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Obama on economy, McCain negativity

From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli
ST. PETERSBURG, FL -- Obama came to this Florida city today, hoping to turn the subject from race back to his intended theme of the week: the economy.

His campaign rolled out what it called an "Economic Emergency Plan," mixing some previously announced proposals with a more urgent timetable. Another round of rebates -- $500 for individuals and $1,000 for married couples -- would go out this fall, to offset fuel and heating costs. He'd also devote $50 billion to be split evenly between infrastructure improvements and a fund for states to tap for assistance without raising taxes.

The new rollout, advisers said, was spurred by Obama's meeting Monday with his economic team in Washington. "Many of the attendees at the meeting, myself included, view the risks of inaction, the failure to craft an efficient, effective policy to offset these serious problems we face, as too high to ignore," adviser Jared Bernstein said on a conference call this morning.

In announcing his initiatives, Obama pulled a reverse Reagan. "The first thing I'm going to do, Florida, is just ask you a very simple question: Do you think that you are better off now than you were four years ago or eight years ago?" he told the crowd here at Gibbs High School. "If you don't think you're better off, do you think you can afford another four years of the same failed economic policies that we've had under George W. Bush?"

He referred to a headline this morning -- that Florida saw its first quarter of economic decline in 16 years. McCain, he added, agrees with economic proposals that led to the downturn, and said the nation can't "keep on doing the same thing that we've been doing and somehow expect a different result."

"You know, John McCain has spent most of the last month not talking about his ideas, but talking about me," he said. "And frankly, I say this respectfully, he's doing that because he doesn't have any new ideas."

Obama said McCain would give tax breaks to oil companies like Exxon Mobil with record profits. Obama, on the other hand, said he'd impose a windfall profits tax to pay for his assistance plan.

"These are the choices we face in November," he said. "Unfortunately, instead of talking about these real choices, my opponent has been spending most of his time getting negative, distorting my record, using the same old Washington political attacks... John McCain is an honorable man. We can have a serious debate about the issues. But we shouldn't be spending time talking about Britney. We shouldn't be spending time talking about Paris. The American people deserve better."

Obama closed his remarks here by again saying that the Republicans are painting him as a "risky choice," but that the real risk is "doing the same things."

"The real risk is shying away from seizing a bold future for America," he said. "That's why I'm running for president because I think we can do better."

*** UPDATE *** McCain adviser Taylor Griffin issued this response to Obama's economic remarks today: "The higher taxes that Barack Obama supports are one of the surest ways to kill jobs and exactly the wrong approach to a slowing economy. While American jobs and families suffer from high gas prices, Barack Obama stubbornly opposes additional oil drilling, more nuclear power, and the gas tax relief we need."