President Barack Obama pitched his economic stimulus plan today (Feb. 9) in Elkhart, Ind., a city know as the “RV Capital of the World” that sports one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” he told a sold-out crowd in Concord High School’s gym for a town hall meeting.
As reported by WTHR-TV, Indianapolis, Elkhart has been hard hit by the recession, and a laid-off RV worker introduced the president. Elkhart’s RV industry has been bearing the brunt of the recession in the area, with many layoffs leading to an unemployment rate of over 15% – up from over 4.7% last year.
Accompanying Obama were several Indiana lawmakers, including Sen. Evan Bayh, Reps. Joe Donnelly, Baron Hill, Brad Ellsworth, Andre Carson, former Reps. Tim Roemer and Lee Hamilton and Sec. of Transportation Ray Lahood.
Calling on Congress to pass the economic stimulus bill immediately, Obama said Elkhart residents, along with the rest of the country, couldn’t afford to keep waiting.
“Even with this plan, the road ahead won’t be easy. This crisis has been a long time in the making. We’re not going turn it around overnight,” Obama said, adding that the recovery will be measured in years, not weeks or months.
Noting that 3.6 million jobs have been lost since the recession began, Obama said that his plan would “put Americans back to work doing the work America needs to be done.” He said his plan would create three to four million jobs over the next several years.
The jobs, which Obama said would be over 90% in the private sector, would “lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth,” including repairing schools, computerizing medical records, repairing roads, bridges and levees, and investing in renewable energy.
Obama’s plan also calls for immediate tax relief for 95% of American workers, he said. The plan includes money for extended unemployment insurance, health care and other assistance for workers who lost jobs during the recession.
WTHR reported that the president said 450,000 unemployed Hoosiers would get an additional $100 per month in benefits, extended unemployment benefits for 89,000 Hoosiers who have been laid off and can’t find work, and job training for 51,000 people.
He outlined tax relief for the middle class, including a $2,500 partially refundable student tax credit that would help over 75,000 students.
Obama said that contrary to some criticisms, there was no pork in the bill. “This bill does not have a single earmark in it.”
“A real recovery plan helps creates more jobs and puts people back to work,” he said. “That’s why between the investments our plan makes and the tax relief for small businesses it provides, will create or save nearly 80,000 badly needed jobs for Indiana.”
Noting that RV companies have sustained Elkhart for years, Obama acknowledged the workers who have lost jobs, and consequently, health care or even their homes as a result, or families whose children are opting not to go to college because of the cost.
“That’s the true measure of the economic crisis. Those are the stories I heard when I came to Elkhart six months ago and that’s why I came back today,” he said. “I have not forgotten them. I promised you back then I would do everything to help this community recover and that’s why I came back today because I intend to keep my promises.”
He acknowledged that the bill currently circulating in Congress is not beyond criticism, even poking fun at its authors at one point. Said Obama: “It’s coming out of Washington. It’s going through Congress.”
“You know, look, it’s not perfect,” the president conceded. “But it is the right size, it is the right scope. Broadly speaking, it has the right priorities to create jobs that will jump-start our economy and transform the economy for the 21st century.”
The $827 billion Senate version of the plan was expected to pass the Senate on Tuesday. However, it remained to be seen how much GOP support it would draw. And it must be reconciled with the House version, which totaled $820 billion in spending and tax cuts. Senate and House negotiators were already preparing to deal, with the goal of a bill on Obama’s desk by the end of this week or beginning of next.
Obama went so far as to say he could not assure that every item in the stimulus plan would work as hoped. But he said he has no doubts that “delay or paralysis” in Washington will deepen the country’s crisis.