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In Indiana, Obama Pitches Stimulus Plan
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In Indiana, Obama Pitches Stimulus Plan

Politics

In Indiana, Obama Pitches Stimulus Plan

In Indiana, Obama Pitches Stimulus Plan
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President Barack Obama traveled to Elkhart, Ind., for a town hall meeting to promote the economic stimulus package. The administration hopes the city's poor economic situation will help ease the bill's passage after a week of partisan bickering.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. President Obama is on the campaign trial again. This time he's hoping to sway public opinion and ultimately lawmakers for the massive economic stimulus bill. The Senate is expected to pass its version of the measure tomorrow. But progress has been slow. So the president is ramping up his efforts.

Mr. Obama holds a prime time news conference tonight to promote the stimulus. And earlier today he traveled to a hard-hit corner of Indiana to dramatize the human cost of the economic slowdown. NPR's Scott Horsley went with him.

SCOTT HORSLEY: If any place needs an economic boost, it's Elkhart, Indiana, just south of the Michigan line. Unemployment in this area has tripled in the last year as local RV makers have cut back. More than one out of seven workers is now without a job. Many of them, including 62-year-old Ed Newfeld(ph), gathered today at Concord Community High School to ask the new president for help.

EWDARD NEWFELD: I have worked in the RV industry for 32 years. Two of my daughters and two of my son-in-laws are also unemployed. I know that Elkhart County has the highest unemployment rate in the country. But I know we don't want to be there. We want to work.

HORSLEY: President Obama tried to explain how the stimulus bill would provide relief for Elkhart in concrete terms, literally. Of the three million jobs promised nationwide, he said 80,000 would be here in Indiana, some of them repairing dams, bridges and important local roadways.

BARACK OBAMA: Roads like U.S. 31 here in Indiana.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

OBAMA: That Hoosiers can count on, 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.

HORSLEY: Elkhart's mayor is also hoping to score tens of millions of federal dollars for local building projects. In addition, the stimulus bill would extend unemployment benefits and make it easier for laid off workers like Newfeld to maintain their health benefits. Although the Senate is expected to pass its version of the measure tomorrow with a bare minimum Republican support, big differences still have to be worked out with the House. Mr. Obama initially left the package largely in the hands of legislative leaders.

But as the debates dragged on, he's gotten more personally involved and more aggressive, arguing this is no time for delay or paralysis in Washington.

OBAMA: Now, let me be clear. I'm not going to tell you that this bill is perfect. It's coming out in Washington, it's going through Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: You know, look - it's not perfect, but it is the right size, it is right scope. Broadly speaking, it has for right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform this economy for the 21st century.

HORSLEY: After about an hour in the high school gym, Mr. Obama told the audience I've got to go back to Washington and convince everybody to get moving. He brought along half a dozen lawmakers on this trip. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One the visit is as much their benefit as the people of Elkhart's.

ROBERT GIBBS: This is not explaining to Indiana what's going on in Washington. This is taking Washington to show them what is going in Indiana and all over the country.

HORSLEY: And it's just the first in a series of campaign-style events on the president's schedule this week. Tomorrow he'll travel to Fort Myers, Florida, which has been badly scarred by the bursting of the housing bubble, and Thursday it will be Peoria, Illinois, home to Caterpillar, which just announced some 20,000 job cuts.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Elkhart, Indiana.

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Stimulus Advances In Senate; Obama Presses Case

Obama Meets The Press

The Senate advanced an $838 billion version of President Obama's stimulus plan Monday, clearing the way for a Tuesday vote in which formal passage is expected.

Despite efforts to forge bipartisan support for the measure, only three Republicans joined Democrats in the 61-36 vote to cut off debate: Susan Collins and Olympic Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Hitting the 60-vote threshold enables Democrats to prevent Republicans from using procedural tactics to filibuster the bill.

Collins had been instrumental in working with Democrats and a handful of Republicans over the weekend to create compromise legislation, which trimmed about $86 billion in spending — including $40 billion for the states — and $18 billion in tax cuts from the previous Senate version.

The Congressional Budget Office readjusted the estimated cost of the bill Monday to $838 billion, up from an $827 billion figure that had been widely quoted.

Congressional leaders now must work out a compromise between the Senate package and the House bill approved last week. Obama has said he wants to sign a bill into law by Presidents Day, which is Feb. 16.

An Appeal To The People

Earlier, as the Senate edged toward its vote, Obama took his case to the American people, saying the national unemployment rate could hit double digits if action isn't taken immediately.

"We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and as dire as any since the Great Depression," Obama told residents of Elkhart, Ind., where unemployment has soared to more than 15 percent — twice the national average. "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."

Obama said the plan will save or create 3 million to 4 million jobs over the next two years, extend unemployment benefits, provide job training assistance, provide a tax credit for college students and give tax relief for middle-class workers and families.

"I'm not going to tell you that this bill is perfect; it isn't," Obama said. "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."

Elkhart Loses Jobs

Elkhart has been hard hit by the downturn in the economy. Obama said as many as 8,000 jobs have been lost in the community as recreational vehicle manufacturers — Monaco Coach, Keystone RV and Pilgrim International — have fallen on hard times.

Answering questions from the crowd of 1,700, Obama told one woman he favors using tax incentives to encourage businesses not to relocate overseas. But he said the key to attracting and keeping businesses is to provide a well-trained workforce. He said the Senate version of his recovery plan has slashed funds for education, but he hopes they are restored.

The president acknowledged to another questioner that he had made some mistakes in choosing nominees for high-level posts who owed back taxes — but he said the individuals were honest and had made honest mistakes.

"If you're not going to appoint anybody who's ever made a mistake in your life, then you're not going to have anybody taking your jobs," he said.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was criticized for owing $34,000 in self-employment taxes, but he paid them late and was confirmed. Former Sen. Tom Daschle and former Treasury Department official Nancy Killefer withdrew their names from consideration for top Obama administration jobs.

On Tuesday, Geithner is expected to unveil a plan for spending the second half of a financial aid package for U.S. banks battered by the financial crisis. The plan is expected to include government insurance of bad assets, a proposal to shift some securities off bank balance sheets, and money to modify home mortgages.

From NPR and wire reports

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