President Barack Obama isn't backing down from demanding that Republicans confirm his pick to head a new consumer watchdog office, saying GOP lawmakers are depriving middle-class Americans of better protection against the kind of deceptive business practices that contributed to the financial meltdown.
Every day that the country must wait for a director of the Consumer Financial Protection Board "is another day that dishonest businesses can target and take advantage of students, seniors and service members," Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address.
"So I refuse to take `no' for an answer. Financial institutions have plenty of high-powered lawyers and lobbyists looking out for them. It's time consumers had someone on their side."
Senate Republicans this past week blocked Obama's appointment of Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, to lead an agency they said had been given too much power and too little accountability.
Without a director, the office designed to shield consumers from the excesses behind the 2008 financial crisis is unable to operate at full strength.
With voters set to begin selecting a Republican presidential nominee in less than a month, Obama suggested the disagreement is another example of two parties who see fairness very differently. He said a consumer watchdog agency is critical to protecting ordinary Americans from the greed of the financial sector.
"Today, America faces a make-or-break moment for the middle class," he said, echoing a theme outlined during a Kansas speech earlier in the week. "I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone engages in fair play."
Obama also reiterated his push for congressional Republicans to extend the Social Security payroll tax cut, which is set to expire at the end of the year.
And using the approaching holidays as leverage, he called on Congress to act on his priorities before leaving Washington for the year.
"No one should go home for the holidays until we get this done," Obama said. "So tell your members of Congress, `Don't be a Grinch.' Tell them to do the right thing for you and for our economy."
In an interview with CBS' news program "60 Minutes" Obama said that a speech he delivered in Kansas this week addressing income inequalities was designed to draw attention to his effort to restore an "American deal" that focuses on building a strong middle class.
Asked whether that amounted to endorsing redistribution of wealth, Obama said that building the middle class is not a question of left or right politics. "It matters if we are building a broad-based middle class, where everybody is able to do their part and everybody's able to succeed," he said, according to excerpts released by CBS on Saturday. The full interview will air Sunday.
Meanwhile, Republicans pushed their recipe for the nation's economic struggles.
Set for a House vote next week, the GOP plan ties an extension of the payroll tax and extended unemployment benefits to a provision that jump-starts work on a pipeline to carry oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Obama wants to postpone a decision on the project, known as the Keystone XL pipeline, until after next fall's elections.
"You've heard President Obama say the American people `can't wait' to take action on jobs," House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio says in the Republicans' weekly address. "Well, the Keystone project is the very definition of an idea the American people can't wait for Washington to take action on."
Boehner continued: "This is no time for the same-old my-way-or-the-highway theatrics. It's no secret that Democrats and Republicans often disagree about the best way to create jobs, but we can't let those disagreements prevent us from acting when we agree."
Obama's address: http://www.whitehouse.gov
Boehner's address: http://www.youtube.com/JohnBoehner