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updated 6/30/2010 3:07:50 PM ET 2010-06-30T19:07:50

President Barack Obama on Wednesday accused Republicans of being out of touch with the struggles of ordinary Americans, railing against one House lawmaker's apology to BP oil and another's criticism of Wall Street overhaul legislation.

In comments prepared for delivery at a town hall in Wisconsin, Obama gave voice to the Democratic Party's latest populist complaints in a tough election year.

Responding to House Minority Leader John Boehner's gripe that the financial bill amounts to "killing an ant with a nuclear weapon," Obama said, "He should come here to Racine and ask people if they think the financial crisis was an ant."

It was a measure of Democrats' unease approaching critical midterm elections in a dismal political and economic climate that the president would personally take on individual House members. He did so with gusto.

The president also seized on GOP Rep. Joe Barton's apology to BP — which Barton later apologized for — over the $20 billion victims' compensation fund Obama pressured BP to establish.

"The top Republican on the energy committee even had the nerve to apologize to BP for the fact that we made them set up this fund. Apologize to BP!" Obama scoffed. "He actually called the fund 'a tragedy.' A tragedy? A tragedy is what the people of the Gulf are going through right now. That's the tragedy," the president said.

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel answered back, saying Obama should be focused on solving problems like cleaning up the Gulf "instead of the House Republican leader's choice of metaphors."

"It's clear Boehner was not minimizing the crisis America faced — he was pointing out that Washington Democrats have produced a bill that will actually kill more jobs and make the situation worse," said Steel.

Confronting public pessimism about the economy, Obama also said the U.S. faces a choice between returning to what he calls failed economic policies of the past, or moving forward.

He promoted Wall Street reform legislation pending in Congress, saying it will "protect our economy from the recklessness and irresponsibility of a few."

Obama was visiting Wisconsin to talk about the economy — and jobs — before taking questions at a town meeting in Racine.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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