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Obama again touts economic progress

From NBC's Athena Jones
President Obama made the case for his stewardship of the economy at a speech in Pittsburgh today, arguing that for the past 16 months his administration has been working to lay a stronger foundation for economic growth.

He also pledged to work on getting the votes necessary to pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill out of Congress, legislation the White House believes should have more support due to the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which BP has so far failed to stop.

At a speech at Carnegie Mellon University, the president noted that the economy had grown the last three quarters and projected Friday's May unemployment report would show "strong job growth." He said that steps to overhaul the health care system and financial regulations, invest in education, clean energy, infrastructure and innovation and reduce federal spending would help ensure growth in the future.

With the economy sure to be a big issue during the fall campaign, Republicans have sought to paint a picture of a president who focused too much time and attention on an unpopular health care revamp and a stimulus package that added to the deficit without producing enough jobs. The president has argued the measures he has taken, with the help of Democrats in Congress, from passing the stimulus to coming to the rescue of auto companies, have put the country back on the right track.

"Some of you may have noticed that we have been building this foundation without much help from our friends in the other party," he said. "From our efforts to rescue the economy to health insurance reform to financial reform, most have sat on the sidelines and shouted from the bleachers."

He went on to describe the opposition as the party of "No."

"They said no to tax cuts for small businesses; no to tax credits for college tuition; no to investments in clean energy," he said. "They said no to protecting patients from insurance companies and consumers from big banks."

Much as he did during his presidential campaign, Obama portrayed the GOP as the party of tax cuts for the wealthy and fewer rules for big corporations, saying voters had a choice between going "backward" to "the failed economic policies of the past" or moving forward with the Democratic Party. This argument is likely to play a recurring role in the coming months as Democrats seek to woo disaffected voters.

On the oil spill and the energy bill
The president said the oil spill fouling the Gulf of Mexico showed the risks of deepwater drilling and the need for alternatives to fossil fuels.

"We have to acknowledge that there are inherent risks to drilling four miles beneath the surface of the Earth," Obama said to applause. "These are risks that are bound to increase the harder oil extraction becomes. We also have to acknowledge that an America run solely on fossil fuels should not be the vision we have for our children and grandchildren."

In calling for a renewed focus on a "clean energy future" he says will create jobs, the president stressed the need to increase the energy efficiency of automobiles, businesses and homes, tap the nation's natural gas reserves, expand the fleet of nuclear power plants, roll back tax breaks to oil companies and put a price on carbon pollution -- something energy legislation that passed the House of Representatives last year seeks to do. The Senate has yet to pass its version of the bill, but Obama said he planned to change that.

"The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months," he told the crowd of some 300 people. "I will continue to make the case for a clean energy future wherever and whenever I can; I will work with anyone from either party to get this done and we will get this done."