By Ross Colvin
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - President Barack Obama attacked the economic policies of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush in Bush's home state on Monday as evidence of the way Republicans would operate if given power in November 2 U.S. congressional elections.
At a fund-raising event for Democrats in Dallas, where Bush now lives, Obama said the former president's "disastrous" policies had driven the U.S. economy into the ground and turned budget surpluses into deficits.
Obama defended his repeated references to Bush's policies, saying they were necessary to remind Americans of the weak economy he inherited from Bush in January 2009.
"The policies that crashed the economy, that undercut the middle class, that mortgaged our future, do we really want to go back to that, or do we keep moving our country forward?" Obama said at another fund-raising event in Austin, referring to Bush's eight years as president.
In reminding voters about the policies of the unpopular Bush, Obama is trying to protect his fellow Democrats' majorities in Congress and limit anticipated Republican gains.
On November 2, voters will choose all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 37 members of the 100-seat Senate.
Republicans say they doubt Obama's effort to cite Bush as a reason to vote against them in November will work because Americans are more concerned about getting or keeping a job.
"When we talk about this 'going back' thing, I notice that some Republicans say, 'Well, he just wants to bash the previous administration, he's looking backwards.' ... No, no, no. The reason we're focused on it is because the other side isn't offering anything new," Obama said in Austin.
He said later in Dallas that Republicans were simply offering "retreads" of economic policies that "got us into this mess in the first place" and had no new ideas to offer voters.
One part of Bush's legacy remains a subject of intense debate in Washington -- the tax cuts for all Americans he steered through Congress in 2001 and 2003.
These expire at the end of this year, and a pitched battle has begun over whether to extend all or part of them.
Obama and the Democrats say tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 a year should be ended to help close the U.S. budget deficit. Republicans argue that no taxes should rise in a time of economic peril.
Obama, grappling with the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, 9.5 percent unemployment, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, soaring budget deficits and an impatient electorate, said all that Republicans have done is try to obstruct him at every turn.
'LACK OF SERIOUSNESS'
He said he has made tough decisions such as bailouts for the U.S. auto industry because he was not elected "to do what was politically expedient at the moment."
"There's been a fundamental lack of seriousness on the other side," Obama said.
Between political events, Obama gave a speech about the need to improve the U.S. education system.
The White House shrugged off a decision by Bill White, the Democratic nominee for Texas governor, not to attend Obama's events on Monday in Texas, a heavily Republican state.
"He definitely does not take that as an insult," White House spokesman Bill Burton said, referring to Obama.
The state's current governor, Rick Perry, a Republican running for re-election and said to be pondering a 2012 presidential run, made his presence known shortly after Air Force One landed in Austin.
Perry handed Obama aide Valerie Jarrett a letter from him asking for more federal assistance to tighten up security along the U.S.-Mexican border.
"Drug cartels and related forces are waging war in Northern Mexico, their tactics including death threats, torture, car bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and beheadings," Perry wrote.
Last week, the U.S. Senate approved a bill adding $600 million to border security efforts, a measure that the House of Representatives might also pass this week.
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Caren Bohan; Editing by Will Dunham)