In the stimulus battle, Barack Obama uncorks his secret weapon: himself
Barack Obama used his best weapon today to sell the mega-billion-dollar stimulus package -- himself.
In a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., where 8,000 jobs were lost and unemployment tripled in the last year alone, the Barack Obama who charmed voters last year returned to the campaign trail.
Leaving the cauldron of Washington D.C.'s backbiting, hard-hitting, wonk-heavy tactics for the plain-speaking candor of Midwest voters, Obama engaged in nearly an hour of back and forth with the people who sent him to Washington in the first place.
His basic pitch:
I'm not going to tell you that this bill is perfect. It isn't. But it is the right size, the right scope and has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump start our economy and transform it for the 21st century.
One questioner wanted to know how the president made sure that the jobs and the tax breaks and the spending gets to "we the people, not the fat cats." Replied the president: "You are exactly right. When you give a tax break to working families, they will spend it. When you give it to the wealthier families, they just put it away somewhere, so it’s not circulating in the economy.
Another questioner asked how Americans can trust Obama to get the stimulus money to working-class people when some in his administration -- notably Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner -- failed to pay taxes. Obama quieted the boos -- “No, this is a good question,” he said -- and answered that he had publicly admitted his own mistake in nominating some officials (read former Sen. Tom Daschle) and put others on notice with the strictest anti-lobbying policy on record.
As the Senate prepared to debated the bill, and House Democrats prepared to restore some Senate cuts in conference committee, Obama made clear that the Republican policies of trickle-down stimulus won't work anymore.
We can no longer posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us into this mess in the first place -- and that the American people rejected at the polls this past November. You didn't send us to Washington because you were hoping for more of the same. You sent us there with a mandate for change, and the expectation that we would act quickly and boldly to carry it out -- and that is exactly what I intend to do.
Read the president's speech below.
-- Johanna Neuman
Photo: Getty Images
President Obama Promises 3-4 Million New Jobs in 2 Years, Most in Private Sector
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release February 9, 2009
Remarks of President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama traveled today to Elkhart, Indiana for a town hall on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. The President spoke directly with Elkhart residents about the impact the plan will have on their lives, and answered questions about the challenges that they face.
In Elkhart, where 8,000 jobs were lost and unemployment tripled in the last year alone, the President shared his specific plans to bring jobs back to the community, provide tax relief, and help lower the cost of health care and college for working families.
The President was joined today by Secretary Ray LaHood, Senator Evan Bayh, Representatives Joe Donnelly, Baron Hill, Brad Ellsworth, Fred Upton, and Andre Carson, and former Representatives Tim Roemer and Lee Hamilton.
Below are the remarks of President Barack Obama –
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
I want to start by thanking Ed for coming here today and sharing his family’s story with all of us.
You know, we tend to take the measure of the economic crisis we face in numbers and statistics. But when we say we’ve lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began – nearly 600,000 in the past month alone; when we say that this area has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in America, with an unemployment rate over 15 percent; when we talk about layoffs at companies like Monaco Coach, Keystone RV, and Pilgrim International – companies that have sustained this community for years – we’re talking about Ed Neufeldt and people like him all across this country.
We’re talking about folks who’ve lost their livelihood and don’t know what will take its place. Parents who’ve lost their health care and lie awake nights praying the kids don’t get sick. Families who’ve lost the home that was their corner of the American dream. Young people who put that college acceptance letter back in the envelope because they just can’t afford it.
That’s what those numbers and statistics mean. That is the true measure of this economic crisis. Those are the stories I heard when I came here to Elkhart six months ago and that I have carried with me every day since.
I promised you back then that if elected President, I would do everything I could to help this community recover. And that’s why I’ve come back today – to tell you how I intend to keep that promise.
The situation we face could not be more serious. We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and as dire as any since the Great Depression. Economists from across the spectrum have warned that if we don’t act immediately, millions more jobs will be lost, and national unemployment rates will approach double digits. More people will lose their homes and their health care. And our nation will sink into a crisis that, at some point, we may be unable to reverse.
So we can no longer afford to wait and see and hope for the best. We can no longer posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us into this mess in the first place – and that the American people rejected at the polls this past November. You didn’t send us to Washington because you were hoping for more of the same. You sent us there with a mandate for change, and the expectation that we would act quickly and boldly to carry it out – and that is exactly what I intend to do as President of the United States.
That is why I put forth a Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that is now before Congress. At its core is a very simple idea: to put Americans back to work doing the work America needs done.
The plan will save or create three to four million jobs over the next two years. But not just any jobs – jobs that meet the needs we’ve neglected for far too long and lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth: jobs fixing our schools; computerizing medical records to save costs and save lives; repairing our infrastructure; and investing in renewable energy to help us move toward energy independence. The plan also calls for immediate tax relief for 95 percent of American workers.
Now I know that some of you might be thinking, well that all sounds good, but when are we going to see any of that here in Elkhart? What does all that mean for our families and our community? Those are exactly the kind of questions you should be asking of your President and your government, and today, I want to provide some answers – and I want to be as specific as I can.
First, this plan will provide for extended unemployment insurance, health care and other assistance for workers and families who have lost their jobs in this recession.
That will mean an additional $100 per month in unemployment benefits to more than 450,000 Indiana workers, extended unemployment benefits for another 89,000 folks who’ve been laid off and can’t find work, and job training assistance to help more than 51,000 people here get back on their feet.
That is not only our moral responsibility – to lend a helping hand to our fellow Americans in times of emergency – but it also makes good economic sense. If you don’t have money, you can’t spend it. And if people don’t spend, our economy will continue to decline.
For that same reason, the plan includes badly needed tax relief for middle class workers and families. The middle class is under siege, and we need to give you more of the money you’ve earned, so you can spend it and pay your bills. Under our plan, individuals get $500 – families, $1,000 – providing relief for nearly 2.5 million workers and their families here in Indiana.
The plan will also provide a partially refundable $2,500 per-student tax credit to help 76,000 Hoosier families send their kids to college. This will benefit your household budgets in the short run, and will benefit America in the long run.
But providing tax relief, and college assistance and help to folks who’ve lost their jobs is not enough. A real recovery plan helps create more jobs and put people back to work.
That’s why, between the investments our plan makes – and the tax relief for small businesses it provides – we’ll create or save nearly 80,000 badly needed jobs for Indiana in the next two years. Now, you may have heard some of the critics of our plan saying that it would create mostly government jobs. That’s simply not true. More than 90 percent of these jobs will be in the private sector. More than 90 percent.
But it’s not just the jobs that will benefit Indiana and the rest of America. It’s the work people will be doing: Rebuilding our roads, bridges, dams and levees. Roads like US 31 here in Indiana that Hoosiers count on, and that connect small towns and rural communities to opportunities for economic growth. And I know that a new overpass downtown would make a big difference for businesses and families right here in Elkhart.
We’ll also put people to work rebuilding our schools so all our kids can have the world-class classrooms, labs and libraries they need to compete in today’s global economy.
Investing in clean alternative sources of energy and the electric grid we need to transport it from coast to coast, helping make Indiana an energy-producing state, not just an energy-consuming state. Weatherizing homes across this state, and installing state of the art equipment to help you control your energy costs.
Building new high-speed broadband lines, reaching schools and small businesses in rural Indiana so they can connect and compete with their counterparts in any city in any country in the world.
And there is much, much more.
Now I’m not going to tell you that this bill is perfect. It isn’t. But it is the right size, the right scope, and has the right priorities to create jobs that will jumpstart our economy and transform it for the twenty-first century.
I also can’t tell you with one hundred percent certainty that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope. But I can tell you with complete confidence that endless delay or paralysis in Washington in the face of this crisis will bring only deepening disaster.
We’ve had a good debate. Now it’s time to act. That’s why I am calling on Congress to pass this bill immediately. Folks here in Elkhart and across America need help right now, and they can’t afford to keep on waiting for folks in Washington to get this done.
We know that even with this plan, the road ahead won’t be easy. This crisis has been a long time in the making, and we know that we cannot turn it around overnight. Recovery will likely be measured in years, not weeks or months. But we also know that our economy will be stronger for generations to come if we commit ourselves to the work that needs to be done today. And being here in Elkhart, I am more confident than ever before that we will get where we need to be.
Because while I know people are struggling, I also know that folks here are good workers and good neighbors who step up, help each other out, and make sacrifices when times are tough. I know that all folks here are asking for is a chance to work hard – and to have that work translate into a decent life for you and your family.
So I know you all are doing your part out here – and I think it’s about time the government did its part too. That’s what the recovery plan before Congress is about. And that is why I hope Congress passes it as soon as humanly possible, so we can get to work creating jobs, helping families and turning our economy around.
Thank you, and I’d now like to open this up for questions.