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Obama claims Republicans are holding back U.S. economy

President Obama sharpened his criticism of congressional Republicans on Tuesday, charging that they were handcuffing the country's ability to pull the economy out of a slump.

Speaking at a community college here on a three-day tour of rural America, Obama outlined a number of initiatives that he said were aimed at sparking job growth in rural areas, but said he was blocked from doing more by a "faction in Congress."

"The only thing that is holding us back is our politics," Obama said, pointing to "the refusal of a faction in Congress to put country ahead of party."

"That has to stop," he said to cheers and applause. "Our economy can't afford it."

Obama said his administration would ramp up efforts to get capital to small businesses in rural areas, speed development of next-generation biofuels to promote renewable energy and conservation, and help small hospitals recruit doctors and nurses.

"But we could do even more if Congress is willing to get in the game," he said. He blamed the Republican opposition for stalling three trade deals and an extension of payroll tax relief.

Republicans have criticized Obama's trip across three battleground states he easily won as a candidate in 2008 -- Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois -- as little more than a campaign swing disguised as an official presidential trip.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, on Tuesday rapped it as a "mission to save his own job," saying that Obama has yet to offer much in the way of new ideas for job creation.

The president told another Iowa audience Monday that he'd offer a "very specific plan to boost the economy, to create jobs and to control our deficit" when Congress returns to Washington in September from its summer break.

Obama goes on his own summer break Thursday to Martha's Vineyard, the elite resort island off the Massachusetts coast, after wrapping up his bus tour today with two town hall meetings in his home state of Illinois.

Farmers in at least one group complained about too much regulation, particularly from the Environmental Protection Agency.

"People are scared to death of what could be next," Gary Kregel, the president of the Dairy Foundation, told Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

As he did on his first day, Obama met with a largely friendly crowd, though protesters hoisted signs at the entrance to the community college that read "I Don't Trust You" and "Economy: Barack Bottom."

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