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Obama slams economic inequality in U.S.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a sweeping indictment of economic inequality in the U.S. on Tuesday, laying out a theme in a speech in Kansas that will shape his re-election campaign next year.

'Make-or-break moment' for U.S. middle class, president says

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a point during his speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, on Tuesday. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a sweeping indictment of economic inequality in the U.S. on Tuesday, laying out a theme in a speech in rural Kansas that will shape his re-election campaign next year.

"This isn't just another political debate. This is the defining issue of our time. This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class," Obama told a crowd in the Osawatomie High School gym, where red, white and blue bunting lined the bleachers.

While Republicans are looking to keep Obama on the defensive over the weak U.S. economy, Obama has been attacking them for repeatedly refusing to allow tax increases on the wealthiest Americans as part of a plan to reduce the deficit. Republicans, including presidential front-runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, argue that any tax increases would stifle job-creation and have accused Obama of pursuing class-warfare.

PM off to D.C.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads to the White House tomorrow to unveil a long-awaited border security agreement. But  TransCanada's Keystone X-L pipeline is likely to be discussed during the visit.

The $7-billion project, shelved at least temporarily by the Obama administration, has become a front-burner political issue on Capitol Hill. Congressional Republicans are determined to see the project win federal approval before next November's presidential election. 

The location of the speech had historic significance because it was where one of the most notable Republican presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, in 1910 called for a "square deal" for regular Americans.

Obama contrasted Roosevelt's efforts to break up monopolies and stop child labour with the views of today's Republicans who believe the government is too powerful.  "Their philosophy is simple: we are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. Well, I'm here to say they are wrong."

Obama noted that Roosevelt was called a "radical, a socialist, even a communist" for putting forth ideas in his last campaign such as an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage for women, unemployment insurance and a progressive income tax. Left unsaid: Roosevelt failed to win re-election in 1912.

Obama's speech sounded the theme of inequality of income and opportunity, which the White House sees as a major force in current politics. However, it was short on new ideas or specifics for pulling the country out of its economic doldrums.

Obama warned of the unravelling of the American dream and called for giving hurting middle-class workers a fair shake and restoring financial security — themes he's certain to return to throughout the 2012 campaign.

"Because at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, and secure their retirement."