President Barack Obama focused on the economy and education as he concluded a campaign swing with an appearance in New Orleans before the National Urban League, a group representing some of his strongest backers.
Obama spoke to the civil-rights group a few hours after the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a measure to extend most of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts while letting those for top earners expire at the end of the year, a central element of the president’s election-year economic plan.
Republicans, who have a majority in the House, plan to pass a bill next week to extend expiring tax cuts for all income levels for a year, leaving the stalemate on U.S. fiscal policy intact.
“I ran for president promising to cut taxes for the middle class and, regardless what you hear during the silly political season, I have kept that promise,” Obama said yesterday. “We don’t need another trillion-dollar tax cut for folks like me.”
He also announced an initiative to improve academic achievement among black students, saying education is essential for raising living standards.
Obama wrapped up a three-day trip that raised at least $6.9 million for his re-election, including two fundraisers in New Orleans before his appearance at the National Urban League.
In his speech to the group, Obama avoided mentioning or criticizing his opponent in the presidential campaign, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Over the past three days, he and his campaign aides have been on the offensive against the Republican challenger, who left the U.S. yesterday for a trip with stops in England, Israel and Poland.
Speaking to reporters a day earlier at the home of Jim Sinegal, retired chief executive officer of Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST:US), Obama sought to rebut Romney’s accusation that he is hostile to business.
“The one thing I do have no patience for is this argument that somehow what I’m criticizing is success,” Obama said. “That’s an argument you hear from the other side: Oh, he wants to punish success. I want to promote success.”
Before flying to England, Romney attacked Obama on foreign policy in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nevada. He said the Democratic president has weakened the U.S. position in the world and blamed him for leaking national security secrets, deep cuts in the defense budget and mistreating U.S. allies, especially Israel.
“This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president,” Romney told the VFW. “You have that president today.”
Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, dismissed Romney’s remarks as “heavy on attacks, light on substance.”
In an interview in London with NBC, Romney said he would refrain from criticizing the president “while I’m on foreign soil.”
The Romney campaign issued a statement last night that said Obama’s promise to spur black business growth and black employment hasn’t been matched by the president’s performance.
“As black Americans, we all take pride in Barack Obama’s historic election,” Tara Wall, a Romney campaign adviser and spokeswoman, said in the statement. “Black Americans are emotionally invested in President Obama but disappointed in the job he’s done. He tried, but he failed.”
On Wrong Track
While 60 percent of registered voters in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll said the country is on the wrong track, Obama holds a lead over Romney. If the election were held now, 49 percent of those polled said they would vote for Obama and 43 percent would vote for Romney. That compares with a June survey of 47 percent for Obama and 44 percent for Romney.
The poll of 1,000 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Obama also addressed the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, that left 12 dead and 58 injured, saying the nation must look beyond a single tragedy and find a solution to the everyday violence that “plagues so many cities across the country.”
Each day in the U.S., the number of young people who die violently “is about that same” as that felled in Aurora, he said.
He repeated his support for reinstating the federal assault weapons ban, saying they belong in the hands of soldiers, not criminals. While such tragedies spur talk of “new reforms, of new legislation,” he said, “too often the efforts are defeated by politics and by lobbying.”
Romney, who signed an assault weapon ban as Massachusetts governor, said the U.S. doesn’t need new gun restrictions.
“I don’t happen to believe that America needs new gun laws,” Romney said in his interview with NBC in London. “A lot of what this young man did was clearly against the law. But the fact that it was against the law did not prevent it from happening.”
In announcing his education measure, Obama said the U.S. provides opportunity, “but you’ve got to earn your success.”
“You’re competing against young people in Beijing and Bangalore -- they’re not hanging out,” he said. “They’re not playing video games.”
During his previous appearance before the National Urban League, in July 2010, Obama’s defended his signature Race to the Top education plan against critics who assert some of his policies may shortchange low-income and minority students.
“Education is an economic issue, if not the economic issue of our time,” Obama said at the time. “It’s an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who’ve never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have gone to college.”
Obama’s initiative directs the Education Department to work with other Cabinet agencies to identify and develop “evidence- based practices” that will improve achievement among black students.
Sixty-three percent of black students graduate from U.S. public high schools within four years, compared with 82 percent of white students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
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