By DARLENE SUPERVILLE and JULIE PACEGALESBURG, Ill. (AP) â¿¿ Seeking to build momentum for looming fiscal fights, President Barack Obama on Wednesday cast himself as the champion for middle-class Americans struggling to make ends meet. He chided Washington for having "taken its eye off the ball" and declared that the economy would be the "highest priority" of his second term. Obama, in an hour-long address that was at times deeply partisan, also accused Republican lawmakers of succumbing to "an endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals." He said gridlock had only gotten worse since his re-election. "I am here to say this needs to stop," Obama said in a speech at Knox College. "This moment does not require short-term thinking. It does not require having the same old stale debates." Obama, as he often does when criticizing Washington, glossed over his own status as the inhabitant of the city's most powerful office. GOP leaders quickly panned the president's remarks as a series of repackaged ideas and empty promises. "It's a hollow shell, it's an Easter egg with no candy in it," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said. Indeed, the president's remarks were void of new policy proposals or fresh solutions for breaking Washington stalemates. And there were no new approaches presented for resolving potential showdowns with Republicans this fall over raising the nation's borrowing limit and curtailing across-the-board federal budget cuts known as "the sequester." For the president's advisers, a central goal of the speech was simply to refocus Obama's agenda squarely on the economy ahead of the fall deadlines. The first six months of his second term largely have been consumed by priorities like gun control and immigration, as well as an array of foreign policy crises and domestic controversies, including the National Security Agency's domestic spying programs and IRS scrutiny of political groups.