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While lawmakers in Washington debate some of the most costly spending plans in history today (Feb. 9) President Barack Obama is leaving town, as reported by Bloomberg.
Obama’s calculation: The best way to win support for his economic stimulus and bank-rescue programs is to return to a campaign-style format to draw the connection between the votes in the capital and the depressed precincts of Elkhart, Ind., and Fort Myers, Fla.
With this swing, Obama is seeking to dial up pressure on Congress to keep the stimulus package from losing elements he views as crucial for getting the economy back on track.
Elkhart County, where Obama travels today (Feb. 9), has seen its jobless rate more than triple, to 15.3%, in just a year as its recreational vehicle industry has been slammed by the recession and high gas prices. In Fort Myers, where he goes Feb. 10, the unemployment rate has risen to 10% from 6% in a year because of soaring foreclosures and sinking tourism.
Elkhart is a place in need of help. Elkhart County’s 15.3% unemployment rate is up from 4.7% in the last year. The city of Elkhart is even higher, at 18%, according to Mayor Dick Moore.
“Everyone knows that with an 18% unemployment rate in the city of Elkhart, we need this stimulus package,” Moore said in a telephone interview. “There’s no pork in this proposal. We’ve got 17 projects that are shovel-ready. What a great idea it is to be able to jump-start these programs and at the same time create jobs.”
The city of 52,000 people in northwest Indiana, located 109 miles from Chicago, has prepared its own wish list of projects should it receive money from the stimulus plan.
In addition to the trips to Elkhart and Fort Myers, the president will hold his first prime-time news conference at 8 p.m. EST. Just as Ronald Reagan went straight to the public to win support for tax cuts, Obama is trying to generate backing for his program by rallying Americans.
“Obama is hoping similarly to move inside-Beltway opinion by arousing constituents outside,” said Rogan Kersh, associate dean of New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. “Photos of huge, cheering crowds will remind fence-sitting legislators how Obama got to the White House in the first place.”
Both Indiana and Florida helped propel Obama to the White House, and he is returning there to try to generate support for his financial-rescue plans as the Senate prepares to vote Tuesday on its version of a spending plan that could top $800 billion. The U.S. House has passed an $819 billion stimulus plan and the differences between the chambers must be reconciled before any legislation would land on the president’s desk.
“Americans need jobs, and the best way to get this economy kick-started again is through a recovery and reinvestment plan that will save or create millions of them,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Bloomberg reported that while the president’s approval ratings are close to 70%, much of the public has been persuaded by arguments from congressional Republicans that the stimulus package is loaded with projects that won’t spur economic growth, according to Charles Jones, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
So Obama is trying to command attention. In both the town hall and news conference, he will highlight the depths of the economic distress many Americans are feeling, difficulties that he will argue the stimulus package would ease.