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President raises the heat on Congress as he calls for focus on middle class

JACKSONVILLE _ President Barack Obama continued his economics road show on Thursday, coming to the Jacksonville Port Authority to underscore his commitment to infrastructure investment and bash Republicans for delaying progress.

The president chose Jacksonville because the port is home to two port development projects that he fast tracked last year as Congress delayed action and he vowed to continue to use his executive powers in the months ahead if Congress won't act.

“Where I could act on my own, I’ll act on my own,’’ he told the crowd of about 500 at the port’s steamy passenger terminal. “Because the choices we make right now will determine whether or not every American will have a fighting chance.”

The president focused his criticism on the Republican-controlled House and pointed to its failure to pass a water resource bill that would provide the authorization to allow Jaxport to deepen the Mile Point channel it says it needs to allow large cargo ships coming from Asia.

“We need modern ports so we could move more goods made in America out to the rest of the world,’’ he said in his 26-minute speech, noting the manufacturing jobs are key cornerstones of the American Dream and “too many folks in Washington have been cutting these investments.”

But as the president bashed Congress, the Republican Party of Florida and the governor bashed the governor. Party chairman Lenny Curry held a press conference before the president’s arrival and Gov. Rick Scott sent out a statement bashing the federal corporate tax policy.

“High taxes hurt job creation, plain and simple,’’ said Scott in a statement from Aspen, Colo. where he is attending a meeting of the Republican Governor’s Association. "If the President wants to turn around our national economy as we have turned around the economy in Florida, he should follow Florida’s lead and cut the federal corporate income tax so more manufacturers and businesses can invest and create jobs.”

Before the president’s speech, he and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx were given a tour of a container terminal owned and operated by the largest shipping company in Japan, Mitsui O.S.K Lines.

The president sounded the same themes and cribbed many of the same lines from the two speeches he gave Wednesday in Illinois in Missouri, emphasizing the need to build the country “from the middle class up” and vowing to devote the remainder of his term -- "1266 days" -- to the goal.

“New super-tankers are going to start coming through the Panama Canal, which can hold three times the amount of cargo,’’ he said. “We want those super tankers coming here to Jacksonville. He said to applause. If we’ve got more supertankers that means more jobs…more contractors…more money to spend at the restaurant and that means the waitress has more money to spend on her I-Pod.”

The president’s remarks are part of a series of addresses intended to call attention to the plight of the middle class. He began his speaking tour at Knox College, the site of his first economic speech as a young Illinois senator and announced that while the economy has improved under his watch, his “highest priority” will be shrinking the growing gaps in income between the very rich and everyone else.

The president bashing of Congress comes at a time when both his and Congress' popularity rating are at a two-year low. A McClatchy-Marist poll last week found Obama’s job approval at 41 percent, his worst showing in the poll since 39 percent in September 2011, while public approval of congressional Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, was at a dismal 22 percent. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll also conducted last week found that 83 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.