CEDAR RAPIDS -- Amid applause and chants calling for four more years, President Barack Obama defended on Tuesday decisions he has made pursuing healthcare law and outlined his plans for reviving the U.S. economy.
Those comments at Kirkwood Community College resonated with the audience of about 1,600, as did drawing comparisons between himself and his presumptive Republican opponent for president, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. It was a predictable campaign stop, with supporters showing enthusiasm for their candidate and the president saying all the right things to connect with those supporters.
“I want to hold taxes steady for 98 percent of Americans, Republicans say they want to do the same thing,” Obama said. “We disagree on the other 2 percent.”
That 2 percent, he said, consists of Americans earning more than $250,000 a year and getting tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush presidency. Obama wants to let tax cuts for those people to expire but keep the cuts for middle class earners.
“Let’s not hold the vast majority of Americans hostage while we debate the merit of another tax break for the other 2 percent," he said.
The middle class figured prominently in the president's pitch, whether he was talking about paying too much in taxes or health care costs, not getting the benefits of trickle-down economics, or trying to get jobs that have been outsourced internationally back to the United States.
“I want high-tech manufacturers to take root in places like Cedar Rapids and Newton,” Obama said. “I want goods stamped with 'Made in America' shipped all over the world.”
The mention of creating blue-collar jobs for Americans made an impact for Michael Stark, of Cedar Rapids and a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 405. “We need to get manufacturing back in the United States,” Stark said.
Obama played to feelings like that and the crowd loved it. “America has never been a nation of handouts. We are a nation of workers and dreamers,” he said. “And we understand that we have to work for everything we’ve got. And all that we ask for is that our hard work pays off.”
Branstad assails Obama on jobs, taxes
Republican Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Romney supporter, wasn't buying Obama's jobs and tax messages during an IowaWatch interview in Des Moines earlier on Tuesday.
"Compare Iowa to Illinois," Branstad said, repeating the phrase to make his point of linking Obama to the state where the president served as a state senator from 1997 to 2004 before being elected to the U.S. Senate for a term that started in January 2005 and then the presidency since January 2009.
"Obama’s from Illinois and in Illinois you’ve got a Democratic governor and Democratic legislature and look what they have done. They’ve raised taxes and they’ve chased business and jobs out of the state. Compare that to Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, which elected Republican governors. And what are we doing? We’re reducing the tax and regulatory burden and attracting jobs."
Illinois' unemployment rate shot past 10 percent in August 2011 after the state's flat income tax on individuals was increased from 3 percent to 5 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2011. Critics note that this was a 67 percent rate increase. Illinois' unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in May but still above the national average of 8.2 percent, Illinois Department of Economic Security figures show. The unemployment rate for the Quad Cities, which is in both Iowa and Illinois, was 6.7 in May, but 7.2 on just the Illinois side, the Illinois figures show.
Michigan's unemployment rate was 8.5 percent in May, also above the national average. While down from more than 10.5 percent recorded in August 2011 it increased from 8.3 percent in April, labor statistics from that state show. Wisconsin's unemployment rate was 6.8 percent in May, down almost 1 percentage point since the start of the year. Indiana's rate was 7.9 percent in May, down from 8.7 percent in January and 9.1 percent one year earlier.
Branstad said federal spending is out of control under Obama, echoing a theme with which Republicans pointing to almost $16 trillion in federal debt have been hammering Obama. Moreover, Branstad said, Obama's campaign is using class warfare, "attacking the very people that we need to encourage to invest to create jobs," Branstad said in the interview, conducted at his Statehouse office.
"It’s the people that make over $250,000 that have the ability to invest and create jobs in this country but they’re scared to death. And yet every time you turn around there’s another tax, another penalty, another regulation that this administration’s trying to impose on them," Branstad said.
Other issues connect at Obama rally, although not universally
Job creation was not the only issue Obama addressed while in Cedar Rapids.
Musician Paul Kresowik, 30, whose Iowa City band, the Diplomats of Solid Sound, opened for Obama's campaign event, said health care is personally important to him. “Being a musician, I pay for my own health insurance now, so it’s good to get a sense that he does understand where a lot of people are coming from,” Kresowik said.
“As far as tax cuts, I do get concerned, because I think everyone, including the middle class, will have to make some sacrifices,” Kresowik said. “I know it’s an election year so it’s difficult to talk about that. I’m hopeful. I know he mentioned Detroit and the auto industry and I’m hopeful that in the second term, things will begin to rebound, that there’s momentum beginning to build in the economy.”
But while Diplomats of Solid Sound band-mate and politically conservative Edward McKinley agreed that the crowd responded well to Obama, he differed in his opinions about plans for the economy. “I think small businesses are kind of fearing what’s going to happen with this Obamacare,” McKinley said. “They don’t know where to move next. And because of that they’re afraid to hire, they’re afraid to expand their businesses and so I think it’s more of a hindrance than anything for small businesses.”
Despite any disagreements on policy, or lack of depth on a topic, the crowd, indeed, reacted to Obama’s presence.
“The middle class wasn’t just about having a certain amount of money in your bank account,” Obama said. “It was about the values you care about and the responsibilities that you took, and the communities you believe in and how you were able to have some security to take care of your family, and give your children a better chance than you had.”
IowaWatch's Keely Kemp and Conrad Swanson reported from Cedar Rapids, Lyle Muller reported from Des Moines.
Working the crowd and remembering Cedar Rapids
“This was a state that gave me a chance when nobody else would,” President Obama told the crowd at Kirkwood Community College on Tuesday.
He recalled Cedar Rapids as the first stop he made after he announced his candidacy to seek election in 2008.
“No matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you come from,” Obama said. “America is a place where you can make it if you try.”