Obama Revs Into Campaign Mode in Wisconsin

President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks on the economy at the Milwaukee Laborfest Monday, Sept. 6, 2010.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

In his second Labor Day in office, President Obama returned to the site of his Labor Day speech in the heart of campaign 2008 — Milwaukee — and a crowd of union supporters to kick off his defense of Democrats who are struggling to retain control of Congress in campaign 2010.

He used the appearance to do what many Democrats have hoped he'd have done all year: Fight back against Republican opposition and focus on issue number one for voters, the economy.

"I'm going to keep fighting, every single day, every single hour, every single minute, to turn this economy around; to put people back to work; to renew the American Dream for your families and for future generations," he told the crowd of over 10,000.

He not only unveiled a new proposal to rebuild 150,000 miles of roads, 4,000 miles of rail and 150 miles of America's runways; he also began his defense of his and Congressional Democrats' actions on the economy by lashing out at the Republicans'.

"When it comes to just about everything we've done to strengthen the middle class and rebuild our economy, almost every Republican in Congress said 'no.' Even where we usually agree, they say 'no,'" Mr. Obama said.

But he wasn't done: "They think it's better to score political points before an election than to solve problems. So they said 'no' to help for small businesses.... 'No' to middle-class tax cuts.... 'No' to clean energy jobs. 'No' to making college affordable. 'No' to reforming Wall Street. They are saying, right now, 'no' to cutting more taxes for small businesses," said Mr. Obama in referring to a small business bill that is stalled in the Senate.

The President summed up the Republican opposition as the "No, We Can't" party, compared to his campaign slogan of "Yes, We Can."

"I personally think 'Yes We Can' is more inspiring than 'No, We Can't,'" he quipped.

Obama: Americans Don't Believe "No, We Can't" (Complete Text of Speech)

Many of these comments are identical to ones Mr. Obama has been giving to party faithful in fundraising events over the past few months. But today's event shows he's not shy about fighting back against Republicans in larger speeches, and will do so constantly as the election gets closer.

"It would be one thing, Milwaukee, if Republicans in Washington had some new ideas, if they said . . . 'You know, we've learned from our mistakes. We'll do things differently this time.' But that's not what they're doing," he added.

He then turned his attention directly to House Minority Leader John Boehner. Without mentioning him by name, the President attacked Boehner for voting against a bill to help states keep teachers, police officers and firefighters employed. "These are the people who teach our children. These are the people who keep our streets safe. These are the people who put their lives on the line... I don't know about you, but I think those jobs are worth saving," Mr. Obama said. said.

In fact, the White House plans to make Boehner a target in this week's campaign push. The President will give another speech on the economy on Wednesday in Cleveland, and the White House has already billed it as an attack on Boehner's economic speech that the Ohio Republican gave there last month.

In today's event, the President also made a pre-emptive strike against some Republicans who suggest cutting or privatizing Social Security to ease the nation's growing debt. "It will not happen on my watch," he said.

For their part, Republicans were quick to denounce the President's $50 billion proposed infrastructure project. "We need to cut spending immediately and end the environment of uncertainty that continues to impede real private sector job creation and growth," wrote House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a statement.

While many economists doubt the ability of the President's proposals to turn around the country's economic fortunes and create a significant number of jobs before the November election, he can help Democrats in Congress keep theirs by continuing to focus on the issue, says Jim VandeHei of Politico.

"All he can do is go out there and grind it every day, talk about the economy," he said. "That's what House Democrats by the way want: 'Just talk about the economy, talk about our accomplishments, talk about how bad things could have been, and do that over and over and maybe that will work.'"

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    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.