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Obama hammers Congress, Wall Street for failing middle class

President Obama hammered Wall Street and Washington on Wednesday, saying they had done too little for too long to help ordinary people. 

“For decades, too many of our institutions, from Washington to Wall Street, failed to adapt, or they adapted in ways that didn’t work for ordinary folks, for middle-class families, for those aspiring to get into the middle class,” the president said in remarks at the the University of Colorado’s Denver campus. 

Obama's remarks seemed to echo arguments made by the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, which some Democrats say could help the president in his 2012 reelection campaign.

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“We had an economy that was based more on consuming things and racking up debt than making things and creating value,” Obama said. 

“We had a philosophy that said if we cut taxes for the very wealthiest, and we gut environmental regulations, and we don’t enforce labor regulations, and somehow if we let Wall Street just write the rules, that somehow that was going to lead to prosperity, and instead, what it did was culminate in the worst financial crisis and the deepest recession since the Great Depression.”

The president also slammed Congress for failing to act on his jobs plan. 

“There are steps we can take right now to put Americans back to work and give our economy a boost … the problem is there are some in Washington who don’t seem to share this same sense of urgency,” Obama said.

The president noted that Republicans in the Senate voted in unison against his jobs bill, and that those Republicans also opposed more narrow legislation to give money to states to hire teachers and first responders. 

Obama left out the fact that a handful of Democrats also voted against both procedural motions. 

The president also criticized Republican opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy. 

“[The jobs bill] was paid for by asking those who have done the best in our society, those who have made the most, to do just a little bit more, and it was supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people,” Obama said. “But they still said no, and it doesn’t make any sense. How can you say no to creating jobs at a time when so many people are looking for work?”

The comments were similar to remarks Obama has been making over the last few weeks, as the White House looks to portray Republicans as obstructionist. Before Obama spoke, he was rebuked by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who charged Obama with fomenting class warfare. 

“Sowing social unrest and class resentment makes America weaker, not stronger," Ryan said.

The purpose of Obama's visit was to lay out his new student loan program, but he did so by circling back to Congress’s failure to act on his jobs bill. Obama said that instead of pushing Congress to pass education reform, he would act via a series of executive actions to reduce the debt burden on recent college graduates.

The president’s “Know Before You Owe” initiative will cap loan payments at a percentage of income, consolidate loan payments and, in some cases, lower interest payments.

“We should be doing everything we can to put a college education within reach for every American,” Obama said. “It’s never been more expensive. There was a new report today — tuition has gone up again on average, much faster than inflation, certainly much faster than wages and incomes,” Obama said.

The president argued that the student loan program was necessary because students left college with an average of $24,000 in debt, and were having trouble finding jobs to pay back those loans.

Student loan debt surpassed credit card debt in the U.S. for the first time ever this year.

This story was posted at 2:12 and was updated at 2:41 p.m.

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