my best ideas about how we move the country forward. And by the way, these are ideas that -- many of these ideas traditionally have had Republican support."
In Cannon Falls, the president, citing the "entirely self-inflicted wound" over raising the debt limit, told the assembled crowd some Republicans "would rather see their opponents lose than America win."
"We can't have patience with that kind of behavior," said Obama, sporting rolled up shirtsleeves, open collar and no tie. "I know you're frustrated. I'm frustrated, too."
His visits to three states he won in 2008 -- including his home state of Illinois -- come as his approval rating dipped to 39 percent, the first trip south of 40 percent, in Gallup's latest survey. Another 54 percent said they disapprove of his performance, Gallup said.
"There is nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed," Obama said, periodically wiping his brow with a handkerchief. "What's broken is our politics."
Washington must work on boosting the economy, put Americans back to work, and focus on this and future generations.
"We expect our political representatives to show same level of responsibility that you've shown" in reacting to the soured economy. "If you can do the right thing, then the folks in Washington have to do the right thing."
With unemployment at 9.1 percent, growing the economy and growing jobs are the two biggest problems facing the United States, Obama said. While jobs have been added to the private sector, the economy isn't growing fast enough to drive down unemployment significantly.
He recommended hiring returning military veterans, patent reforms and passing pending trade agreements because "we want some 'made in America' stuff in other countries."
"There is no shortage of ideas to put people to work right now. What is needed is action on part of Congress," Obama said, calling on members to "put partisan games aside [and do] what's right for the country" not trying to score "political points for the next election."
Solving debt and deficit problems requires "all of us to share a little bit of sacrifice," including closing tax loopholes and asking the wealthiest to pay more in taxes "to get this country back on track." It also includes tweaks to Medicare and Social Security programs.
"I want all of you to understand there is nothing that we're facing that we can't solve with some spirit of America first; a willingness to say we're going to choose country over party, the next generation over the next election," Obama said. "If we can do that, we'll come back."
As he has done elsewhere, Obama told the crowd of 500, "You've got to send a message to Washington that it's time for the games to stop. It's time to put the country first."
"We are fighting for the future of our country and that's a fight we're going to win," he said.
During a question-and-answer session, Obama fielded a question from a man worried about the conservative U.S. Supreme Court striking down the healthcare law.
Obama said the central feature of the plan -- the so-called individual mandate for nearly all people to carry insurance -- "should not be controversial" and is meant to prevent individuals from foregoing coverage until something catastrophic happens and insurers were required to cover them.
He took a jab at opponents of the healthcare plan and their calling it "Obamacare."
"I have no problem with folks saying Obama cares," he said to applause and chuckles. "I do care."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said a counter-tour would remind people of Obama's "failures" since he's been in office and how he "only made things worse."
He said the counter-tour would include news conferences and using social media in each state Obama visits "while the president perpetuates this fraud of a bus tour. … He can't help himself, he'd rather be out campaigning than being in Washington … ."