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Obama touts economic recovery, warns of 'inequality of opportunity'

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 6:51 p.m.
REUTERS
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the economy during a visit to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois July 24, 2013. Obama sought to inject momentum into his economic and domestic policy agenda on Wednesday with a speech designed to clarify his vision for his second term and hammer Republicans in the House of Representatives for getting in his way. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

GALESBURG, Ill. — President Obama tried to steer the nation's attention back to his stewardship of an improving economy with a high-profile speech that took credit for a comeback but warned against persistent “inequality of opportunity” and fights over the federal budget that could undo progress.

Speaking on Wednesday from a college gymnasium in this beleaguered town in western Illinois, Obama issued his sunniest description yet of the state of the economy and praised Americans' “resilience” in the face of diminished income, a sluggish job market and a widening gap between rich and poor.

After years of being careful not to prematurely celebrate a recovery, Obama seemed ready.

“Today, five years after the start of that Great Recession, America has fought its way back,” Obama said. “As a country, we've recovered faster and gone further than most other advanced nations in the world.”

Economists agree the nation is gaining ground with resilient job growth and growing investor confidence. But a large share of the new jobs this year have come in lower-paying businesses, and analysts question whether the economy can sustain the rate of growth.

The speech offered broad, familiar themes, only hinting at specific policy actions to come. Obama said he would outline details this week and vowed to use his executive authority whenever possible to override Republican opposition.

“With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop,” Obama said.

The speech was an attempt to revive a populist economic message that helped propel Obama to re-election but has recently faded from view, crowded out by months of unexpected and unwelcome news on other fronts.

Controversial leak investigations, wariness about the economy, a stalled immigration bill and public surliness directed at Washington have taken a toll on Obama's approval rating and blunted his momentum.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday put Obama's approval rating at 45 percent.

A replay of the 2011 debt-ceiling fight may be on the horizon, and Obama's two-day economy tour is, in part, aimed at positioning the White House for the next go-around with Republicans on Capitol Hill. Congress will have to raise the debt limit this fall to allow the nation to pay its bills, and funding will need to be approved to keep the government running after Sept. 30. .

On the House floor Wednesday morning, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama should move the economic conversation along in part by agreeing to delay implementation of the 2010 health care law.

“If the president wants to help, he ought to approve the Keystone pipeline that has bipartisan support here in the House,” Boehner said. “He also ought to work with us in the bipartisan majority to delay the health care bill, to give the American people and their families and individuals the same break that he wants to give big businesses.

“It's a hollow shell,” he said of the Obama plan. “It's an Easter egg with no candy in it.”

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