Taking questions from college students in central New York, Obama decried the Republican approach as "penny-wise and pound-foolish," predicting the U.S. will fall further and further behind other nations in decades to come unless it prioritizes creating opportunities for young people.
"When Congress gets back to Washington, this is going to be a major debate," Obama said during a town hall at Binghamton University.
Obama said it's the same debate he and lawmakers have been having for two years and that the difference now is that the U.S. has made progress in cutting deficits.
"My position is going to be that we can have a budget that is sensible, that doesn't spend on programs that don't work, but does spend wisely on those things that are going to help ordinary people succeed," he said.
These and other contentious issues will come to a head in the fall, when Congress faces deadlines to increase the federal government's borrowing limit and to continue funding the government.
Obama reserved some of his harshest comments for GOP lawmakers seeking a government shutdown over his health care law, arguing that those lawmakers are not offering an economic plan. More than a third of House Republicans are urging their leader to take such a step this fall.
Instead, those lawmakers should focus on the "pocketbook, bread-and-butter" issues that affect Americans, Obama said, citing college affordability as one such issue.
Despite the deepening crises in Egypt and Syria, all 10 questions posed to the president focused on domestic issues, mainly education. While the questions were not screened, Obama's advisers have aimed this summer to keep the president's public agenda focused on domestic priorities, even as international issues compete for his attention.
Riffing on his own experience teaching law, Obama suggested that law schools in the U.S. should cut down to two years instead of three to cut costs for students. "This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck. I'm in my second term," he said to laughter.
Obama also addressed the plight of gay students whose parents withhold financial help, describing it as a phenomenon likely to ebb as society becomes more accepting. Asked about educational opportunities for minorities, Obama said even if discrimination could be magically eliminated, the legacy of bias would continue to pose barriers to success for blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and other groups.
Later Friday, Obama headed to Joe Biden's hometown of Scranton, Pa., for a joint event with the vice president. The rally marked Biden's first public event since his son Beau, the Delaware attorney general, underwent tests this week at a cancer center in Texas.
"My son Beau is doing fine," Biden told the cheering hometown crowd.
The president and vice president's joint appearance coincided with the five-year anniversary of the day Obama announced Biden as his running mate in the 2008 presidential campaign.
"It was the best decision I ever made politically," Obama said.
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