In Baltimore, Obama tells Congress to focus on economy

After a week that has seen the White House besieged by abuse-of-power allegations, President Obama on Friday said that while members of Congress "might get distracted chasing every fleeting issue that passes by," his focus remained on improving the economy.

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Obama was speaking at a dredging equipment manufacturing plant in Baltimore, the second stop in a new tour the White House hopes will refocus attention on economic programs suggested in the president's budget. That mission took on a new urgency this week, as questions surrounding the administration's handling of an IRS scandal, the subpoena of reporter phone records and its response to the Benghazi attack consumed Washington.

While making no direct reference to the brewing controversies, Obama made repeated references to "these partisan battles and brinkmanship" in the nation's capital.

"Sometimes our leadership isn't focused where it needs to be focused," Obama said, urging those in attendance to "tell the people in Washington [to] focus on getting stuff done."

"We've been able to clear away the rubble of the crisis ... but our work is not done. Our focus cannot drift," he added.

The president urged Congress to fund a proposal, first announced in his State of the Union address, which provides federal matching dollars to states with the goal of providing preschool for every 4-year-old from a moderate- or low-income family. He urged new trade agreements with Europe and Asia that would build on export gains in recent years. And Obama reiterated a call for $50 billion in new infrastructure spending, the majority of which would target areas in urgent need of repairs.

"We've had a little difficulty getting our Republican friends to work with us to find a steady funding source," the president said, sarcastically adding, "I know, it's surprising isn't it?"


Obama also announced that he had signed a new executive order designed to halve to amount of "red tape" involved in infrastructure projects.

The executive order will mandate federal agencies implement so-called "best practices" to streamline the process for obtaining federal permits to work on infrastructure projects. The White House says the move will help jump-start construction on vital transportation systems in need of urgent repair.

"Those practices range from expanding information technology (IT) tools to strategies for improving collaboration, such as having multiple agencies review a project at the same time, instead of one after the other," said a White House aide.

The president also took a moment to brag about a report released this week from the Congressional Budget Office predicting the nation's annual deficit would fall to its lowest level since 2008.

"You wouldn't always know that listening to the folks in Washington, but the fact is our deficits are going down the most in decades," Obama said.

Earlier in the day, the president visited a pre-K center named for the late wife of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), one of many prominent Democrats in attendance. Other lawmakers there included Rep. Elijah Cummings, who brought his mother; Gov. Martin O'Malley; and Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

In his final stop of the day, Obama will visit a community center that provides job training to low-income adults.