RACINE, Wis. - Sensitive to election-year resentment of a big-spending government, President Obama declared Wednesday he intended to get "our debt and our deficits under control."
But with fears alive of a double-dip recession, Obama warned he won't slash spending at the expense of an economic rebound - and he lashed out at Republicans for blocking the extension of unemployment benefits and opposing a Wall Street financial-overhaul bill in Congress.
He called the GOP out of touch with the daily problems of Americans.
"We got it moving again," Obama said of the economy as he spoke to a town-hall audience in this Midwestern city, where unemployment tops 14 percent. "We now have to, in a gradual way, reduce spending . . . but do so in a way that doesn't hurt people. And that is a challenge."
Politically, Obama's challenge is broader. He is trying to make the case that the stimulus plan prevented disaster and is fueling job growth even while millions are still out of work.
And he is doing it at a time when Republicans are pounding him for running up a long-term bill for taxpayers.
Obama jumped all over two comments by GOP lawmakers that Democrats are trying to turn into a political liability for the opposition party:
Rep. Joe Barton's apology to BP for the $20 billion compensation fund the White House pressured the company to set up after the gulf oil spill, and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner's comment that the financial-regulation bill Obama supports amounts to "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon."
"He can't be that out of touch with the struggles of American families," Obama said of Boehner.
Boehner shot back in a statement: "The president should be focused on solving the problems of the American people - stopping the leaking oil and cleaning up the Gulf, scrapping his job-killing agenda, repealing and replacing ObamaCare - instead of my choice of metaphors."
Obama promised that the matter of trimming deficits would be a priority over the next couple of years, with help from a panel studying how to cut costly safety-net programs.
Still, the president defended as essential both the big stimulus spending and the massive aid given to big banks and auto companies.