President Obama's Midwest bus trip is part listening tour to show that he's concerned about the problems of actual Americans, part rolling bully pulpit that gives him a chance to make the case for compromise (and to blame congressional Republicans for not doing enough on that score.)
But it also was a chance to try and score a few points on the would-be Republican nominees.
Obama took Republican presidential candidates to task for that moment at the Iowa debate in which all the participants on stage said as president they would reject any deficit-reduction deal that would raise taxes, even an approach in which spending cuts would outweigh tax increases 10 to 1.
OBAMA: In terms of boosting folks' confidence, I think people would actually feel pretty confident if they felt like their leaders were working together. I mean, that's my belief. (Applause.) But I also think that they're looking for some practical common sense.
I know it's not election season yet, but I just have to mention, the debate the other party candidates were having the other day, when they were asked to reduce our deficit, reduce our debt, would you be willing to take a deal where it was $5 of spending cuts for every $1 of increased revenues, who would take it? Everybody said no.
They said, how about 10 to 1? Ten dollars of cuts for every dollar increase in revenue? Are you saying that none of you would take it — and everybody raised their hand. None of them would take it. Think about that. I mean, that's just not common sense.
Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton — the last time we had a balanced budget — all of them understood that you have to take a balanced approach to solving our deficit and debt problems, the same way a family would.
If you knew that you had to cut down on your budget, you wouldn't stop funding the college fund for your kid. You wouldn't say, sorry, Johnny, you know, things are tight so we're going to keep on taking our annual vacation and I'm going to buy a new car next year, but you're not going to college. That's not how you balance your budget.
Well, the American people are expecting that same kind of common sense reflected. And if it was there, I guarantee you confidence would go up.
I speak to CEOs of companies all across America, and what they tell me is, you know what, we're actually willing to do a little bit more when it comes to our personal taxes — because they know they've done very well.
Of course, it's election season, despite the president's comment to the contrary.
Mitt Romney was one of those Republican candidates on the debate stage in Ames, Iowa, who indicated he wouldn't raise taxes.
A question about a recent federal appeals court decision that concluded that the new health care law is unconstitutional gave Obama a chance to go after Romney another time.
Defending the individual mandate as the only way to get insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions, the president said:
This should not be controversial, but it has become controversial partly because of people's view that — well, let me just say this: You've got a governor who's running for president right now who instituted the exact same thing in Massachusetts — this used to be a Republican idea, by the way, this whole idea of the individual mandate, and suddenly some — it's like they got amnesia. (Laughter.) It's like, oh, this is terrible; this is going to take away freedom for Americans all over the world, all over the country. So that's a little puzzling.
Obama also made a defense of government that is likely to be heard many times in coming months. It was the other side of Romney's "corporations are people" comment. Government is people, Obama said.
You'll hear a lot of folks, by the way, say that government is broken. Well, government and politics are two different things. Government is our troops who are fighting on our behalf in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's government. (Applause.) Government are also those FEMA folks when there's a flood or a drought or some emergency who come out and are helping people out. That's government. Government is Social Security. Government are teachers in the classroom. (Applause.) Government are our firefighters and our police officers, and the folks who keep our water clean and our air clean to breathe, and our agricultural workers. And when you go to a national park, and those folks in the hats — that's government.
So don't be confused — as frustrated as you are about politics, don't buy into this notion that somehow government is what's holding us back. Now, too much government — if it's oppressive and bureaucratic and it's not listening to people and it's not responsive to the needs of people and isn't customer friendly — that's a problem. And if you stand in line at some government office and nobody seems to be paying any attention to you, well, that needs to be fixed. And if somebody is trying to regulate a small business and they're not paying attention to the realities of the small business, that's a problem.