President Barack Obama held his first town hall meeting since taking office in Elkhart, Indiana, which has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Obama pitched as plan as the time to help people.
“The plan will save or create three to four million jobs over the next two years. But not just any jobs – jobs that meet the needs we’ve neglected for far too long and lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth: jobs fixing our schools; computerizing medical records to save costs and save lives; repairing our infrastructure; and investing in renewable energy to help us move toward energy independence. The plan also calls for immediate tax relief for 95 percent of American workers,” Obama said.
He talked about how the plan will benefit Indiana, “That will mean an additional $100 per month in unemployment benefits to more than 450,000 Indiana workers, extended unemployment benefits for another 89,000 folks who’ve been laid off and can’t find work, and job training assistance to help more than 51,000 people here get back on their feet…The plan will also provide a partially refundable $2,500 per-student tax credit to help 76,000 Hoosier families send their kids to college. This will benefit your household budgets in the short run, and will benefit America in the long run.”
Obama continued, “But it’s not just the jobs that will benefit Indiana and the rest of America. It’s the work people will be doing: Rebuilding our roads, bridges, dams and levees. Roads like US 31 here in Indiana that Hoosiers count on, and 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.”
Lastly, the president put the heat on Congress, “We’ve had a good debate. Now it’s time to act. That’s why I am calling on Congress to pass this bill immediately. Folks here in Elkhart and across America need help right now, and they can’t afford to keep on waiting for folks in Washington to get this done…So I know you all are doing your part out here – and I think it’s about time the government did its part too. That’s what the recovery plan before Congress is about. And that is why I hope Congress passes it as soon as humanly possible, so we can get to work creating jobs, helping families and turning our economy around.”
This was a fine use of the bully pulpit. The Obama administration had been a little slow in connecting the package to the lives of everyday people. Not that Obama needs to sell the package that much as a new Gallup poll showed that the American people have given his handling of the stimulus bill a 67% approval rating, compared to 31% for Congressional Republicans. The town hall today was Obama at his best, and I expect the administration to change their strategy to put the president on the road and in front of crowds to make their cases on various issues.