OTTUMWA, Iowa -- President Barack Obama told Iowans Tuesday that Republican opposition to a financial regulation bill in the Senate was standing in the way of an accelerating economic recovery.
Capping an economically themed day in struggling southeast Iowa, Obama pointed to the second vote in two days in which the Senate GOP minority blocked debate on new Wall Street rules.
"You should not have to wait one more day for some of the strongest consumer protections ever," Obama told more than 2,000 people in the gymnasium at Indian Hills Community College.
"And I'm not going to let this effort fall victim to industry lobbyists who want to weaken it," he added, prompting applause. "We can't let another crisis like this happen again. And we can't have such a short memory that we let them convince us that we don't need common-sense rules on Wall Street."
During stops in Fort Madison and Ottumwa, Obama said the economy nationally was beginning to turn the corner. But he added that vast parts of the nation were still hurting.
Without proposing any new policy, Obama walked through his administration's efforts to spur economic growth, arguing they were taking root.
As he did earlier Tuesday at a wind-electric manufacturer in Fort Madison, Obama in Ottumwa defended the 2009 federal stimulus bill, ascribing parts of the fledgling economic recovery to its spending on renewable energy technology.
"Two-and-a-half million Americans went to work today who otherwise wouldn't have gone to work today," Obama said. "That's been our priority in the short term, getting our economy running.
"We're making some progress," he added. "Not as fast as I'd like, but the trends are good."
Sara Imhof, regional coordinator for the nonpartisan fiscal watchdog Concord Coalition, said the Obama administration's stimulus spending was "an appropriate policy response to stabilize the economy during the recession."
"However, I firmly believe we need to keep the 'short' in short-term (deficits)," Imhof said. "The president and Congress now need to show leadership and courage on long-term fiscal responsibility."
In Ottumwa, Obama also described the controversial health care reform bill he signed last month as both an economic boon to everyday Americans and a tool that would help reduce the federal deficit.
It was part of Obama's White House-to-Main Street travel series, an effort to reconnect with audiences around the country. He planned to stay overnight in Des Moines before taking off for stops in Missouri and Illinois on Wednesday.
Obama spoke for about 20 minutes in Ottumwa before taking questions on issues including health care, immigration and education.
- On immigration, Obama called a controversial new measure in Arizona "poorly conceived law," and urged both parties in Congress to work together on an immigration bill. "I will bring a majority of Democrats to the table, but we've got to have some help from the other side," he said.
- On education, he touted passage of a student-loan bill. "We finally reformed the student loan system so it works for students and not bankers."
- On health care, he said the bill he signed would end decades of "families dealing with out-of-control health premiums."
It was Obama's second trip in about a month to the state where he won the 2008 nominating caucuses.
"It is just to be good to be back in Iowa," he said in Ottumwa. "If it weren't for Iowa I wouldn't be president."
Obama also visited an organic farm Tuesday in Mount Pleasant and stopped for rhubarb pie at Jerry's, a Mount Pleasant restaurant.
Obama's job approval has suffered in Iowa since he carried the state in 2008. A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll this year showed his approval well below 50 percent, due to the defection of independent voters that fueled his victory here.
But senior Obama adviser David Axelrod, who was traveling with the president, said the trip wasn't about politics.
"He's here because we have tremendous interest in small towns across this country," Axelrod said in Mount Pleasant.
Axelrod said Obama's lagging approval is to be expected during difficult economic times.
"It's the nature of this business. This country has gone through a really rough period," Axelrod said. "I told the president in December of 2008 after we had an economic briefing about what was about to happen and the nature of the recession that he should enjoy his poll numbers because they weren't going to be that way a year from now."
"They've actually held up better than I thought they would, but our concern is not about poll numbers," Axelrod added. "Our concern is about the number of people looking for work. Our concern is about the number of people who have lost their homes or have seen their home values fall."
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, voted against allowing the financial regulation bill to reach the floor Monday and Tuesday.
"I have concerns about the rest of the bill that's on the floor, however, and hope that the Democratic leadership of the Senate will work for legislation that has substantial bipartisan support and achieves meaningful reform of the status quo," Grassley said in a statement.
About two-thirds of Americans support stricter regulation of banks and financial institutions, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday.
A majority also backs two main components of the bill Democrats plan to bring to a vote in the Senate this week: greater federal oversight of consumer loans and an industry-paid fund to cover the costs of a future failure that could put the U.S. economy at risk.