By JULIE PACE
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- President Barack Obama is telling voters in the Midwest that unless lawmakers rein in Wall Street, there's no guarantee another economic crisis won't come crashing down on the heartland.
Making that link as he sells the Democrats' financial regulatory reform bill is a political imperative for Obama as well as an economic one. He's not on the ballot this fall, but his fellow Democrats face a tough political landscape brought on in part by the public's wariness of his handling of the economy.
On the issue of financial regulations, Obama and Democratic lawmakers see an opportunity to paint Republicans as obstructionists who stand on the side of Wall Street bankers, not middle-class America.
On Tuesday, the first day of a three-state economic tour through rural America, he ripped Senate Republicans for blocking debate on a bill that would impose greater federal control on the nation's financial system.
"It's one thing to oppose reform, but to oppose just even talking about reform in front of the American people and having a legitimate debate, that's not right," Obama said in Ottumwa, Iowa. "The American people deserve an honest debate on this bill."
During stops in Missouri and Illinois on Wednesday, Obama was expected to continue his efforts to frame his administration's agenda -- from the $862 billion recovery act to the massive health care overhaul -- as part of his plan to put the economy on a path toward a more sustainable future.
Obama appeared to relish the opportunity to get outside the nation's capitol this week. In Iowa, the state that jump-started his 2008 presidential bid, he made a surprise visit to a 140-acre organic farm, stopped for pie and coffee at a family owned restaurant, and shook hands and posed for pictures with the impromptu crowds that gathered as his motorcade sped through the state.
The president's Midwest tour comes as economic forecasts show some signs of progress: The nation added jobs at the fastest pace in three years last month, the manufacturing industry is growing at a steady pace and new claims for jobless benefits have declined.
But 15 million Americans remain out of work, and most economic forecasts suggest it could be months or even years before the nation's unemployment rate returns to more normal levels.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.