Obama to talk of job creation and economic growth in three day tour

US President has embarked on a three day tour of Midwestern states.

Barack Obama has embarked on a three day bus tour of Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota - the three Midwestern states that he will need to carry if he is to win the 2012 presidential election. As media attention is increasingly focused on Tea Party insurgents such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, Obama's approval rating has slipped to 39 per cent - the lowest since he took office.

The debate about America's debt ceiling, and the downgrading of the US credit rating from AAA, has also dominated headlines, although US industrial growth has increased at a greater than expected rate. Obama will campaign in Iowa just days after Rick Perry equated quantitative easing with treason and Michele Bachmann scored 30 per cent in the state's straw poll.

The official website for Obama's re-election says little in the way of policy, but is instead focused on organising grass roots support, as the then Democratic Presidential candidate did to great success in 2009. However, the Tea Party has emulated the sort of bottom up populism that characterised Obamania, with politicians such as Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann casting themselves as Washington outsiders, much as Obama did two years ago.

Travelling in a shiny black tour bus and looking considerably more grey haired than when he took office, Obama will take a measure of bi-partisanship and national unity to his audiences, criticising the Republicans for sabotaging his deficit plan and appealing to Americans' patriotism to put the economy before political point-scoring. He has referred to the "broken politics" in Washington, and the fact that "some folks in Congress...think that doing something in cooperation with me, or this White House...somehow is bad politics."

Obama will speak to farmers and rural organisation as well as small business owners and schoolchildren. He will discuss ideas for job creation and economic growth, including the creation of an infrastructure bank.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.