Obama Takes Aim At Republican Comments

When President Obama talks about the causes of the recession and the road out of it, he has consistently found fault in the financial services industry — and stressed the importance of making things. Now, with the Republican presidential nomination within reach of former venture capitalist Mitt Romney, those same words from Obama can sound mighty pointed.

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Aides say President Obama won't get deeply involved in the political campaign until Republicans settle on a nominee, but Mr. Obama has already been busy fundraising. Today, his campaign announced that it raised $130 million last year. And as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, even when the president is conducting his official duties, it's easy to sense the political subtext.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: This week, President Obama hosted a group of business leaders at the White House. He said he wanted to spotlight companies like Masterlock and Ford that have decided to move some overseas jobs back to the United States.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: After shedding jobs for more than a decade, American manufacturers have now added jobs for two years in a row.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama and his advisors have long stressed the importance of high-paying manufacturing jobs while lamenting the outsized roll that finance plays in the U.S. economy. Those words take on new meaning in the context of the presidential campaign in which likely opponent Mitt Romney's come under scrutiny for his role at Bain Capital, buying and selling companies with the help of borrowed money and in some cases, sending jobs overseas.

OBAMA: I don't want America to be a nation that's primarily known for financial speculation and racking up debt buying stuff from other nations. I want us to be known for making and selling products all over the world stamped with three proud words - Made in America. And we can make that happen.

HORSLEY: To be sure, the president's message is not new, nor is it necessarily crafted with Mitt Romney in mind. From his first few months in office, Mr. Obama has been warning the U.S. needs to move beyond what he calls a bubble and bust economy. Here he is in April of 2009, calling for a new foundation of education, cleaner energy and tighter regulation of the financial sector.

OBAMA: It is not sustainable to have an economy where, in one year, 40 percent of our corporate profits came from a financial sector that was based on inflated home prices, maxed out credit cards, overleveraged banks and overvalued assets.

HORSLEY: Three years later, the president's basic argument has not changed. He has gotten more pointed, though, in his criticism of the GOP platform. At a Chicago fundraiser last night, Mr. Obama faulted Romney and the other Republicans for their insistence on rolling back regulations.

OBAMA: They figure, well, since China pays really low wages, let's roll back the minimum wage here and bust unions. Since some of these other countries allow corporations to pollute as much as they want, let's get rid of protections that help make sure our air is clean and our water is safe.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama also challenged the notion that lowering taxes for the wealthiest Americans, those the Republicans brand job-creators, somehow trickles down to benefit everyone else.

OBAMA: It didn't work when we tried it under the previous president. It's not going to work now.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama has called for higher taxes on the wealthy. Romney faulted the president this week for practicing what he called the bitter politics of envy.

MITT ROMNEY: I stand ready to lead us down a different path where we're lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by our resentment of success.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama argues he's not trying to punish profit, but he says even the wealthy are better off when the fruits of the U.S. economy are more broadly shared.

OBAMA: When you talk to people on Main Streets and in town halls, they'll tell you we still believe in those values. Our political parties may be divided, but most Americans, they understand, no, we're in this together. We rise and fall together as one nation, as one people. That's what's at stake right now. That's what this election is about.

HORSLEY: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both stress the ideal of the United States as one indivisible nation, even if they have very different visions of what that nation ought to look like. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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