CLEVELAND — After a month of backpedalling, President Barack Obama went back on offense today, delivering a sharp critique of Mitt Romney’s economic policies and the Republican's vision for the country’s future.
In a wide-ranging 53-minute address, Obama, speaking at Cuyahoga Community College here, declared that there is “a stalemate in Washington between two fundamentally different views” for the economic future of the nation — and asked for a mandate to break through it.
“The only thing that can break the stalemate is you,” he said.
“This November, you can provide a mandate for the change we need right now,” Obama said at the close of his remarks, a striking request for a president who has already served three and a half years in office — including two with his own party in control of Congress.
Illustrating the choice voters face in the fall, Obama said the election will be a referendum on two competing visions to jumpstart the economy, grow jobs, and cut the deficit.
“We don't have a choice whether to pay down the deficit, but we have a choice how to pay down the deficit,” Obama said.
Going out of his way to acknowledge his gaffe last week that the "private sector is doing fine," Obama said that "of course the economy isn’t where it needs to be. Of course we have a lot more to do."
Obama said Romney's full-throated embrace of the House Republican agenda would force choices between childcare and cancer research, between Pell grants and benefits for veterans.
"If you agree with the approach I just described… then you should vote for Mr. Romney," Obama said, encouraging the press to fact-check him to show he wasn't exaggerating.
Instead, Obama said he has another vision for the country, in which the wealthy pay their fair share, and growing the middle class “has to be our North Star.”
"I want to recruit an army of teachers and train teachers better," Obama said, in contrast to Romney who last week said he didn't want government to invest in increasing the number of teachers and first responders.
Obama blamed the Americans for Tax Reform no-tax pledge for the stalemate, saying "It’s the reason we haven’t reached a grand bargain to bring down the deficit."
"What is lacking is not our capacity to solve our problems, but our politics," Obama said. "That is something entirely within your power to solve."
But it's not clear how the outcome of the election — in which Congress is expected to maintain its current makeup or get more Republican, will allow Obama to move past the situation he described. An Obama spokesman declined to address how the president would end the stalemate with a divided Congress in a second term.