ATKINSON, Ill., Aug. 17 (UPI) -- Politics is standing in the way of the United States moving forward, President Obama said during a town hall meeting Wednesday in Atkinson, Ill.
"The only thing holding us back now is our politics," Obama said during the first of two town hall meetings scheduled in Illinois.
He again called on Congress to act quickly on measures that would extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, enact patent reforms, create a bank to match infrastructure jobs and workers, and approve free trade agreements -- all legislation that typically enjoys bipartisan support.
"I want products all over the world [stamped] with three words: 'Made in America,'" Obama told an enthusiastic crowd.
As he traveled through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois since Monday, Obama said he realizes "why I decided to get involved in public service in the first place."
Despite the difficult economic times the country experienced during the past two years, "I am absolutely confident about [the U.S. recovery], about this country," Obama said.
"As tough a time as we had, there is not a country on this Earth that would not readily change places with us now," Obama said, because the United States has the best workforce, entrepreneurs, scientists and universities.
"We have so much going for us. … There's nothing wrong with our country right now," Obama said. "There is something wrong with our politics."
Citing the recent "debacle" to reach agreement on raising the debt limit while imposing cuts to reduce the deficit, Obama said, "When this country is operating on the common ground, nobody can stop us. When we're divided, we have a whole lot of self-inflicted problems."
Engaging in "partisan brinkmanship" has no place in "how we move forward together," he said.
And while the economy has improved over the last two years, "we've got a long way to go," Obama said. "It's urgent for us not to put party first, not [to put] election first, but [put] country first.
"That's the message we need to send to Washington."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has called Obama's trip a blatant re-election campaign swing.
"No matter what the president says, his Midwest bus tour is nothing but a campaign trip," Priebus said. "He's talking about campaigning against Congress and doling out talking points, not policy plans."
The White House denied the trip was political. Spokesman Jay Carney said it was ridiculous to suggest that "any time the president leaves Washington, it's campaigning."
Obama is simply "doing what presidents do -- going out into the country," Carney said.