WASHINGTON - President Obama on Wednesday declared an end to the war on budget deficits and pledged instead to fight the "deficit of opportunity" for the poor and middle class.
In a lengthy speech on his economic priorities, Obama said the federal deficit is under control and no longer presents a serious threat to the economy.
"When it comes to our budget, we should not be stuck in a stale debate from two years ago or three years ago," Obama said at a nonprofit social services center in a poor neighborhood in the capital. "A relentlessly growing deficit of opportunity is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly shrinking fiscal deficit."
After months of moving away from rhetoric on the need to tame the deficit, Obama completed the maneuver in an address to members of his liberal base, many of whom had been troubled by his willingness to talk with Republican deficit hawks about deep budget cuts and entitlement reform.
But on Wednesday, Obama chose to emphasize the gap between rich and poor, making a passionate - and at times personal - argument for investing in education and infrastructure, raising the minimum wage and strengthening the social safety net.
Obama has repeatedly told Republican leaders that he would discuss entitlement and tax code reform in the context of a broad budget deal that would reduce federal deficits.
A senior administration official said Obama is not backing away from that offer. But there are few indications that House Speaker John A. Boehner (R., Ohio) will consider resuming those negotiations more than a year later.
Rather, Obama's shift signals that the president intends to present a different argument to Congress and the American people as the next round of fiscal and budget talks play out.
Republican leaders quickly took issue with the president's approach.
Boehner suggested that Obama's policies have created the very problems he describes.
"The American dream is certainly more in doubt than in decades," he said, "but after more than five years in office, the president has no one to blame but himself."