Obama Hitting The Road To Sell His Economic Plan

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Seeking an early victory on a top priority, President-elect Barack Obama is pitching workers in the ailing Midwest on his plan for some $825 billion in new spending and tax cuts to spur the troubled economy.

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The president-elect on Friday was to tour a northern Ohio company that manufactures parts for wind turbines, a fitting backdrop to promote alternative energy dollars included in the mammoth stimulus package that could top $1 trillion by the time Congress sends it to the White House.

Obama’s campaign-style event is the first of a series he’s expected to hold to generate support for his plan to pull the country from recession. His trip comes a day after the Senate approved giving him access to the second half of last fall’s $700 billion financial industry bailout and after House Democrats unveiled a stimulus plan largely shaped by the president-elect’s team.

Citing an economy in crisis and worsening, Obama has spent the past two weeks securing lawmakers’ backing for the eye-popping plan that has drawn skepticism from both Republicans and Democrats because of its price tag and tax provisions. He’s now taking his pitch directly to the public — and trying to sell the sweeping package to lawmakers’ constituents.

The stakes are enormous for Obama. Passage of the plan, and bipartisan passage in particular, would mark a significant achievement at the outset of his presidency as he inherits a recession in its second year from President George W. Bush. Defeat would be a blow, coming not just in his first weeks in office but also as joblessness increases, bank failures continue, investment portfolios shrink and home prices drop.

Either way, the success or failure of the plan could well set the tone for his first 100 days in office, if not his first year or longer.

After nearly two weeks in Washington, Obama scheduled a meeting with workers at the Cardinal Fastener & Specialty Co. in Bedford Heights, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, to explain how he believes such companies and their workers would benefit from his plan.

Founded in 1968, the company recently announced the creation of a wind power division to respond to what the company says is a surge of demand for their parts in the wind turbine industry. Obama argues his plan would create nearly 500,000 jobs by investing in alternative energy.

Ohio is among a large swath of the industrial Midwest that’s been hit especially hard by the recession.

The most recent figures available show that Ohio’s unemployment rate was higher than the national rate at 7.3 percent in November, with 435,000 out of work, up from 5.7 percent the year before. Foreclosure activity rose 26 percent in Ohio in 2008, putting it among states with the highest foreclosure rates. And demand for food stamps, Medicaid and unemployment benefits are on the rise.

Little more than two months ago, Obama won the state by four percentage points over Republican John McCain, part of his electoral landslide. Obama posted large numbers of votes in the state’s heavily Democratic northeast corner that is home to many blue collar workers and liberals.

A Democratic-aligned group, Americans United, was airing a TV ad in the state urging people to call GOP Sen. George Voinovich to express their support for Obama’s plan.

One of the largest bills ever to make its way through Congress, the legislation calls for federal spending of roughly $550 billion and tax cuts of $275 billion over the next two years to revive the sickly economy. It focuses heavily on energy, education, health care and jobs-producing highway construction.

Energy-related proposals include $32 billion to upgrade the nation’s electrical distribution system, more than $20 billion in tax cuts to promote the development of alternatives to oil fuels, and billions more to make public housing, federal buildings and modest-income homes more energy efficient.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have promised Obama they would send him the legislation for his signature by mid-February.

The plan already is running into resistance.

House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio accused Democrats of thinking they can “borrow and spend their way back to prosperity” and complained that there weren’t enough tax cuts in the measure.

And House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., suggested more even money was needed, saying: “This product may undershoot the mark.”

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