While official Washington's attention was elsewhere, the economy was slowly but steadily improving. The housing market is recovering, the stock market is booming, and unemployment is falling despite remaining uncomfortably high at 7.6 percent.
Obama's pleas for a more solutions-oriented Washington were tempered by his own sharply partisan tone as he accused Republicans of putting short-term politics ahead of the people's business.
"There are Republicans in Congress right now who privately agree with me on a lot of the ideas I'll be proposing. I know because they've said so," Obama said. "But they worry they'll face swift political retaliation for cooperating with me."
Likewise, the quick reactions to Obama's remarks made evident the deeply engrained obstacles to such cooperation as both parties blamed each other for blocking progress. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California called Obama's speech "a clarion call to action" on jobs, growth and middle-class prosperity.
"Americans deserve better than the Republicans' repeal-only agenda," Pelosi said. "It's time for Republicans to join Democrats in establishing a better bargain for the middle class."
Not so, said Republicans, who panned the president's remarks as a series of repackaged ideas and empty promises.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called it "a colossal waste of time" that "generates little more than a collective, bipartisan eye roll." GOP House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman, Brendan Buck, chimed in: "Summary of the president's speech: 'I'm going to give more speeches.'"
The broad economic themes Obama planned to illustrate Thursday will be followed up in the coming weeks by another series of speeches drilling down on key sectors such as manufacturing, education, housing, retirement security and health care. Advisers say some of those speeches will contain more specific policy proposals, both for legislation and executive action Obama can take without congressional approval.
The first of those addresses was to come Tuesday, when Obama will travel to Chattanooga, Tenn., to promote American competitiveness at an Amazon fulfillment center, which packs and ships products to online purchasers. The White House said some new policy ideas will be unveiled during that visit.
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