RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.
DAVID GREENE, Host:
NPR's Scott Horsley was along for the ride and has this report.
SCOTT HORSLEY, Host:
President Obama hosted four town hall meetings and an economic conference during this bus tour. But the heart of the trip came in-between those big scheduled events, as Mr. Obama traveled the countryside, visiting with high school sports teams, stopping at a county fair, and saluting uniformed firefighters standing at attention outside their small town firehouse.
BARACK OBAMA: You're passing rows of kids with flags and grandparents in their lawn chairs and mechanics out in front of their shops and, you know, farmers waving from their fields, and it inspires you. 'Cause it reminds you about what makes this country so great.
(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER AND APPLAUSE)
HORSLEY: Some of the people lining the street to shake hands with Mr. Obama remember his first presidential campaign four years ago, back when his hair was not so grey.
OBAMA: Yeah, somebody had like an old flyer I'd send him. I looked so young.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
HORSLEY: Years of recession have taken their toll on the president and on millions of other Americans. Mr. Obama spent a lot of time this week talking about the need to get the economy growing faster. On Tuesday, he had breakfast with a group of small business owners like Michael Sexton. Sexton runs a software company called Manure Works that helps farmers keep track their fertilizer applications. Sexton is a former Republican lawmaker in Iowa, but says he's willing to take off his partisan hat for the sake of economic development. At breakfast, he found himself nodding in agreement with his fellow business owners.
MICHAEL SEXTON: Basically all of us were on the same page as each one of us spoke to the president about helping rural Iowa and revitalizing small communities and helping small business.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama sees plenty of that kind of bipartisan cooperation outside Washington, even if there's precious little in the nation's capital. At a forum on rural development in Peosta, Iowa this week, he said it was hard to tell which participants were Democrats or Republicans.
OBAMA: And so it's a very practical way of thinking about these problems. It's not either/or. It's a recognition that the prime driver of economic growth and jobs is going to be our people and the private sector and our businesses. But you know what? Government can help. Government can make a difference.
HORSLEY: That's the brand of conciliatory politics that Mr. Obama ran on back in 2008. But the president also showed a more combative side on this trip, trying to enlist voters in what he called a battle with lawmakers who aren't doing enough to encourage job growth. To be sure, the president offered few new ideas for generating jobs this week, instead recycling proposals to extend the payroll tax cut and increase federal financing for public works projects. Mr. Obama says in the weeks to come, he will propose new jobs measures, along with steps to reduce the deficit, and he promises to call out Republican lawmakers who fail to act on them.
OBAMA: I can't force them to do it. You can force them to do it. And I will take my case to the American people that this vision is how we move the country forward. And if they've got an alternative vision and they don't want to sit there and do nothing for the next 16 months while unemployment is still high and small businesses are still suffering, then ultimately they're going to be held to account by you, just like I'm going to be held to account by you.
HORSLEY: But that accounting is still more than a year away. And in these waning days of summer, Mr. Obama appears to be biding his time. Not so long ago, before the grand bargain with Republicans collapsed, the president was challenging Americans to eat our peas. Now he's settling for soft-serve instead.
P: Unidentified Woman: It is.
OBAMA: All right...
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama treated his traveling staff to half-a-dozen ice cream cones at Dewitt Dairy Treats in Dewitt, Iowa. Owner Kris Lyon just smiled while snapping pictures with her cell phone.
KRIS LYON: If all these people that came to see him come and get ice cream, then we'll be doing okay, huh?
HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News, Alpha, Illinois. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.