In Indiana, Obama Pitches Stimulus Plan
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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.