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Obama Takes His Message To The Heartland

President Obama spoke about the economy Wednesday after touring Orion Energy Systems, a technology and clean energy company in Manitowoc, Wisc. Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama spoke about the economy Wednesday after touring Orion Energy Systems, a technology and clean energy company in Manitowoc, Wisc.

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Fresh from his State of the Union address, President Obama took his new emphasis on innovation and infrastructure improvements to the nation's heartland on Wednesday, addressing factory workers in Wisconsin.

The president visited three factories in the city of Manitowoc, where a 20-pound chunk of the Soviet-launched Sputnik crashed to earth in 1962. The Cold War challenge to send the first satellite into space galvanized America and launched the Space Race.

Obama called for a new "Sputnik moment" as he spoke to workers at Orion Energy, a manufacturer of solar technology, and praised Manitowoc for reinventing itself after one of the city's largest employers left in 2003.

"Fast forward to 2011, and new manufacturing plants — and new hopes — are taking root, part of the reason the unemployment rate here is four points lower than it was at the beginning of last year," he said.

Tightening The Nation's Purse Strings

The president was hoping to cement his message of improving infrastructure and education to increase global competitiveness amid GOP opposition to his call for new investments during his State of the Union address.

Despite a brief show of unity between Republicans and Democrats at Tuesday night's speech, Republicans dived back into the rough water of deficits and health care that has roiled the political landscape since Obama took office.

House GOP lawmakers held their first hearing on the health care overhaul law since the chamber voted to repeal it earlier this month in a largely symbolic assault on a cornerstone of the White House's domestic agenda.

Republicans led by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) also unveiled a balanced budget amendment intended to force the government to live within its means. The move came on the same day the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report stating that last month's bipartisan tax cut legislation will drive the government's deficit to a record $1.5 trillion this year. The eye-popping numbers mean the government will continue to borrow 40 cents for every dollar it spends.

The GOP also is girding for a fight over raising the $14.3 trillion budget cap because of ballooning shortfalls in federal revenue that most Republicans blame squarely on the Democrats and the White House.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Wednesday that the GOP can work with Obama on programs to stimulate the economy and create jobs, but that significant spending cuts are needed immediately.

GOP lawmakers welcomed the president's State of the Union call for a five-year freeze in domestic spending that he claimed would cut the deficit by $400 billion over the next decade. But they said the plan doesn't go nearly far enough.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Obama's freeze plan "is inadequate at a time when we're borrowing 41 cents of every dollar we spend, and the administration is begging for another increase in the debt limit."

And Arizona's Sen. John McCain, speaking to ABC's Good Morning America, demanded an "absolute iron-clad path to getting [spending] down."

A Renewed Push To Repeal The Health Law

Weeks after the House voted to repeal the health law, GOP lawmakers began trying to chip away it.

In the first of two House hearings Wednesday, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) made it clear that the discussion on the economic impact of the law would be just the first of many.

"It's my intention to give the American people and employers, both large and small, the opportunity they did not have when this law was being written to testify in an open hearing about the impact this law will have on them," Camp said.

At a hearing of the House Budget Committee, Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), who delivered the official GOP response to the president's speech Tuesday, made it clear that he believes the entire law needs to be struck down.

"We must reject the notion that a centrally planned, bureaucratically run health care system can produce more favorable outcomes than one managed by doctors and patients," he said.

Obama said in his address that he was willing to "fix what needs fixing and move forward" on the newly enacted health care law.

But the president was quick to add that he would not allow a return "to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition."

Ryan acknowledged in his response that health care spending was "driving the explosive growth of our debt," but he said that "the president's law is accelerating our country toward bankruptcy."

Efforts to roll back the health plan got a boost Wednesday when a leading expert on Medicare told Congress that two of the central promises of overhaul were unlikely to be fulfilled.

Chief Actuary Richard Foster, whose office is responsible for independent long-range cost estimates, told the House Budget Committee that the landmark legislation probably won't hold costs down, and it won't let everybody keep their current health insurance if they like it.

NPR's Julie Rovner and Andrea Seabrook contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.