COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Lagging in the polls, Republican presidential candidate John McCain unleashed a blistering attack Monday on his Democratic rival, saying the race comes down to a simple question: "Country first or Obama first?"
In his first public appearance since Friday night's debate, McCain said Democrat Barack Obama advocates tax-and-spend policies that "will deepen our recession," and voted against funding for equipment needed by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"That is not putting the men and women of our military first," he said.
Later in the day, after a stunning rejection by the House of a bailout of the financial industry, McCain said Obama and his allies had "infused unnecessary partisanship" into the effort to steady the economy.
"Now is not the time to fix the blame; it's time to fix the problem," he said, speaking to reporters in Iowa.
He urged lawmakers to return to work immediately to pass legislation. Aides said he would return to Washington when he could help.
Earlier, McCain stressed his own record of opposing Republicans on key issues, and said: "When it comes time to reach across the aisle and work with members of both parties to get things done for the American people - my opponent can't name a single occasion in which he fought against his party's leadership to get something done for the country. That is not putting the interests of the country first."
Obama's campaign issued a swift rebuttal that accused McCain of an "angry diatribe" that it said "won't make up for his erratic response to the greatest financial crisis of our time."
The Arizona senator spoke at a rally with running mate Sarah Palin, who said she is looking forward to Thursday's debate with Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
"I've been hearing his speeches since I was in the second grade," the 44-year-old Alaska governor said of her counterpart, who is 65 and a veteran of more than 35 years in the Senate.
The speech was McCain's first outside Washington since he announced abruptly last week he was suspending his campaign to concentrate on helping Congress agree on a bailout for the troubled financial industry. He drew heated criticism from Democrats who accused him of nearly derailing negotiations that were headed for success, and even some Republicans conceded privately he appeared impetuous and had not helped his own cause.
Recent polls also suggest Obama has regained a lead he held in the race before the Republican National Convention, where McCain's choice of Palin energized conservatives and led to a short-term surge in his poll ratings.
In a statement, the Obama campaign said McCain was untruthful in describing Obama's record on taxes "and the lie he told the American people today is all the more outrageous a day after he admitted that his health care plan will increase taxes on some families."
The votes in question occurred on a Democratic budget that set tax and spending outlines for the future, but did not actually raise taxes.
Obama has said he voted against one war funding measure because it contained no timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and compared that to McCain's vote against a war funding measure that did contain a timetable for withdrawal.
In a speech of less than 30 minutes, McCain challenged Obama's truthfulness and his support for the armed forces as well.
"Two times, on March 14, 2008 and June 4, 2008, in the Democratic budget resolution, he voted to raise taxes on people making just $42,000 per year. He even said at the time that this vote for higher taxes on the middle class was 'getting our nation's priorities back on track,'" the Republican said.
"Then something amazing happened: on Friday night, he looked the American people in the eye and said it never happened. My friends, we need a president who will always tell the American people the truth."
When it came to the financial bailout, McCain sought to turn the tables on his rival. "Sen. Obama took a very different approach to the crisis our country faced. At first he didn't want to get involved. Then he was "monitoring the situation." That's not leadership, that's watching from the sidelines," he said.
In the early days of the economic crisis, McCain seemed uncertain how to react. His first response was to say the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Then he backtracked, saying the workers form the foundation of the economy and they are strong. Then he called for a blue-ribbon commission to study the root causes of the debacle on Wall Street. Then he called for the ouster of Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox, with each shift drawing ridicule from Obama.
The legislation that failed in the House would have given the Treasury authority to spend up to $700 billion to purchase distressed assets on the books of financial institutions.