Obama takes economic recovery message to heartland
MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa (AP and WAOW) - Back in the state that jump-started his White House bid, President Barack Obama sought to reassure wary Iowa voters with a message he hopes will resonate in the fall elections: The economic recovery hasn't reached everyone, but progress is being made. The President took his message to a town hall meeting in Ottumwa late Tuesday afternoon, as you saw LIVE on WAOW.com.
The President talked about needing to make "tough choices" to get the Federal budget under control. He spoke about the importance of focusing on education and "new ideas" to push the economy forward, in a global economy where cheaper labor is readily available outside of the United States. He also answered one child's question about the kind of pie he ate on the way to the town hall meeting. It was rhubarb pie. He ended the session by saying that parents are the key... they must parent their kids and emphasize the importance of learning and education... Government can only do so much."
Starting his two-day, three-state Midwestern trip, Obama focused on his economic and clean energy programs as job creators, even as he acknowledged the pain and skepticism of hard-hit areas. He's not on the ballot this year, but his party's control of Congress is at stake, along with dozens of governors' seats and state legislatures.
Despite encouraging news about an expanding economy and markets, the president told an Iowa crowd, "times are still tough in towns like Fort Madison. And times are still tough for middle-class Americans, who had been swimming against the current for years before the economic tidal wave hit."
Obama outlined his administration's goals to "create conditions so that folks who work hard can finally get ahead." They include improving schools, making college more affordable, expanding health coverage and preventing Wall Street irresponsibility, he said.
Underscoring the challenge was agriculture secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who told reporters traveling with Obama: "There's a silent crisis occurring in rural America that's been ongoing for several decades." He said the president is delivering a new framework for the "revival of the rural economy."
Obama also plans to stop in Illinois and Missouri before returning to the White House late Wednesday. Iowa and Missouri are sharply contested in virtually every election, and Republicans this year think they can snag the Illinois Senate seat that Obama held before becoming president.
Obama spoke after touring a plant that makes blades for wind turbines. The United States must lead the world in clean energy production, he said, and he cited tax credits included in last year's economic stimulus package.
They "helped make it possible for America to install nearly 10 gigawatts of new wind generating capacity last year alone, enough to power more than 2.4 million American homes," he said. "And each new wind farm has the potential to create hundreds of construction jobs, and dozens of permanent local jobs, in communities just like Fort Madison."
He said he believes Congress and the nation can overcome deep divisions to enact far-reaching energy and climate legislation "that will ignite new industries, spark new jobs" and make America more energy independent.
After speaking at the wind energy plant Obama made a surprise stop at a 140-acre organic farm in nearby Mount Pleasant. MogoOrganic Farm supplies food for local schools and businesses.
The latest economic forecasts show some signs of progress: The nation added jobs at the fastest pace in three years last month, the manufacturing industry is growing at a steady pace, and new claims for jobless benefits have declined.
But the unemployment rate, perhaps the most recognizable economic indicator, has held steady at 9.7 percent for three months, and 15 million Americans remain out of work. By the White House's own estimates, as well as those of many independent economists, that rate isn't expected to fluctuate more than a few tenths of a percentage point through the end of 2010.
The president's home state of Illinois, where he'll travel Wednesday, has one of the nation's highest unemployment rates, 11.5 percent.
That's far from the administration's predictions last year, when Obama rallied support for the $862 billion economic stimulus package. At the time, the White House said the massive infusion would keep the unemployment rate from topping 8 percent, though the administration later revised those estimates, saying the recession proved to be worse than it expected.
Polls suggest the president and his party are increasingly vulnerable on the economy. Democrats and Republicans each have the confidence of 44 percent of people for handling the economy, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted this month. The Democrats had a 9-point advantage just four months ago and have held an edge since AP polls began asking about the issue in 2006.
Eds: UPDATES with Obama making surprise stop at organic farm; CORRECTS spelling of name of farm to MogoOrganic, STED MojoOrganic. TRIMS. Moving on general news and financial services.
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